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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Men in the Making: 50 Years of Royal Rangers

By Christina Quick
Mar. 11, 2012

Much has been written in recent years about keeping young people in church. A 2007 study by LifeWay Research found that two-thirds of teens in Protestant congregations stop attending services within a few years of high school graduation.

As it turns out, such challenges are not new. Assemblies of God leaders in the 1950s were alarmed by a similar trend. Many young adults were walking away from the faith, and those who stayed were often unprepared to defend their beliefs. Ministries were needed to disciple and mentor youth. In October 1962, the national office launched a program for boys called Royal Rangers.

A rugged Texan named John Henry “Johnnie” Barnes led the ministry as the first national commander. An Eagle Scout, Barnes had planned a career as a park ranger before he sensed a call to ministry as a young adult. He envisioned a program that would bring together boys and men for fellowship, discipleship and outdoor adventure.

Barnes once said, “I have a dream of an army of Royal Rangers around the world lifting high the banner of Jesus Christ, making an impact on their generation for God.”

In 2012, as Royal Rangers celebrates its 50th anniversary, this army of men and boys shows no signs of retreating. Doug Marsh, the fourth and current national Royal Rangers commander, estimates more than 2 million boys in the United States have participated in the program. In addition, Royal Rangers has a presence in 86 countries around the world, with plans for further global expansion.

“I think my predecessors would be pleased with where we are today,” Marsh says. “We have a rich heritage for which we’re very grateful and celebrating this year. We’re also very enthusiastic about the future in ministering to the next generation of godly men.”

Marsh says Royal Rangers has been tremendously successful in its intended purpose of keeping boys in church and training them as future leaders. Many Royal Rangers have gone on to be pastors, missionaries and church lay leaders.

“There is something powerful about men investing in boys and speaking godly wisdom into their lives,” says Marsh, who earned the Gold Medal of Achievement, the program’s highest honor, during his years as a Royal Ranger. “When a boy gains an understanding of what it means to be a man and a servant leader like Jesus, he is set up for success in his spiritual life, his family life and every other area of life.”

Thomas E. Trask, former general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, once called Royal Rangers “the number one soul-winning ministry in the Assemblies of God.”

Doug Clay, general treasurer of the Assemblies of God, says Royal Rangers was instrumental in shaping his life as he grew up in a single-parent home.

“I never really realized I didn’t have a father around because I had my Royal Rangers leaders,” Clay says. “They came to my basketball games, helped me with my homework, and were there for me to talk to when I needed it.”

Clay says his Royal Rangers commanders played a crucial role in preparing him for manhood and ministry.

“I needed a godly man’s influence, and my Royal Rangers leaders filled that role,” Clay says. “Truthfully, I always felt bad for the other kids because they had only one dad and I had six.”

Marsh says there are many boys today who desperately need the influence of Christian men in their lives.

“The reality is, Rangers is needed more today than ever,” Marsh says. “In some ways, boys haven’t changed a bit. But they live in a different world. They are confronted with the disintegration of the home, limited interaction with male role models, challenges to their masculinity, and negative messages coming at them from every direction.”

Royal Rangers is evolving with the times. Two years ago the national office began offering online curriculum that churches can download quickly and economically. The department maintains an active Internet presence, including a Facebook page.

Royal Rangers is also adapting to the changing interests of boys. While camping and outdoor activities were the program’s focal points in the beginning, Royal Rangers is expanding to include a wider range of activities and options.

“Today, the interests of boys are so diverse,” Marsh says. “They are involved in sports, technology, the arts, computers and a variety of other things. We are building on the foundations that were laid in the past while working with a whole new generation of young men who need to be discipled in new ways.”

Marsh says the Royal Rangers curriculum is being revised to make it more adaptable to the needs of individual communities. Outdoor activities, uniforms and merits will be offered, but the program will be flexible enough to use without these things as well.

“Because of the availability of information and options, we can appeal to a broader group of boys instead of just those who are camping diehards,” Marsh says.

Felix de Jesus, children’s pastor at Christian Life Center, an urban and culturally diverse congregation in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is successfully using Royal Rangers to reach boys in his city — with a few adaptations.

“We’ve changed it to fit the culture of our kids,” de Jesus says. “Being in the city, the camping experience is not at the top of their list. Our groups are more technology and sports based. Some things we’ve added, and some things we’ve taken away.”

As Royal Rangers leaders prepare for future decades of ministry, Marsh says the program’s original focus on discipleship will never change.

“Pastors aren’t asking for camping programs, but they are needing mentoring programs,” Marsh says. “Mentoring boys and pointing them to Jesus has always been our key mission and purpose — and it always will be.”

CHRISTINA QUICK is a freelance writer and former Pentecostal Evangel staff writer. She attends Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Mo.

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