The FAMiLY LEADER invests in next generation leaders

Fifty-six Iowa (and beyond!) teenagers are ready to take on the world today, inspired to be ambassadors for Christ by The FAMiLY LEADER’s first ever LEAD program.

LEAD challenges teens with a week of Christian worldview and leadership training, then culminates in hands-on experience as part of a mock legislature at the Iowa Capitol. But LEAD is far more than a “government camp,” for its primary focus is on encouraging and equipping young people to be Christ-like leaders in whatever field God places them.

LEAD18 group shot

“I loved the intensely practical, yet discipleship-focused ministry that happened this week at LEAD,” said Greg Baker, TFL’s vice president of church engagement. “This may be one of the best things The FAMiLY LEADER has ever done.”

One mom even brought her son and a friend all the way from Eugene, Oregon, to attend.

“We’ve been to a lot of camps, and LEAD has reset the bar,” said Oregon mom Julie Stream, who also observed throughout the week. “The teens are charged to be the difference, to go out and influence the world. … And the LEAD staff have such a heart for the students. They’re strong, solid leaders that you want to teach your children so that they will have that same inspiration and influence.”

LEAD18 student2

An organization called Student Statesmanship Institute pioneered LEAD in Michigan 25 years ago and helped TFL bring the program to Iowa for the first time this summer.

The 56 LEAD students spent the week on the campus of Grand View University in Des Moines, learning from a variety of instructors, including Dr. Del Tackett of The Truth Project, Pastor Todd Stiles of First Family Church in Ankeny, football Chaplain Chris Barr, and more. Then at the Capitol, teens worked with actual Iowa legislators and registered lobbyists to develop speeches the teens eventually delivered in the Capitol’s former Iowa State Supreme Court chambers.

Iowa State Rep. Chris Hagenow of Urbandale was one of the legislators who led the students in a mock committee meeting, where the students discussed and debated actual bills that have come before the Iowa Legislature.

“LEAD is a great program to help get the next generation of Iowans more involved in the process, understanding how to have a better civic dialogue,” Hagenow said. “I’m excited to be a part of it.”

LEAD18 lt gov

“I appreciate this process for how realistic it is for our students,” echoed Iowa State Rep. Kevin Koester of Ankeny, who also led a student committee meeting. “They get a good taste of action at the Capitol and of the divisiveness of important issues. They did an excellent job of preparing, and I’m impressed just to be a part of this process with these kids. They’re good!”

The LEAD staff also came away thoroughly impressed with the teens.

“You hear too often discouraging headlines about today’s youth,” said TFL Multimedia Director Glen Cornell. “But I was so encouraged by this group of teens. This LEAD week revealed they have much more to contribute than we realize and represent so much hope for our future. They’re amazing!”

The FAMiLY LEADER welcomed this opportunity to engage students with LEAD because of TFL’s commitment to inspiring Christ-like leadership in the home, the church, and the government.

“These kids are the future,” explains Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of The FAMiLY LEADER, “and it means a lot to invest in them in every way that we can, especially counter-culturally to what they receive elsewhere, with a program that is Christ-centered.”

Bob was particularly grateful for a question one of the students asked during a Q & A session, wondering how to live out the biblical example of servant leadership as a senior on his high school football team. The young man wanted to transform the “privileged senior” culture of his team’s locker room into a “building others up” mentality.

“That kind of leadership is a tangible way to not only impact a football team, but also to impact your school, your church, your family, your community,” Vander Plaats said afterward. “These students have a lot of ways to make an impact, and I think what you’re going to see here is 56 kids who are going to be ambassadors for Christ.”

Join TFL in investing in the next generation of Christian leaders. Give to the work of The FAMiLY LEADER today!




Dr. Del Tackett teaches worldview at TFL’s student LEAD week

For 50+ teenagers on the campus of Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, the implications of a biblical (or unbiblical) worldview have never been more eye-opening, thanks to in-person instruction from The Truth Project’s Dr. Del Tackett.

The teens are participating in LEAD, a week-long leadership development program developed over 25 years of experience in Michigan and now brought to Iowa for the first time by The FAMiLY LEADER.

Tackett’s words to the students have been both profoundly unsettling and personally encouraging.

Tackett’s breakdown of the “state of the union” in America reveals a culture sprinting away from the heart of God. A nation that once proclaimed biblical principles, both in the pulpit and in the halls of government, has become a nation whose institutions – from academia and law to media and pop culture – have all “shifted sides on the stadium,” cheering against those who hold fast to a biblical worldview.

“You need to have courage,” Tackett told the students, “to stand when others ‘boo’ you.”

Yet180729 LEAD students rather than merely bemoan the shift in attitudes (America’s Christians cannot merely become a chorus of “whiners,” Tackett says), Tackett told the teens, “This is when the people of God become a Remnant.”

For despite Western Civilization’s radical departure from its Christian heritage, where some nations in Europe have seen evangelical Christianity fall to near-extinction levels, Tackett says the current generation is living in a day of opportunity.

“There is a miracle happening,” Tackett says. “There is a huge Remnant left in this nation, when in reality, there should be none.”

170320 lead studentsLike his work with The Truth Project, Tackett has been encouraging TFL’s LEAD students to evaluate the evidence of God’s design in creation, to understand the social consequences of our broader culture’s worldview, and to apply a biblical worldview to their own thinking.

“God is not through with us,” Tackett encouraged the students. “You are a part of His Remnant.”

TFL’s LEAD week also includes hands-on leadership experiences in a mock-legislature setting, as well as worship and testimony from ambassadors for Christ in many fields. Additional speakers planned for the week include Pastor Todd Stiles, international opera star Simon Estes, football chaplain Chris Barr, and Matt Moeckl, executive director of Wildwood Hills Ranch of Iowa.




The Timeless Voice: Transforming an unhealthy culture

Commentary by Greg Baker

America’s hyper-political culture is not healthy. Neither is it functional: As America is torn into opposing factions, the division destroys our government’s ability to carry out its God-given purpose. For God instituted government as His instrument of justice, and where government fails, injustice grows.

If our government is going to carry out its God-given purpose, it needs transformation. And it needs it at a cultural, heart-deep level.

Yet there is hope! I believe that if the Church engages government God’s way and with the power that only comes from the gospel of Jesus Christ, we can transform the culture – both in Des Moines and in D.C.

For too long we as Christians have been tangled in the web of partisanship, and we have allowed only select issues to form how we view elected officials. This leads to Christians thinking of one party as light and the other darkness, while the culture concludes the Church and even God must be partisan.

When you dig past the select issues, however, you find the light/dark, hero/villain dichotomy is false. Both sides have a desire to better our nation, but different theories on how to get there. Both sides need guidance from the Scriptures on how to face the many challenges confronting our nation.

The false dichotomy also leads us to false assumptions about the hearts of elected officials themselves. The truth is, some officials are hardened towards discussing the Lord or His Scriptures, while others are open – and we have found that political identification has little effect on who is soft and who is hardened against the Lord. What’s more, when you share the Scriptures and God’s desire for a personal relationship with them, it is amazing how the most unexpected people open up to discuss matters of faith.

In complicated issues like healthcare, mental health, the foster system, and immigration, one side could not possibly have all the answers. We need to encourage a culture where both sides of the aisle will listen to one another and earnestly search the Scriptures together to learn what God has to say.

We need to encourage a culture where both sides of the aisle will listen to one another and earnestly search the Scriptures together to learn what God has to say.

The Church of Jesus Christ is so much bigger than partisan and ideological battles. The Church is not here to serve any party or candidate. It is here to bring the transformative gospel of Jesus Christ everywhere it goes – including the halls of government.

The world left to its own devices will never do this. For America’s partisan bickering to end, for righteous legislation to pass, for our government to restore its rightful role of justice, we need the Church to bring the Great Commission to the halls of government. I believe if we lay aside partisan politics and engage government with the gospel and the timeless truths of the Scriptures, we will see partisan walls come down and people of all political parties work together towards biblical justice.

The Church can lead the way in transforming this culture. We can do this by broadly and biblically speaking to many issues, rather than only a few. We can do this by teaching all people about God’s redemptive love, regardless of party. We can do this by building genuine relationships with governing officials that incorporate both the personal and their unique role as a leader in our land.

For the past three years we have been bringing pastors regularly to the Capitol in Des Moines to get to know Iowa’s legislators and members of the executive branch. What God has done has been incredible! We have seen partisan walls come down as we work to bring the Scriptures and the gospel to all people, regardless of political party.

We have seen the culture begin to change in Des Moines, and I believe we can see it change in capitol buildings all across this nation. Our nation and our government need it, and the Church holds the power to do it through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” – John 1:5.

Greg Baker is vice president of church engagement for The FAMiLY LEADER.




Who IS Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh?

President Donald Trump has nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to be our next U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

But who is this man, and what’s his record on issues that matter to people of faith?

Kavanaugh, 53, is a Yale grad and practicing Catholic who played a key role in both the impeachment of President Bill Clinton and the investigation into the suicide of Clinton aide Vince Foster. He eventually joined the White House staff of President George W. Bush, who appointed him to his current position on the D.C. Appeals Court.

Over the last 12 years on the bench, Kavanaugh has established himself as an intelligent, well-respected, and often-cited judge, with over 300 issued opinions. His qualifications to serve as a Supreme Court justice are clearly established. A full analysis of his record on every issue would take books to detail, therefore we urge your prayers for Iowa’s U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, who is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and will be instrumental in Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings.

For this article, however, we will limit examination of Kavanaugh’s record to three top issues: Religious liberty, judicial activism, and the right to life. On these issues, the summary is positive, but mixed: Kavanaugh has been a powerful champion of religious liberty; he has shown a clear, constitutional understanding of the role of the judiciary; and his record on abortion is promising, but unclear.

Religious liberty

While in private practice, Kavanaugh served as Chairman of the Federalist Society’s Religious Liberty Practice Group, and on the bench, his record on religious liberty has been outstanding.

For example, in Priests for Life v. HHS, Kavanaugh voted to invalidate the Obama administration’s contraception mandate because it violated the rights of religious organizations. He argued it is “crystal clear” that “when the Government forces someone to take an action contrary to his or her sincere religious belief … the Government has substantially burdened the individual’s exercise of religion.”

And last year, Kavanaugh dissented from his court’s ruling that the Washington, D.C., transit authority could ban religiously themed advertisements, including a Christmas ad. He called the policy “pure discrimination” and “odious” to the First Amendment.

Judge Kavanaugh has also defended the traditional role of religion and prayer in the public square, vigorously arguing in Newdow v. Roberts for the constitutionality of prayers at government ceremonies and the phrase “so help me God” in the Presidential Oath of Office. He further suggested that “stripping government ceremonies of any references to God or religious expression … would, in effect, ‘establish’ atheism.”

Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of First Liberty Institute, has concluded that Kavanaugh “has been committed to the Constitution and religious liberty for a long time.”

Judicial activism

In the world of law, there is a divide between those who see the U.S. Constitution as a “living document” that must be interpreted according to the times and those who insist the Constitution be interpreted according to its original intent.

The “living document” perspective has given rise to judges “discovering” new “rights” not defined in the Constitution, such as the recent Iowa Supreme Court, which used the “living document” argument to concoct a “right” to abortion in the Iowa Constitution. Critics of this viewpoint accuse judges of “legislating from the bench” and “judicial activism,” since the basis for their rulings cannot be found in the words of the Constitution itself.

On the other hand, the leading figure of the latter perspective is President Ronald Reagan’s former Attorney General Edwin Meese III, who has argued the original intent of America’s Founding Fathers, rather than modern opinion, must hold sway when interpreting the Constitution.

Meese has praised Kavanaugh, calling the judge “an originalist who is faithful to the Constitution.”

Kavanaugh, in fact, stated in a 2016 lecture, “The judge’s job is to interpret the law, not to make the law or make policy. So read the words of the statute as written. Read the text of the Constitution as written, mindful of history and tradition. Don’t make up new constitutional rights that are not in the text of the Constitution. Don’t shy away from enforcing constitutional rights that are in the text of the Constitution.”

Abortion and the right to life

Judge Kavanaugh’s record on abortion is less certain.

On one hand, he has resisted government promotion of abortion. In Garza v. Hargan, Judge Kavanaugh rejected the ACLU’s assertion of a new constitutional right for illegal-immigrant minors in U.S. custody to obtain immediate abortion on demand. He emphasized the government’s “permissible interests in favoring fetal life” and “refraining from facilitating abortion.”

On the other hand, whether or not he would assert an unborn child’s right to life under the 14th Amendment is unknown. There is no certain way to predict how he would rule on a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade or if he would be willing to overturn an established precedent.

Nonetheless, Sarah Pitlyk of the Thomas More Society – which is defending Iowa’s “Heartbeat” Law in state court – has compared Kavanaugh to other leading judges and praised President Trump’s choice.

“On the vital issues of protecting religious liberty and enforcing restrictions on abortion, no court-of-appeals judge in the nation has a stronger, more consistent record than Judge Brett Kavanaugh,” Pitlyk said. “He has repeatedly taken conservative stands and fearlessly defended his textualist and originalist philosophy.”

The U.S. Senate appears poised to move on Kavanaugh’s nomination quickly. An anticipated timeline puts Senate judiciary hearings in late August with a confirmation vote possible in mid-September. This would allow Kavanaugh to be seated and in place on Oct. 1, the first day of the Supreme Court’s next term.




The Timeless Voice: Civility is more than manners, it’s the gospel in action

Commentary by Greg Baker

We were blessed to have a woman in our office recently who shared a message on the power of our tongue. According to the book of Proverbs, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21).

Our speech has the ability to build others up or quickly tear them down. What’s more, our speech is closely tied to the gospel we preach.

If we as Christians are going to be a witness in this culture, we must change the way we speak – not only about one another, but also about the world around us.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).

In order to make this biblical command the pattern of our lives, however, we must first change the way we view people. How we view others in our hearts will influence how we speak to them or about them: “From the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).

The woman who visited our office shared with us the lyrics to a beautiful song that challenged me in how I view people. It is called “See Me Beautiful” by Red and Kathy Grammer:

See me beautiful.
Look for the best in me.
It’s what I really am
And all I want to be.
It may take some time,
It may be hard to find,
But see me beautiful.

See me beautiful
Each and every day.
Could you take a chance?
Could you find a way
To see me shining through
In everything I do
And see me beautiful?

Though sin has marred each of us, God’s love looks past that, and He sees our beauty. He loves us and desires to redeem us. The gospel boasts a beautiful message of God’s love for us, in spite of who we are, to the point of putting our punishment on His Son all so He could be in relationship with us.

As Christians, we must see people as God sees people. We must begin to view people as made in the image of God. We must look past the sinful exterior and ask God to help us see who He created them to be. If we are willing to do this, we will begin to understand that the people around us are not our enemies, but fellow creations of God, desperately in need of His loving, redeeming grace.

When we see people this way, it will change our speech. We will begin to speak the truth in love as God commands and as Jesus demonstrated. We can begin to have conversations that heal and more clearly communicate the gospel.

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:9-10).

It doesn’t take long to see the culture that the untamed tongue has caused. We can look anywhere to see the damage of slander, lies, and bullying. Kindness and grace seem to be completely absent from Washington, Wall Street, and even on Main Street. We cannot seem to disagree without demonizing and belittling.

Brothers and sisters, let’s stop using our speech as a weapon and engage in the Great Commission. Let’s begin to see all people through the lens of eternity, the eyes of Christ, and with the heart of gospel-bearers:

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:16-20).

Greg Baker is vice president of church engagement for The FAMiLY LEADER.




TFL president pens op-ed on civility in USA Today

Have you noticed how bitter and angry people are on social media these days? How biased and divided the news coverage seems to be? How politics is becoming practically violent?

Whatever happened to respecting another human being, even if they disagree with you?

Civility and human decency are in short supply in America today. But in a column in USA Today, The FAMiLY LEADER President and CEO Bob Vander Plaats outlines a counter-cultural solution to rebuilding civility.

Read Bob’s USA Today column in its entirety by clicking here now!

“We need counter-cultural,” Bob writes. “We need to do exactly the opposite of what our culture is doing if we’re going to turn the culture of incivility around.”

Read Bob’s proposal for how you and I can “Fight on the Side of Civility in America’s Social Media Civil War” at USAToday.com now!




SHOCKER: Iowa Supreme Court concocts “right” to abortion

The Iowa Supreme Court today issued a 5-2 decision rejecting a 2017 provision requiring a 72-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion in Iowa.

What’s most concerning about the ruling, however, is that for the first time, the Iowa State Supreme Court found a “right to abortion” in the Iowa Constitution.

“We therefore hold,” wrote Chief Justice Mark Cady in his majority opinion, “under the Iowa Constitution, that implicit in the concept of ordered liberty is the ability to decide whether to continue or terminate a pregnancy.”

The FAMiLY LEADER Vice President and Chief Legal Counsel Chuck Hurley objected to the ruling, in which Cady argued that the Constitution should be interpreted according to “evolving standards” and that judges could therefore construe rights not actually specified in the Constitution.

“It’s shocking that the Iowa Supreme Court could read the Iowa Constitution, which lists the right to life as our first and most important right (in Article 1, Section 1), and then imagine a right to kill babies in the same document,” Hurley said. “Because that child in her mother’s womb … she’s a baby. And as even Roe v. Wade admitted, if the baby were recognized as a person, then her ‘right to life would be guaranteed’ and should take precedence over an imagined right to abortion.”

Today’s ruling does not immediately affect Iowa’s nation-leading Heartbeat Law, which is facing a separate lawsuit.

Nonetheless, Hurley says, “This makes the Heartbeat case all the more important. Americans know that when a baby’s heart is beating, she’s alive, but our state judges aren’t willing to protect her life. That’s why we need the U.S. Supreme Court to hear this case.”

Five justices sided with the majority in the 72-hour case: Justices Cady, Wiggins, Hecht, Appel, and Zager. Two justices dissented from the majority: Justices Waterman and Mansfield.

Tell the courts to protect life! Enter your name into the official court docket, urging America’s judges to defend our most innocent!




Bob on MSNBC: “Roe v. Wade is going to end”

The MSNBC news program Velshi & Ruhle invited two, opposing guests to discuss the future of abortion in America – National Organization for Women President Toni Van Pelt and The FAMiLY LEADER President and CEO Bob Vander Plaats.

In light of Justice Anthony Kennedy announcing his planned retirement on July 31 from the U.S. Supreme Court, the infamous abortion ruling Roe v. Wade hangs in the balance.

Watch as Van Pelt and Vander Plaats react very differently to to the news:




Bob on Fox, NBC: Kennedy retirement a ‘historic opportunity’

When Justice Anthony Kennedy’s announced his plan to retire on July 31 from the U.S. Supreme Court, the news media turned to The FAMiLY LEADER President and CEO Bob Vander Plaats for an evangelical perspective on the future of the court.

Could this shakeup on the Supreme Court lead to overturning the Roe v. Wade abortion decision? What about Kennedy’s majority opinion in the Obergefell same-sex wedding case?

Bob spoke first with the Fox News Channel’s Neil Cavuto, then with NBC Nightly News, calling Kennedy’s retirement a “historic opportunity”:

Bob was then asked by NBC Nightly News what this might mean for the pro-life cause:




The Timeless Voice: Make the gospel great again

Commentary by Greg Baker

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” – Matthew 6:33.

We are often called to patriotism and love of country. “Make America great again,” we are told.

But while we should love our city, state, and nation and desire what is best for our neighbors, we must also remember this is not our eternal home.

I love Des Moines, and I love America. I am so thankful that this is where God has placed me. I love showing off my city to visitors and sharing with them all Des Moines has to offer. I want what is best for my city and my country. It brings me joy when they are both doing well.

I must remember, however, this world is perishing, including my nation and my city. All of these things are temporary and will someday come to an end (Matthew 24:35). It is the Kingdom of God that will reign forever, not the kingdom of man. If I put all of my effort into merely building this nation without building God’s Kingdom at the same time, my labor will be in vain. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7, we must learn to make the most of our place in the world without becoming engrossed in it, because this world in its present form is passing away.

This world is also no longer my home. I have been adopted by God, and because of this I am no longer a citizen of this earth. Rather, I am a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20). Heaven is now my home, and, as a co-heir with Christ, the world to come is my inheritance.

The greatest thing we can do for the nation God has placed us in is be His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). This world needs us to speak truth to the dying, to be the aroma of life (2 Corinthians 2:16). When hope is placed in Wall Street, Washington, a 401k, or even the American dream, what Americans really need is God’s ambassadors to share the true hope they can have in Christ and His coming Kingdom. God’s Kingdom is greater than any nation, political party, career, denomination, sports team, or other worldly thing that divides us.

Put the Kingdom first. Put the Kingdom first by serving your neighbor. Put the Kingdom first by investing more in the next life than your 401k. Put the Kingdom first by serving Christ’s Church more than your career or hobbies. Put the Kingdom first by campaigning for the gospel more than for a political candidate. Put the Kingdom first by holding and proclaiming the truths of the Cross higher than the American flag. Put the Kingdom first by allowing the Bible to form your worldview more than any worldly ideology. Then your labor will never perish and will never be in vain.

“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” – 1 Corinthians 15:58.

Greg Baker is vice president of church engagement for The FAMiLY LEADER.




On CNN: Bob refuses all-in, all-against divide over Trump

“What do President Trump’s approval numbers mean?” CNN asked The FAMiLY LEADER President and CEO Bob Vander Plaats.

Bob says it shows the country is being pushed into an artificial “all in” or “all against” divide. It’s time for Americans to think bigger than hyper-partisan boxes.

Watch the interview below:

Read Bob’s New York Times column that CNN referred to in the interview.




On MSNBC: Bob calls for justice AND mercy at U.S. border

The FAMiLY LEADER President and CEO Bob Vander Plaats joined MSNBC host Hallie Jackson Wednesday morning for a frank discussion on children being separated from their parents at the U.S./Mexico border.

Watch the interview below:

The MSNBC interview was prompted by Bob’s op-ed in The New York Times, in which Bob called on the president, U.S. attorney general, and members of Congress to work out a solution to immigration enforcement that embodies the “do justly and love mercy” spirit of Micah 6:8.

“Let the adults get around the table, and let’s stop this now,” Bob told Jackson. “We cannot let the worst of Washington keep these kids hostage and separate families.”

Read Bob’s New York Times column that prompted the interview, “Cruelty at the Border Is Not Justice,” by clicking here now!

Bob has also been interviewed recently on local TV networks, including WHO-TV and KCCI-TV, Des Moines. You can watch those interviews below:

Read Bob Vander Plaats’ column, “Cruelty at the Border Is Not Justice,” on The New York Times website by clicking here.

Bob previously wrote a USA Today column about solutions to America’s immigration woes in February 2018. Click here to read the USA Today column.