GRAPEVINE, Texas (BP)–They never just walk into the classroom and they often trip other boys on the way. Using a quiet voice is something they forget. They’d much rather head to the playground than listen to a teacher read out of a magazine.
And yet, many Southern Baptist churches like Bannockburn Baptist in Austin, Texas, are committed to turning young boys into godly men who are on mission with God.
“We have a vibrant Royal Ambassador program at Bannockburn and greatly value its place in our overall ministry,” the church’s pastor, Ryan Rush, told the Southern Baptist Texan newspaper. “Our principle mission as a church is connecting church and home, so this fits what we’re trying to do.”
Said Carla Dillard, the church’s children’s minister, “It takes godly Christian men who are willing to share their hearts and their time with these young boys to make such a program work. We are blessed to have those men at BBC.”
For 2.16 million boys, RAs has provided an opportunity to discover they are commissioned as Christ’s ambassadors to go into the world and tell the story of Jesus Christ. It’s one of the oldest Southern Baptist organizations, first formed in 1883 when a group of boys in Kentucky met with their pastor to study missions and collect money to support a young girl in famed missionary Lottie Moon’s school in Tengchow, China.
RA groups took off, growing to 4,500 chapters by 1935. In the past 10 years alone, a quarter million young boys have learned to live out the RA pledge: “We are ambassadors for Christ,” based on 2 Corinthians 5:20.
Royal Ambassadors saw its highest enrollment in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, but many churches abandoned RA missions education in favor of co-educational missions education that requires fewer male leaders or for other types of curricula.
At Bannockburn, Dillard is convinced it’s worth the effort to recruit adult men to lead a separate group for boys.
“We are huge fans of Royal Ambassadors,” he said. “Year after year we see young boys and their dads, the RA leaders, spend quality time together learning about missionaries, participating in mission action activities, building cars for the RA racer derby, camping out, learning woodworking, and attending local boys camp together.”
Today’s boys, Dillard said, are desperately looking for positive, godly, Christian male role models from whom they can learn.
“Unfortunately, our society has dropped the ball in this area.”
And yet she’s encouraged that young men at Bannockburn thrive on this time together with the men leading Royal Ambassadors.
“They learn not only about missionaries and other skills, they get to emulate the qualities of their RA leaders,” she said. “In other words, they have role models — the kind they really crave and need. That’s why we love and are determined to keep RAs at Bannockburn.”
Andy Dodson is one of the church’s laymen who helps lead the RA program.
“I fell into it accidentally,” the Austin civil engineer said.
Having grown up a Methodist before joining a Southern Baptist church, Dodson attended an information class to learn more about the church’s approach to teaching missions since his own kids were enjoying the children’s activities. Soon he was recruited to help out and three years later he’s sold on the value of Royal Ambassadors in which his own 7- and 9-year-old sons participate.
“The biggest things kids face today are choices,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s what to eat or what not to do. The magazines that go with the RA curriculum deal a lot with kids who grew up as RAs and then became missionaries.
“From a ministry standpoint we’re teaching kids to make the right choices and why they should do that. RAs learn about right and wrong choices,” he said, adding that RAs supplements the biblical teaching children gain from Sunday School and other programs of the church.
Direction of the Royal Ambassador program for Southern Baptists is assigned to the North American Mission Board. Curriculum and training to teach missions to boys is available online at royalambassadors.org. Local Baptist associations typically have leaders who can help a church develop or reignite an RA program.
NAMB has also developed a one-on-one, father-son approach to teaching young boys about missions known as “Sons of Virtue.” The strategy is based on the Royal Ambassador pledge and delivers Christ-centered virtue studies and activities that develop personal relationships, commitments and an on-mission lifestyle. It can be used in a home small-group setting with several fathers and sons or as a program directed by men of the church.
“Challengers” is the mission organization for teenage boys. Information is available from NAMB at challengerscentral.com.
After nearly a century, Royal Ambassadors is now an international organization with groups in 14 countries reaching the world with the Gospel.
Tammy Reed Ledbetter is the news editor of the Southern Baptist Texan, where this story first appeared. It is available online at www.texanonline.net.