For all practical purposes, several hundred ministers of education will be going on mission trips in 2004. But they won't be taking hammers or nails.


These ministers will be going out across America not to build shelters, but to build education ministries in churches.


"Meet ME Across America" is an emphasis of the network partnership area of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention and involves ministers of education (MEs) from across the country.

Over the past two years, groups of MEs have gathered to talk about the state of the education ministry in Southern Baptist churches. Now MEs have an opportunity to use their knowledge and skills to help other churches in every state in what is titled "Meet ME Across America 2004."


Larry Ware, LifeWay's network partnership specialist who works with Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri, is coordinating the project.


"We started this emphasis with the ministers of education in 2002 with Meet ME in St. Louis," Ware said. "In the spring of 2003, 85 groups of ministers of education met in cities across the country to discuss issues related to their role and work. Then, in May, we had Meet ME in D.C., during which we matched the ministers of education with several churches in D.C. and Maryland. For 2004, we're gearing up for Meet ME Across America."


The emphasis has grown each year. In 2004, 100 teams of ministers of education will work with churches across the United States and Canada.


"For the most part, these teams will focus on churches that don't have a staff position of minister of education," Ware said. "These teams will work with pastors and key lay leaders to assess the health of the church. They'll help pastors and lay leaders look at how the church is using their closed and open groups, worship services and ministry teams to reach unsaved people and to disciple believers. Then, after they all work together to form a strategy for the church, the consulting ministers of education will continue to serve in an advisory capacity for about six months."


Bruce Raley from First Baptist Church, Panama City, Fla., attended one of the training sessions. Even though his job title is executive pastor, Raley said he is a minister of education at heart and most of his work at the church relates to that role.


"Ministers of education wear so many hats," Raley said. "We're educators, change agents, ministers, generalists, strategists. The list goes on."


When Raley left Arkansas to go to Florida, he quickly realized he didn't have the same professional support system in place in his new job. "I needed to have that fellowship with other people in my position," he said.