Taking the Good News of Jesus Christ to Public Schools
By Jacob Riggs
The Door God Opened
The idea for a Good News Club came from Rob Morgan. Not long after he suggested it, and I started praying about it, we received a newsletter from the Oakland County (MI) director of Child Evangelism Fellowship (parent organization for Good News Clubs) sharing a desire to start new clubs. We ran with it.
Soon, our children’s ministries director was training people to run a club, even though we didn’t have a location. Our church prayed regularly for an open door. We met with the school superintendent in the very progressive city where the church is located. (The weekend before writing this article, a carwash in downtown Royal Oak featured all the workers dressed in drag). The superintendent was kind and sent information to every elementary school principal, but we didn’t hear anything back.
After those doors didn’t open, I decided to send an email to my daughter’s kindergarten teacher to gauge the interest of potential parents. She encouraged me to contact the principal. I did, and to our surprise, she indicated she wanted to meet with us soon. During that meeting, it became clear God had been working behind the scenes. Someone at the school had been praying for a club similar to a Good News Club to open for five years, and had even approached churches to start one, but found the churches hesitant.
It was quickly settled. The club would meet one day a week after school. Parents had to sign up children to attend, absolving the school from all responsibility. Since other clubs use the school building for free and send materials home with children, the school was required to send our material home too (based on the Good News Club vs. Milford Central School decision by the Supreme Court in 2001).
In contrast to Royal Oak, I affectionately describe Clawson, the community where we live, as “The Mayberry of the North.” Every fall, firefighters pile wood pallets 30 feet high in the local park and burn them for entertainment. So, I was surprised when, the weekend after the flyers for the Good News Club went home with students, I was awakened by a member of our church to alert me to an online backlash that had started against the club and our church.
A concerned parent posted a picture of the flyer on a neighborhood-based social media app. The parent received the flyer and found a website that seeks to “educate” parents about “the other side of the story” of Good News Clubs. In my opinion, the website is fear mongering. However, the parent shared the website, along with a link to our church’s statement of faith.
Parents became concerned, and even afraid of us. The same content was shared on a Clawson Facebook page. Someone even found one of my online sermons, where I shared how we invited a friend of our daughter to VBS. She used a quote from the sermon to make it appear I was “stalking” children and encouraging my church to do the same.
Because we were being misrepresented, I felt I needed to respond. So, I posted on the neighborhood app and Facebook, introducing myself and dispelling the rumors. I encouraged any parents to contact me with questions or concerns. I noted the background checks we had undergone. I reassured parents that this club didn’t have anything to do with sexuality. But I wasn’t bashful about our intent: “We are doing this to tell children how they can know God as a good Father through Jesus Christ.”
One parent believed we were hiding something. He sent an email stating, “A lot of Christian organizations have tried to change to appease the liberal agenda, and I wanted to make sure this isn’t one of them.” Then he asked us very specific questions about our beliefs about Hell, homosexuality, and the Bible being literal, among other things. I recognized his name as being the online instigator posing as a conservative Christian in order to try to get us to affirm something so he could add fuel to the fire.
The fire didn’t stay online. A dozen parents called the principal with their concerns. I stayed in touch with her, too. I shared what I said online to try to calm folks down. She was grateful and sent the response to parents who were upset. Her husband had participated in the National Day of Prayer at the school where he was a principal. Her situation was different. She also let me know the local news had called and had picked up the story.
That day, I almost left my office without checking voicemail, but the Spirit brought it to mind with my hand on the doorknob. Sure enough, I had a voicemail from a local newspaper reporter. I called him immediately and made a statement. He said some parents were upset about the club happening in a public school and were concerned our church was too conservative. He referred to our statement of faith about marriage being between a man and a woman. That’s when I asked for a moment to pray.
God does give wisdom to everyone who asks. He made my mind crystal clear with what to say and calmed my spirit. I told the reporter the club was legal, voluntary, and was not anti-LGBTQ. Here’s part of how the article read:
“Riggs’ goal in the program is to show in the Bible they can ‘know God as a good father through Jesus Christ.’ ‘I know some parents are upset or concerned about our church’s stance on what the Bible teaches about sexuality,’ Riggs said. ‘But I want parents to know that has nothing to do with the Good News Club.’”
The deacons at Central Oaks affirmed my actions and provided some wise counsel. We let our church know via email what was going on and asked them to pray. Of course, they prayed faithfully, as they always do.
The parent who started the whole thing corresponded with me through a few emails. I wanted to have coffee with him so we could meet each other. I really think if we met, he would realize I’m harmless. I might even learn a little about his worldview. So far, he has resisted my requests, but I am hopeful as there is a good chance his son is in my daughter’s class.
I was grateful for the fairness of the reporter’s article. Mostly, I was grateful to God for helping me through the situation. As I said earlier, no classes in college or seminary can prepare a pastor for this type of situation, and there was no time to make a plan.
Two strangers reached out to let me know they are praying for the club and grateful it’s happening. One husband and wife visited our church to support us. They both thought it was a “courageous” thing we were doing. It doesn’t seem that way to me, compared to so many of our brothers and sisters suffering persecution in China and the middle east.
Where We are Now
Six children came to the first club meeting. Eleven had signed up. We prayed for more the next term, and at the time of writing, 12 are attending regularly. Joanna Walker is doing a great job leading this ministry, and Brenda Underwood and Elsie Anderson are amazing helpers.
We’re confident God is going to save some children. These children need to know that God is a good Father. They need to know that life (and eternity) without Him really is Hell. They need to know what He’s done by sending Jesus for them so they can be saved.
We will happily be on the wrong side of history if we can help others be on the right side of eternity.
Some in our city will think we’re on “the wrong side of history” no matter what we do or say. That’s okay. We will happily be on the wrong side of history if we can help others be on the right side of eternity.
Who knows, the parent who started this whole thing might become a pastor someday. I remember a man who did much worse to the church before he met Jesus.
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