“God give us men. Times like these demand strong minds, great hearts, true faith and ready hands.” Written many years ago, these words have been the heart-cry of Free Will Baptist leaders and pastors. The denomination does need men—men for the Master’s work—but greater than that is the need to enlist the men who are already Free Will Baptists.
Thank God that through Master’s Men, Free Will Baptist laymen may now have the chance for the full expression of their Christian desires. God is giving us the men, that through this organization we are giving them an opportunity for total enlistment and involvement.
We are certain there are great possibilities among our laymen. Our prayer for them is that God may set their hearts on fire with the desire to know His will and send them forth among His people to teach and to save.
Executive Secretary W. S. Mooneyham penned those three statements in 1955. The message is still relevant today. Master’s Men is a vital force in the ministry of Free Will Baptists. From 1935, the year of the “rebirth” of the Free Will Baptist denomination until 1955 there was no nationally organized fellowship for laymen. A few scattered “Brotherhood” groups existed in local churches, but there was no uniformity or exchange of ideas between groups. The Master’s Men concept began at the 19th National Association meeting in Tulsa, Oklahoma on July 14, 1955, when W. S. Mooneyham presented a proposal to the national body in Huntington, West Virginia. The proposal read, “Seeing the need for some national direction and coordination in the setting up of men’s organizations in the local churches, I recommend the election of a committee of three members to study the need and draft a suitable plan for these organizations.”
A three-member committee consisting of W.S. Mooneyham, O.T. Dixon, and Luther Gibson, was appointed to explore the potential of a national agency to promote and focus the efforts of men’s ministry in the local church. A year later, the committee reported to the National Association in Huntington, West Virginia. They found a definite need for a Free Will Baptist men’s organization and proposed the name “Master’s Men.” They introduced a constitution and by-laws, all written by Rev. Robert C. Hill, who led the department through its first 11 years in existence.
The organization was built upon the acronym ATTACK: All Together To Advance Christ’s Kingdom. It focused on four goals: enlisting, organizing, training, and inspiring men to serve within the local church. Built upon groups, or chapters, of men in local churches, the new department grew steadily through the first decade. Laymen’s breakfasts at the national convention soon gave birth to the publication of ATTACK magazine, the development of evangelistic educational programs, and volunteer work projects on the local church, district, state, and national level.
Membership grew to 3,000 by 1964, and the growing demands of the department led Robert Hill to step aside in 1967 so the board could locate and hire a full-time director. Ray Turnage became the first director in 1969. Although he served for only a year, he opened 250 new chapters and convinced the denomination to administer a portion of cooperative money to fund the work of Master’s Men. Turnage was not replaced immediately, but Oklahoma volunteer Ken Lane stepped in and worked tirelessly to keep the work alive.
In spite of limited funding and the lack of a full-time director, the organization grew steadily through the 1970s, adopting a project-oriented approach to ministry with such programs as Project Tool Shed and Project Book Shelf, which provided tools and books for missionaries.
The board hired Loyd Olsan as part-time director in 1975, and the position became full-time in 1978. West Virginian James Vallance followed Olsan in 1983. Vallance dreamed of making Master’s Men the “hands” of the denomination, and under his leadership, the department built more than 70 churches and missions facilities across the United States and nine international locations.
To boost the financial situation of the small department, Vallance instituted the LifeMembership program. LifeMembers make a single payment, lifetime dues, to an irrevocable trust fund held by the Free Will Baptist Foundation; the annual interest provides perpetual funding for the department.
In 1990, Master’s Men left the office space provided by Randall House Publications and moved into the National Office Building on Murfreesboro Road in Nashville. A year later, the department played a crucial role in the construction of a new National Office Building, donating more than 5,000 hours of labor to construction. The move to the new building, however, created a financial shortage. During the early nineties, the office incurred $145,000 in debt, and began to explore new avenues to generate revenue.
Sports Fellowship activities began in 1992, when Master’s Men began to sponsor the annual Free Will Baptist National Softball Tournament, previously hosted by the Sunday School and Church Training Board. The same year, the department introduced the first national golf tournament. Both activities met with enthusiastic response. They gave Master’s Men contact with men and churches, created new opportunities for friendship, and gave a boost to the department’s struggle for funding. In 1994, the board unveiled the Build-a-House Campaign in which donors provided funding for building materials, Master’s Men volunteers provided labor, and the newly constructed house sold for a profit. The money helped underwrite the growing ministries of the department.
Jim Vallance resigned in December 1997, and Ohio native and pastor Tom Dooley became director in 1998. Although Dooley held the position only three years, Master’s Men reached two important milestones under his leadership. In 1999, the department paid its long-standing debt to the Free Will Baptist Executive Office. That same year, Master’s Men began to produce annual Bible studies each year for use by local church groups.
When Tom Dooley submitted his resignation in 2001 to return to the pastorate, the board hired Director of Ministry Development Ken Akers. Akers found himself the leader of a struggling department. Local church membership had declined, finances were an ongoing battle, and Master’s Men continued to search for its identity and purpose. Then, in 2005, the organization found new direction in a hurricane!
When Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, Free Will Baptists responded by giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to those devastated by the storm. Churches across the nation produced an army of volunteers to repair, rebuild, and relieve those in need along the Gulf Coast.
The storm made it clear that Free Will Baptists needed an organized plan to channel relief efforts and supplies to victims of natural disaster. Delegates to the 2006 National Convention in Birmingham, Alabama, approved a Disaster Relief Plan that named Master’s Men Department the relief agency for the National Association. The agency has since been involved in relief work in a number of locations, most recently providing relief in Haiti following the devastating earthquake that shook the island nation in January 2010.
In 2009, Master’s Men also became the key agency responsible for organizing Impact, an annual outreach event held each year on the Saturday before the national convention. During Impact, volunteers from across the nation arrive in the host city a day early to provide manpower for outreach events, door-to-door evangelism, and kindness evangelism.
In 2015, with the approval of the National Association, North American Ministries (Home Missions) brought Master’s Men under the umbrella of their ministries. Master’s Men remained intact, with all its present assets, but began to minister and operate under the direction of Home Missions. According to Home Missions Director David Crowe, “This enhanced the mission and ministry of both departments, and provided opportunities for men’s ministries in our churches and denomination.”
“It’s just good stewardship,” said Master’s Men Director Akers. “In these financially challenging times, we need to do everything we can to conserve money. This move relieved financial pressure and allowed us to carry out our tasks more effectively.”
As the department looks to the future, Master’s Men continues to operate on five basic principles: Discipleship, Stewardship, Soul-Winning, Fellowship and Edification. “Men mentoring men for local church ministry. That’s what we want to be known for,” said Akers.