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NASA retiree to lead emphasis on laypeople

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (BP)–A retired NASA senior manager now is delving into a new frontier of evangelism.

Max Croft, who has spent the last 10 years as a manager of communications and director of information systems for NASA in Huntsville, Ala., began April 1 as an associate in Alabama Baptists’ evangelism department to lead a statewide emphasis on involving laypeople in evangelism.

A member of First Baptist Church, Huntsville, since 1961, Croft plans to share from his own experience as an active layperson.

“The goal is to equip laypeople with the ability to intentionally present the gospel to every person in the state of Alabama,” Croft said, noting he will work directly with associational directors of missions and directors of evangelism and also will be available for local church conferences.

“I believe that is why I’m here — as a layperson working to equip laypeople.”

Croft said he was fortunate to have a job in which he usually could complete his weekly duties within 40 hours. “I made a concerted effort to get my job done,” he said, “so I could do the things I wanted to do through the church.”

Between serving as deacon chairman and Sunday school director and working as a Bible teacher at camps and a volunteer for mission trips, Croft worked to keep balance between his church and his job. “The church itself had a priority equal to my job,” he said, noting God and family had top priority.

Even with his consistent church involvement, Croft said the 10 years he spent managing people who were designing and implementing communication networks for NASA was a key time of living out his Christian witness.

Living by example made an impression, he said. “Wherever you are, if you are living the life that shows that you believe in some moral standards and that you won’t tolerate compromising those in your own life, that is an example to people,” he said.

People notice a Christian witness and in times of need will come to those who exemplify it — and that’s when opportunities arise to share the Christian faith, he said.

Encouraging Alabama Baptists to be willing and able to give their witness whenever and wherever the opportunity arises motivates Croft in his new role.

The workplace is the best place of ministry because people spend most of their time there, he said, adding home and social groups also provide opportunities.

Lifestyle evangelism is sometimes a neglected concept among Baptists, Croft noted.

“The church needs to do a better job of equipping its members for everyday life and helping them understand that the workplace is a place of ministry,” he said, adding that was something he realized at the end of his career. “I thought for a long time that I had a job where I could schedule time off in order to go to the church to minister, but found out later that my best place of ministry was right where I was.”

Pastors can help church members understand how to be a “minister” by treating them like the ministers they are, Croft said. Pastors should accept laypeople as ministers and expect a lot out of them, he added.

“People want to be involved in the church, especially the younger people who are almost demanding it,” he said.

Other ways pastors can equip laypeople for lifestyle evangelism are teaching them how to share their faith, giving them assignments and working alongside them.

While encouraging people to consider their workplace as a mission field, Croft also will promote volunteering for mission trips abroad. “Missions has always been a part of my life,” he said. “Christians should share what they have.”

Balancing his time between local church activities and foreign missions, Croft supports missions through praying, giving and going. A frequent volunteer for mission trips, Croft has participated in personal witnessing, preaching crusades and construction work. He has traveled to various states as well as to Columbia, Nigeria, South Korea, Kazakhstan and Bangladesh. “We need to be going a lot more than just sending,” he said.

And going also means right inside one’s local community, Croft said, citing apartments and mobile home parks.

“We are going to have to go to these areas right around the church,” he said. “People are not comfortable because they don’t know our rituals nor our language.”

Croft, who worked with declining black congregations in the Madison Baptist Association for five years, said he believes reaching people also means planting new churches. “When there are people who don’t have access to a church or won’t go to the one that is there, then we need to plant a church in order to evangelize,” he said, noting that church planting historically has been one of the primary avenues Baptists have used for evangelism.

Church planting, missions and evangelism are one and the same, said Croft, who recently received a master’s degree in missiology from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky. Croft also holds a doctorate degree in industrial engineering and management from Oklahoma State University, a master’s degree from Georgia Tech and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama. He also has taught engineering classes at the University of Louisville and The University of Alabama.

Croft said his engineering and management background prepared him for the next step. “I’ve really never felt called to full-time church vocational ministry, such as being a pastor,” he said.

“I’ve been satisfied and fulfilled in my ministry as a layperson, but now I can do something different at a different level and a greater intensity.”

Ministering at the state level is a unique opportunity, Croft said. “I never really wanted to retire,” he said. “I just wanted to do something different, especially related to the mission of the church.”

Now, Croft and his wife, Mary Ella, can be involved in partnership ministry full time. Describing Mary Ella as “a very devoted Christian believing in doing what God calls you to do,” Croft noted his wife has always been supportive of his ministries.

Leaning much on his wife’s thoughts and perceptions, Croft said he would not be where he is today without her.

Together, they plan to promote the idea that all Christians are called to the ministry. “The bottom line of any work related to God’s mission is evangelism,” Croft said.

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  • Jennifer Davis