. . .From ABS President A.J. Smith

It is a privilege to address you as your newly elected president. A few short years ago I could not have envisioned this moment. As a boy I did not have the opportunity to be in Scouts. My involvement began when my son became a Tiger Cub. If someone had told me I would find a ministry in Scouting, I would have thought they had lost their mind. So, I am truly humbled by the honor that you have given me to serve as president.

I was reared in a Baptist home and am the youngest of five siblings. My father was a bi-vocational Baptist preacher with an eighth-grade education. My wife, Michelle, and I have been married for almost 22 years and have five children - three girls and two boys, with one Venture Scout and one Boy Scout. I am an active volunteer in my district and council, and recently completed Wood Badge SR-982. I teach church history for Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and served as part of a church planting team. I currently teach Bible study and play keyboard in my church's praise band. And, my entire family loves Scouting.

Enough about me: You want to hear my ideas for making ABS stronger in the days ahead and for positioning us to fulfill our mission: leading youth to Christ through a Scouting Ministry. So let's start with talking about who we are, what our mission is, and how we can best fulfill it.

Who We Are: Baptists
First and foremost we are Christians of the Baptist persuasion. What does that mean? It means we are a diverse lot who are little understood by the Christian world around us. At last count there are some 60 different Baptist groups in the USA. We do things differently. We have no hierarchy. There is no "Baptist Church." We have no single, stated creed that embraces all Baptists in all places at all times. Each church is its own autonomous body, free to elect its officers and set its course in whatever manner it perceives to be consistent with the Bible and the leading of the Holy Spirit. And yet, we are a voluntarily interdependent people. We form voluntary societies, associations, conferences, and conventions with other like-minded churches to advance the cause of the Kingdom.

Secondly, we are Baptists who believe Scouting is an evangelistic tool for churches. We believe Scouting is a positive force in our communities if used properly by our churches. This is something we, for all our differences, have in common. We are committed to reaching people with the Gospel and we share the belief that Scouting can be a useful tool for churches in that regard.

For years I worked in construction, and I've tinkered as a "shade-tree" mechanic since I was boy. I understand toolboxes. There is a wide variety of tools that can go into a tool box. Some are very specialized, while others have a wide range of uses. A flat screwdriver can open a paint can, connect a wire to an elec-trical plug, or adjust a carburetor. But a pair of pliers is a poor choice for removing a head bolt from an engine, and a hammer is not the right tool for adjusting a bicycle seat.

I see Scouting as a multi-purpose tool in a church's outreach toolbox. It can build character, teach citizen-ship, life skills, and provide a moral foundation for choices. Through the Religious Emblems program it can be an evangelistic tool for churches.

As diverse as Baptists are, we come together around this theme and work together to impact our individual spheres of influence at the local, associational, state and national levels. No individual can reach out and build relationships with every Baptist group in the U.S. Realistically, some of the 60 plus groups will never unite with us as part of ABS. But we represent a variety of Baptist groups, and each of us can impact the Baptist group from which we come to encourage partnering with ABS to reach youth for Christ through a Scouting ministry. Everyone must make a concerted effort to recruit members to ABS in the communities where we live and our respective branch of the Baptist family so that we can build bridges that will create positive relationships between our various Baptist groups.

One thing I hope to do as president is to prepare a fraternal letter to the national meetings of our larger Baptist groups based on how frequently they meet in national sessions. This letter will include who we are and summary statistics about Scouting in Baptist life. It will also included success stories that will drive home the point as to how our churches are using Scouting effectively to make a difference in our communities.

One thing I hope you will do is offer, as you have ability, to represent ABS with a display at your local associational, state or national meetings. Let us know you are willing and the dates of the meetings, and we will do all in our power to assist you.

What Do We Provide?
Before our annual meeting I spoke with our secretary, Merri Addison, about ABS's future and the service we provide Scouting units. We ask people to pay dues and give donations to an endowment, but what do we do with those funds to help churches reach youth for Christ through a Scouting ministry? This is an area I think we should focus more attention. Annual membership dues help pay for this newsletter, your membership patch, pin and card.

It also includes our participation with P.R.A.Y. Publishing, which provides the Protestant Religious Emblems curriculum. We provide training every two years at Philmont for Scout leaders to learn about reaching youth through a Scouting ministry. Can we do more? Should we do more? I believe the answer is, yes. I also believe that if we demonstrate that, people will be willing to support us financially through endowment giving. To this end I propose that executive officers take time in 2012 to work on a five-year plan to focus ABS on servicing Baptist constituencies in tangible ways and help them use Scouting as an evangelistic tool. Let me offer some suggestions.

ABS Council Chapters
Tim Cooper, ABS member and a former Council Exec, began a pilot project in the Greater Alabama Council to utilize a chapter structure similar to OA. It is a Baptist Scout Camporee, which invites all Baptist units and Scouts who are members or attendees of Baptist churches. The event will include typical activities, but with an emphasis on religious instruction centered on the outdoors that is distinctively Baptist. It will involve Boy Scouts and Venture Scouts in planning and leading the event. Our goal is for Baptist churches to see the value of Scouting as a creative tool for sharing the gospel.

Growing Membership
Another important step is to grow membership. Outside of life members, we currently have less than 100 members in ABS. We cannot impact Scouting in Baptist life at the local level with so few members scattered across the nation. Our best way to grow membership (at church or in Scouting) is word of mouth. I encourage each of you to recruit at least two new ABS members.

Connecting with Student and Campus Ministries
We must connect with children's ministers, youth ministers, and campus ministers. To reach younger children through Scouting, ministers need to buy into the ABS vision and become an active and visible presence in Cub Scout Packs. Youth pastors must view Scouting for the potential it brings to youth ministry, both through Boy Scouts and Venture Scouts. They should actively engage in ministering to young people in troops and crews, as well as their families. An overlooked opportunity exists in our reach through college campus ministries. If these groups chartered a Venture Crew, we could do two things. First, we could reach college students through high-adventure activities offered by Venture Scouting. Secondly, at the college level, we could educate youth pastors and future senior pastors of the value of Scouting as a ministry.

ABS and New Media
In 2009 ABS stepped into virtual media. Although I resisted Facebook, I agreed to set up an account to promote ABS through social media. While it has been a limited success, we can do more. New media like Twitter, Google+, webinars and blogs hold educational opportunities to reach pastors, youth pastors, and children's ministers in the comfort of their offices. We must find the most cost-effective ways to conduct webinars, select appropriate leaders, and provide online sessions dealing with specific issues related to a Scouting ministry. Our ABS website can be updated with current information and links to the Baptist Scouting ministry.

Getting the Word Out
A recent hurdle over the past two years is ignorance of our existence among Baptist leaders and laymen. People don't know we exist. We don't have name recognition, even in Baptist churches with Scouting. Furthermore, I've been unable to gain traction with Baptist news agencies for submitting press releases and getting them published. We must build relationships with Baptist news outlets that serve branches of our denomination and encourage them to publish success stories about churches that effectively use Scouting to impact their communities.

Conclusion
Our challenge, from a human perspective, may look daunting, even impossible. Certainly that's how many saw William Carey's challenge to send missionaries to India in 1795. It was a God-sized problem that required a God-sized vision and solution. And God took care of it. We face a God-sized problem. Of the millions of U.S. Baptists, we're a tiny drop in the bucket. But, we are a drop that can make waves if God is in what we do. I don't have a full-blown plan, but I have a team of officers who work together, and there are three things I'm certain of: our God is a great God who delights in doing the impossible so that He can get the glory; to fail to plan is to plan to fail, and; if this is going to work, we must plan the work and work the plan. Will you help me move ABS forward so that together we can help churches reach youth for Christ through a Baptist Scouting ministry?