Every summer high school students from across the country come together to participate in one of the greatest competitions known to Regular Baptists. And every summer the GARBC waits for the event more anticipated than the summer Olympics—the Talents For Christ national competition.
Students from all across the United States have spent weeks, nay even months, preparing for the heated competition, which is bound to thrust them into the Baptist limelight, and they have gathered at the GARBC’s national conference to await the announcement of the winners. This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for. This is the moment that determines who’s who among America’s Regular Baptists.
Or is it?
After the first-place winners from each category are awarded scholarships, what happens to the over fifty hopefuls who suddenly find themselves . . . losers?
We’ve tracked down eight Talents For Christ losers who prove that this competition is about more than just taking home first place. Perhaps you will recognize some of TFC’s BIGGEST Losers.
8. Albert Armitage
In the summer of ’94, Albert Armitage competed in Male Voice at the national TFC competition. As a junior, he didn’t place nationally. However, the real disappointment came the following summer when he once again entered—but was disqualified for not numbering his song’s measures. “I had switched one of my songs between state and nationals and forgot to number them.” Unfortunately, the oversight cost him the competition. “I was shocked and very disappointed, but my parents were very encouraging.”
Despite the upsetting outcome, Armitage followed through with his ministry goals and attended Faith Baptist Bible College, graduating in 1999 with a degree in music ministries. From school, Armitage headed straight into ministry and has been the minister of music at Olivet Baptist Church in Westwood, Kansas, since August 2000. He also teaches at Olivet’s Christian school and serves as the network administrator for the school and church. And this year, on January 19, Albert Armitage was ordained.
“Talents For Christ really helped to develop in me a love for church music,” says Armitage, who considers TFC to be the push that he needed to consider heading into music ministry.
7. Beth Workman
Beth Tanner Workman gets the award for perseverance. In 1972 she competed in Female Voice, placing second in New York. In 1973 she competed again in Kansas City, only to find that TFC did not award any scholarships in the category of Voice that year. Not to be deterred, she competed a third time in 1974 and came in second at nationals.
So how does she feel about Talents For Christ? Beth loved TFC because of the people. “It was so wonderful to get to know all these other girls, first from my state and then from all around the nation. We had such camaraderie with each other.” She still maintains several of the friendships she made at those competitions.
Beth has gone on to establish herself as a wonderful musician as well as a pastor’s wife. She and her husband, Don, have served at Faith Baptist Church in Streetsboro, Ohio, for seventeen years. Beth received a degree in music from Baptist Bible College in 1978. She has since been active teaching voice lessons, leading choirs for children and adults, coaching other Talents For Christ winners, and even judging on the state and national levels. One year she judged the New York state competition-along with one of her former judges and a former contestant.
6. David Tebbenkamp
In 1990, the summer after he graduated from high school, the promise of scholarships coaxed David Tebbenkamp into competing in Male Public Speaking. The only competitor on the state level, Tebbenkamp went on to the national competition at the Niagara Falls conference. After “bringing the thunder” and preaching a five-point sermon in eight minutes, Tebbenkamp came in dead last. In his defense, he accidentally hit a ceiling tile during his sermon, which might have contributed to his low rank.
Despite the discouraging adjudication scores, Tebbenkamp went on to Faith Baptist Bible College and Seminary and earned a BA in mission evangelism, an MA in theology, and an MDiv. After graduating from seminary, he went straight into ministry and served as Duke Crawford’s assistant at Calvary Baptist Church, Mount Pleasant, Iowa, for eight years before being hired by Faith to travel and preach to teens. Then, last spring, Tebbenkamp settled down in Waterloo, Iowa, as the associate pastor of student and family ministries at Walnut Ridge Baptist Church.
“It’s never been about me. That’s one thing TFC taught me. The world doesn’t revolve around you. So many people have so many other talents. Talents For Christ helped me to see that I hadn’t arrived,” says Dave, who now leads an annual TFC tour for the state of Iowa. “I always tell my youth kids, Talents For Christ is not the full measure of what you can do for God, but it’s a great place to start.”
5. Paul Sorber
Two years in a row, Paul Sorber tried his hand at the Writing category. However, he soon learned that the written word was not his strong point and entered one last time, as a senior, in Male Public Speaking. It apparently was a wise switch, because in 1982 he placed first in New York and second in the nation. Still, Sorber wasn’t very concerned about his placement. What he was really excited about was the free trip to Denver, Colorado, for the national conference, a large part of which he spent playing basketball with his youth pastor, Jim Vogel.
Sorber went on to attend Baptist Bible College, earning associate and bachelors degrees, before continuing at Baptist Bible Seminary and earning a master in ministry degree. Sorber and his wife, Brenda, along with their four children, are now in Lake Worth, Florida, where Sorber serves as pastor of West Pines Baptist Church. Having spent thirteen years in youth ministry, Sorber has encouraged many students to participate in TFC, including his son Jordan, who also participated in the competition.
4. Lee Kliewer
Lee Kliewer grew up attending First Baptist Church in New York City, where the state TFC competition was held yearly. Since he loved music and liked singing in the church, Lee decided to enter Male Voice in 1972. This huge youth event drew teens from all over the state, all of them feeling the same nervousness and trepidation at competing. But one of those teens, Dan Parker, was to become his nemesis. Although Lee won the NY winter talent competition yearly, each year at the official Talents For Christ competition, Parker was able to edge Kliewer out of first place. But the friendship forged between Kliewer and Parker would grow as they entered Baptist Bible College as freshmen. They formed a male quartet called the Collegians (which initially included the third-place Talents winner as well) that would travel the United States representing BBC for the next four years. Lee married Colleen Draper, another NY Voice competitor who never made it to nationals but who has ministered beside him and blessed people for many years with her beautiful vocal solos.
Lee shared that the main benefit of the competition was the fact that godly men mentored him to use his gifts for the Lord. These men poured out their love for God and passion for ministry, which Lee definitely caught. Lee graduated from BBC with a music degree and then served several churches as assistant pastor in music. He furthered his study at the State University of New York in choral conducting and later changed his educational emphasis to administration. Having earned an EdD in higher education administration, he is currently the registrar at Baptist Bible Seminary and is a member of the adjunct faculty, teaching in both the masters and the doctor of ministry programs. And he uses his gift to continue the process of mentoring young men who are entering vocational ministry.
3. Cheryl Fawcett
In 1970 and 1971 Cheryl Fawcett competed in Bible Knowledge, and both years she won the DelMarVa competition (the fellowship of GARBC churches in Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia). “The first year we did our questions on 1 Corinthians, and the second year on the gospel of Matthew. I basically memorized the entire books.” In ’71 Fawcett was pleased to win second place at the national competition, noting that this provided a semester of free tuition at Baptist Bible College.
“Talents For Christ helped me to be a student of the Bible in a serious way! It got me going the right direction,” says Cheryl.
I’ll say! Fawcett went on to attend BBC, Wheaton College Graduate School, and Trinity International University, earning a total of four degrees. And her PhD in educational studies has earned her the title Doc Fawcett.
Since losing TFC, Fawcett has been involved in myriad ministries, including director of Christian education at Faith Baptist Church in Winfield, Illinois, professor at Cedarville University in Ohio and Christian Heritage College in California, and director of student activities, training student leaders at BBC. Today she travels the world with ABWE, training nationals for youth ministry.
2. Ken Riley
In 1977 a shy boy living in Iowa considered himself the most unlikely candidate to ever win a public speaking competition. Although Ken Riley had given his life to God for full-time ministry, he was still petrified of being in front of people. So when his youth pastor, John Clark, told him about Talents, he decided he would enter to help him learn public speaking. The week before the contest, J. Don Jennings preached at Riley’s home church in Ames. After the service, he spoke with Riley and said, “Don’t just go to compete in a contest. Go to preach the Word of God. Someone needs to hear what you have to say.”
Riley won the state competition . . . and then placed second at nationals. “Talents For Christ made a big impression on my life and confirmed my call to ministry.”
He went on to Faith Baptist Bible College, where, because of Talents, he was asked to be chaplain of his class. Then he was asked to be class president. This shy boy was catapulted into leadership early in college and has remained in leadership roles since. After pastoring for a short time, in 1986 he became executive director of Lake Ann Baptist Camp in Michigan. At this world-class camp, God has used Riley’s leadership gifts to impact the lives of thousands of young people.
1. Don Anderson
Four years after the GARBC launched the Talents For Christ program, Don Anderson competed in the Preaching category and placed first in the state competition. But he did not place at nationals. Unfortunately, the following year, the summer of 1969, Anderson once again went home empty-handed. However, his relationship with the Talents For Christ program was far from over.
Anderson attended Faith Baptist Bible College and earned a bachelor of arts in ’73 and a bachelor of theology in ’74. He continued his education, earning his MDiv from Grace Theological Seminary in ’77 and ThM in ’79.
Anderson then returned to Faith to teach from 1978 to 1984, before moving to Regular Baptist Press to serve as the Vacation Bible School editor. Fourteen years later, Anderson began working directly with the GARBC as an assistant to John Greening. Shortly thereafter, Anderson renewed his relationship with Talents For Christ: In 2000 he became the director of Talents For Christ, and remained so until mid-December 2007—earning him the position of the GARBC’s Talents For Christ poster child and number-one Biggest Loser.
“I value the experience I had preparing a message, honing my skills, going through the process of state and nationals. It was a good experience for me.”
These eight, of course, aren’t the only big losers of TFC. Many other TFC losers are faithfully serving in ministry today. Here are a few: John Hartog III, a professor at Faith Baptist Bible Seminary; Ron Self, an overseas missionary; and Kevin Mungons, managing editor of this fine magazine.
As David Tebbenkamp said, “Talents For Christ is not the full measure of what you can do for God, but it’s a great place to start.” So take time to congratulate a loser near you!
Advice for Future Competitors
“Never forget that we’re ministering. Remember that the goal of Talents For Christ is to prepare us for ministry-to use our talents for God.” —Albert Armitage
“Remember that singing is a ministry. Vocalists should never sing to show off their voice but to convey a message to their audience. If the words have meaning to you, that joy will also show on your face as you sing.” —Beth Workman
“Talents For Christ is not the full measure of what you can do for God, but it’s a great place to start!” —David Tebbenkamp
“Try it and see if it’s an area of your spiritual giftedness. It’s an opportunity to feel out where your spiritual gifts are.” —Paul Sorber
“Never let your current weakness stop you from pursuing your goal. God can do great things through you, so keep ministering for Him.” —Lee Kliewer
“Use the competition to sharpen your skills for ministry. There are no losers in TFC. Don’t get distracted and think only about winning and losing—whenever you use your talents for Christ, you win!” —Cheryl Fawcett
“My advice to students is the same advice that Pastor Jennings gave me. It is more than a contest. Treat it as a ministry and leave the results to God.” —Ken Riley
What’s Your Excuse?
“The judge told me that I should have been the first-place winner but the other girl needed the scholarship more than I did. So I was given second. God blessed me with an unexpected scholarship when I arrived at BBC, so in a sense, God gave me first place!” —Cheryl Fawcett
“My youth pastor was Jim Vogel, and he was more interested in beating me in basketball than helping me win Talents For Christ.” —Paul Sorber
“I think Dan paid off the judges.” —Lee Kliewer
“There were at least two people better than I was.” —Don Anderson
Karis J. Vogel is not a loser, having placed first in Female Public Speaking at the 2003 national competition. She recently graduated from Baptist Bible College, Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, and currently resides in Elgin, Illinois. She works as a production artist at Regular Baptist Press.
- Learn more about Talents For Christ.
- Read info on the 2010 GARBC National Conference.
- See The Pastor: A Guide for God’s Faithful Servant, in which Lee Kliewer is a contributing writer; Cheryl Fawcett’s Kids’ Questions series; and Improving Your Sunday School and Success in Bible Teaching by Don Anderson.