In the beginning, God aligned Keith Polk’s heart to Fathers in the Field’s mission. Literally. The long-standing Mentor Father was the first. Mentoring a sixth-grade boy named Taylor (shown right with Keith at his high school graduation) became Keith’s personal ministry through the end of Taylor’s sophomore year of high school two years ago.
True to God’s form, the ties that bind aren’t easily broken.
Taylor, now a Fathers in the Field alumnus, recently asked for Keith’s opinion about a Jeep. There it was. A simple, yet surprising call beyond the borders of their mentoring relationship reinforced Keith’s role in the teenager’s life. Whether you are a parent or mentor, you know behind any request for advice there’s a deeper truth and trust than the subject matter reveals. It’s a privilege earned through time, consistency and unconditional love.
The native Mississippian was Taylor’s Sunday School teacher at Crossgates Baptist Church at the time the vision for Fathers in the Field was shared over breakfast by John Smithbaker, then a fellow outdoorsman by profession and passion. With the ministry still a dream, John shared his God-given desire to utilize his and other men’s love for the outdoors to help abandoned boys heal and teach integrity, service and a strong work ethic while modeling the characteristics of the Heavenly Father.
“My first thought was the ministry was too narrow-focused. I didn’t know any fatherless boys,” said Keith. “Later, when names were rattled off at our church, the first two were fatherless boys in my Sunday School class. Taylor lived in our subdivision and I had no clue. It opened my eyes to the vastness of the need and the true scope of the ministry. A mission field was right in front of me. I committed to be the first Mentor Father in 2007 knowing that God could not only change a boy’s life, but the lives of his family members.”
His Mentor Father experience was a menagerie of lessons, emotions, challenges, triumphs, and trials. “My struggle with having an introverted Field Buddy was not seeing any enthusiasm,” said Keith. “It wasn’t ‘made for TV’ mentoring. I had expectations of Taylor and many times those expectations weren’t met. I saw things the way they should be and they were not that way. I dealt with needing my role in his life to be affirmed. I quickly learned I had to die to that and give it to the Lord. He just wants me to be obedient to His call to defend the cause of the fatherless.”
Keith had a reality check. He came face-to-face with the fact that he was the one who was too narrow-focused. Field Buddies do not and will not fit within the mold, the ideal and the high standards of our unmet expectations. Some don’t have the capacity or tools because they haven’t been taught. Integrity hasn’t been faithfully modeled by a man. Discipline is hard to administer and accountability is a challenge to enforce without the help of a consistent father figure. The boys simply need to be loved, instructed “along the way and encouraged to walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21)
“There’s always a deficit without a dad and everyone involved in Fathers in the Field sees and experiences the repercussions,” said Keith. “Looking back, I wish I had been more intentional with Taylor. At times, I backed off in fear I’d hurt his feelings. If I had it do over, I would be bolder in my approach.”
Equipped with wisdom and experience under his belt, Keith has another chance with his new 13-year-old Field Buddy, Michael. His mom proactively sought out a man to invest in her son’s life at a hunter’s safety course at Keith’s church.
Although Crossgates Baptist Church has a big congregation, Keith struggles to get other men to step up. “We’ve had the same two Mentor Fathers over the last seven years. The commitment level required turns most men away. They feel there’s no margin in their lives. When God calls us, it’s not about our ability, but our availability. It’s hard to convince men about that when the world focuses on their competence.”
Keith understands the importance of being available for Kingdom building one boy at a time.
“It’s more of a struggle to find the time working as a timber buyer and having two boys of my own, but it’s worth the effort,” said Keith. “Also, having a mentor, John Sojourner, made a difference in my life. His incredible passion for God challenged me in all facets of life. John went to be with the Lord in August 2013. He modeled what it meant to disciple others while allowing himself to be discipled. John was a man who understood the value of investing in profitable business opportunities, yet knew the greater value of investing in people for the sake of the Kingdom. He invested in me professionally with a job description stating ‘Glorify the Lord’ as the primary goal.”
When you’ve benefited from the gift of someone investing in your life, Keith believes it’s easier to see the value of mentoring relationship with a fatherless boy. “There’s something about another man patting you on the back and challenging you. It means a lot and that need never goes away.”
Keith and his wife, Danielle, not only pray for Godly mentors for one another, but also pray the Lord provides Christ-like men to walk alongside their sons, Caleb and Collin, as they get older.
“It’s vital, and the discipleship of other believers is something many churches overlook. Perhaps we would have more men become Mentor Fathers if they fully understood the concept of discipleship. There’s always a cost, but the results of our labor have eternal significance.”
Keith’s Message to Men in the Church:
The need for Godly mentors is great. Don’t shirk or evade the task. We’re called to it. Whether it’s mentoring a fatherless boy or discipling someone, we all have a role to invest in others. I would challenge you to see where God is moving and where you need to jump in to assist your church family and the community.
The Fathers in the Field ministry at its best is when Mentor Fathers rally around fatherless boys and the rest of the Church surrounds and supports the boys’ family.
We must take care of our own, but also bust out the doors and start taking care of others in our community. We need to help break the cycle of fatherlessness. It’s an ongoing issue that seems to perpetuate itself. We must step in and show these boys how to be men.