When Tommy Green, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, was contacted by Hershel Lyons, chancellor of public schools for the Florida Department of Education, about churches partnering with schools, Green knew Florida Baptist churches were on the cusp of a new opportunity with eternal ramifications.
Thus began the Write Beside You initiative to equip churches to partner with schools in order to make a difference in the lives of students across the state. Today nearly 200 church representatives are gathering at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz to learn about ways to engage the culture through public schools, making a difference in the lives of students, their families and the communities in which they serve.
“The Write Beside You meeting is the first step in encouraging our Florida Baptist churches to engage in our public schools,” Green said. “We have been requested to provide volunteers to mentor and serve Florida students.”
Ken Whitten, senior pastor of Idlewild, said churches have the opportunity to be a bridge between God and their communities as God has mandated that we take the gospel to our communities.
“It’s not about insulation where we stay in our own huddles and it’s not isolation where we abandon them – it’s infiltration, where we are salt and light and have a message of hope,” he said. “It’s part of the calling of God on our lives.”
Freddie Hinson, pastor of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Hudson, is one Florida Baptist pastor attending the training. He said part of being a Great Commission church is understanding and meeting the desperate need for the presence of God in our schools. He believes that by impacting students, Florida Baptists can reach into families and ultimately impact communities for Christ. He said being able to meet them where they are, in school, can have eternal implications.
“We have the opportunity to build relationships where they know they can come on our campus,” he said. “Statistics tell us if we’re not winning kids by the time they’re out of elementary school it becomes very difficult to reach them.”
Hinson added that this is a great opportunity for the local church to be equipped to respond to the invitation being offered by the Florida Department of Education.
Jeffery Singletary, Florida Baptist Convention Catalyst for Central Florida, said this is an opportunity for churches to speak truth and love into some of the issues that plague our communities. And while the approach will be different, the message is ultimately the same. Singletary acknowledged that while the laws that separate church and state have hindered the ability of some to be salt and light in this environment, Florida Baptists now have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of children and ultimately families.
Some ways churches can help include:
- Serving faculty and staff by providing breakfasts and lunches
- Helping set up classrooms
- Doing beautification work on campus
- Providing pre-game meals for sports teams
- Setting up a backpack feeding program
With today’s training, Singletary hopes to “remove the fear” for churches.
“We want to train them on how to operate in that space,” he said.
Whitten said a key component is understanding the rules of engagement, not creating problems for school administration but simply serving them.
“We’re not creating churches or a Sunday school class inside the school,” he said. “This is us meeting them where they are with the governance they’ve been given and asking them – what is your greatest need?”
Green is eager to provide training to churches, helping them understand the important role they can play to advance the gospel in our state.
“My prayer is that our Florida Baptist Churches will adopt schools in their area of ministry and begin impacting these campuses as requested,” he said.
By Nicole Kalil, Florida Baptist Convention, August 9, 2018