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the sunday school king

A Tribute to Dr. Roger Reeds, founder of
Randall House Publications

by Jack Williams


When 33-year-old Roger Reeds arrived in Nashville to be the director of the Free Will Baptist Sunday School Department, the denomination was shipping curriculum from a garage on Richland Avenue and using literature borrowed from the Oklahoma State Association. Under his visionary leadership, by the time he retired in 1993, the landscape was different. The department outgrew the West Nashville garage, outgrew a new building across town, outgrew a 10,000-square-foot warehouse, and eventually relocated to a tri-level, 50,000-square-foot facility on ten acres just off the interstate. The Sunday School king had come to town!

How does a Missouri boy from St. Louis become a legend in the Music City printing industry? During his 31 years as director (1962-1993) Roger did it by gathering creative associates around him, sharing his dream for a national literature program, and riding the wave of technology. In three amazing decades, Roger Clark Reeds took the denominational printing agency to a level beyond any expectations.

Faced Reality

The Sunday School program was in big trouble in June 1962 when Roger resigned his St. Louis pastorate to resurrect a dead dream. The mid-1950s effort to launch a Sunday School Department failed, and the agency closed. The denomination contracted a private publishing firm in Ayden, North Carolina—the Free Will Baptist Press—to provide literature. However, representatives from Ayden had already notified the Sunday School Board that they wished to be released from the contract.



Following the 1959 national convention when Roger was elected to the Sunday School Board, the Oklahoma State Association began to publish Sunday School curriculum. They agreed to give the program to the National Association—transition taking place during the second quarter of 1962.

“This proved to be the salvation of the department,” Reeds reflected. The successful program with its strong nucleus of church accounts jumpstarted the new department.

For Roger, the risks of leading the fledgling department were business as usual. Named after Rogers Hornsby, the St. Louis Cardinal baseball player, he was no stranger to taking risks and facing reality. He dropped out of high school at 16 and ran with the Rangers A.C. Gang. Lying about his age, he talked his way into a printing job. Although gang members avoided trouble with the law, they drank and gambled away their paychecks and went to work broke every Monday.

Roger was converted at age 19 during a revival at South Side FWB Church in St. Louis. The evangelist challenged any unsaved person to attend three services. He took the dare just to prove the preacher wrong. The dare changed his life. A few months later, he answered the call to preach and enrolled at Free WillBaptist Bible College. He arrived on campus sizzling with energy, determined to do something for God.

Focused on the Possibilities

He needed that sizzle after he and his wife Myrtle unpacked in Nashville. The Sunday School Department was in debt, desperately in need of an identity, with one full-time employee—Roger Reeds. He immediately hired two part-time employees and persuaded his board members to volunteer as editors and proofreaders.
His first report to the National Association (1963) noted that six Sunday School quarterlies were being written by Free Will Baptists, and the department’s indebtedness had been paid off.

“It is no longer necessary for you to send your gifts to us,” he told delegates. “Send these to other needy areas within our ranks, but let us have the opportunity of serving you with your Sunday School needs.”
More than a thousand churches bought materials from the department in 1962. His second report to the National Association (1964) cited 1,170 churches purchasing literature, and introduced seven available quarterlies and three teachers’ books.

The number of employees increased from three to 21 by 1969, eventually rising to 55 in 1987 at the 114 Bush Road location Reeds called “…one acre of building under roof.”

Former Home Missionary Mark Vandivort recalls about the early years, “If you shook hands with Roger during those days, you might have noticed ink smudges and paper cuts on his hands. He and his associates operated on a ‘thin sheet’ of faith and dogged determination.”

Roger’s final report to the National Association (1993) sounded like his first. “Randall House Publications does not cost our denomination money,” he said. “We save our churches money on their literature….we sell our quarterlies at a cheaper price than most publishing houses.”

He always reminded pastors, “Randall House Publications is the only publishing house that champions the distinctives and doctrines of the National Association of Free Will Baptists.”

Born to Lead

Dr. Reeds marketed Randall House as “The House That Trust Built.” The 1965 decision to develop its own seven-year Bible study cycle put the denomination on the same page every Sunday morning. The Sunday School king brought Free Will Baptists together to study the Bible—the same book of the Bible, using Free Will Baptist curriculum.

Everywhere he served, Roger was a visionary—a pioneer with barely-contained zeal. This was demonstrated during a remarkable five-year pastorate (1957-1962) at South Side FWB Church in St. Louis. Attendance doubled, and before long 16 South Side young people enrolled at FWBBC, including four preachers—Ed Cook, Don Dungan, John Gibbs, and Bill Van Winkle.

This same passion marked Reeds’ North Carolina ministry (1955-1957) where he pastored the Stacy and Davis FWB Churches at the same time and preached Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons at a mission in Otway. He described the North Carolina years as the busiest in his life, preaching five and six times a week.
Perhaps that’s why the demands at Randall House did not overwhelm him. He was already tempered by years of relentless schedules and deadlines.


Prepared to Serve

When he put accepted the leadership of FWB Sunday School, Roger knew he would play catch-up with heavy hitters in the publishing community. He wanted Free Will Baptists to be respected in the curriculum and publishing industry. Undaunted, he rose to the challenge.           

His annual 50,000-mile travel schedule included graduate classes. He added a master’s degree from Middle Tennessee State University to his B.A. from FWBBC, and earned two doctorates (D.R.E. and Th.D.) from Luther Rice Seminary.

He attended industry trade shows, thriving in the fast-paced publishing culture. As he embraced technology, Randall House replaced typewriters with computers, swapped hand set type for desktop publishing, and upgraded two-color presses to four-color presses.

Roger wrote with alarming ease, producing articles for national publications, lesson outlines and plans, and six books and booklets (including his 330-page Biblical Graphics, The Story of the Bible). He never coasted, never let up, never rested on yesterday’s successes.

He was a trendsetter who could not wait to climb the next hill, confront the next challenge. He could charm the academic elite and chum with his buddies in one-room churches. He spoke the coded language of publishing giants yet understood the heartbreak of bi-vocational pastors struggling to balance their jobs and ministries.

Roger Reeds was a man ahead of his time in the largely rural FWB denomination of the late 1950s and early 1960s, but he was determined to build a national literature program for the denomination that brought him to Jesus.

25-Year Challenge

 In 1976, Roger dared denominational leaders to overcome apathy and inferiority complexes, to lay aside regional divisions and fear of numbers, and adopt “The 25-Year Challenge.” Using a snappy motto, “From 2 to 1 by 2,” he challenged the denomination to move from 200,000 to 1 million in Sunday School by the year 2000. With Randall House primed to lead the way, he publicly called out national department directors, college presidents, and pastors. “Our future is not behind us,” he said. “We stand at the threshold of new horizons.”

Made a Difference

Only a brief news item announced his 1962 appointment as general director of the Sunday School Department, and the city of Nashville ignored him as he reached out to a growing denomination.

But 32 years later at his retirement banquet, organizers required a room at the largest hotel in town (Opryland Hotel) to seat guests waiting to validate the ministry of the man whose dream would not die. On that April evening in 1994, they said some things about the Sunday School king that needed to be said.
The Governor of Tennessee wrote a letter of congratulations. The Tennessee House of Representatives sent a framed certificate citing Roger’s contributions. A Certificate of Honor arrived from Nashville’s mayor.

Professional colleagues and dozens of the men and women touched by his ministry added to a book of letters, paying tribute to the man who believed his denomination could build a publishing house second to none.

And the “House that Roger built” lives on. Every time a child picks up a Free Will Baptist Sunday School quarterly, Roger Reeds lives on. He lives in the The Randall House Bible Commentary series, in the books and church resources published under the Randall House imprint, through authors encouraged at Writers’ Conferences sponsored by Randall House, through the Free Will Baptist Yearbook, and much more.

Never Forgot His Heritage

Industry professionals took note of Roger’s entrepreneurial spirit, and job offers came from other groups, but his heart remained committed to Free Will Baptists.

Dr. Elmer Towns, co-founder of Liberty University, said, “I tried to hire him to be publisher for all of the Jerry Falwell ministries, and even offered him twice what the Free Will Baptists were paying him. He turned Jerry Falwell down because of his great love for the Free Will Baptists.”

In his last editorial (November 1993), Reeds said, “I have loved every minute of every day that I have spent at Randall House Publications. My work has never been a drudgery. Those who know me could tell you that I hate holidays and vacations, because they take me away from Randall House.”

‘Serve Until I Die’

He wrote in his retirement banquet program, “Thanks a lot Free Will Baptists. I plan to serve the Lord and you until the day I die.”

The St. Louis street kid converted on a dare almost died in the pulpit at Trinity FWB Church in Nashville 60 years later. But even cancer could not keep him from preaching on Sunday morning, April 29, 2007, supported by a chair on stage.

Three days later, Roger Clark Reeds died at age 78. He came to Jesus with nothing at a Free Will Baptist altar; he went home to Jesus with everything as the king of Free Will Baptist Sunday School.



The Life of Roger Reeds

  • Born September 16, 1928, St. Louis, Missouri

  • Converted, November 9, 1947

  • 1948 Called to Preach

  • 1949 Licensed to Preach

  • 1949 Pastor / Richwoods FWB Church / Richwoods, Missouri

  • 1950 Ordained to Preach

  • 1952 Married Myrtle Pembrook

  • 1952 Pastor / Bethlehem FWB Church / Ashland City, Tennessee

  • 1955 Graduated / Free Will Baptist Bible College / B.A. Degree

  • 1955 Pastor / Davis FWB Church / Davis, North Carolina

  • 1955 Pastor / Stacy FWB Church / Stacy, North Carolina

  • 1957 Pastor / South Side FWB Church / St. Louis, Missouri

  • 1959 Secretary / Sunday School Board

  • 1962 General Director / Sunday School Board 

  • 1962 Sunday School Department sales at $143,516

  • 1965 Sunday School Department moves to 1134 Murfreesboro Road

  • 1965 Decision to develop Free Will Baptist Sunday School curriculum

  • 1966 New Sunday School Standard introduced

  • 1967 Sunday School Department builds 10,000-square-foot building

  • 1970 Graduated / Middle Tennessee State University / M.A.T. Degree

  • 1970 Sunday School Department purchases two presses / Davidson 500, 700

  • 1971 Sunday School Department purchases 10 acres / 50,000-square-foot building

  • 1972 Randall House Publications adopted as trade name

  • 1973 Randall House Publications sales reach $1 million

  • 1975 Graduated / Luther Rice Seminary / D.R.E. Degree

  • 1975 Honorary doctorate / California Graduate School of Theology

  • 1977 Graduated / Luther Rice Seminary / Th.D. Degree

  • 1978 Randall House Publications merges with Church Training Service Department

  • 1979 Randall House Publications purchases two-color Solna press

  • 1983 Youth Department started

  • 1984 Spanish Department started

  • 1987 Randall House Publications sales reach $3 million

  • 1987 First two volumes of Randall House Bible Commentary Series published

  • 1993 Retires as Randall House General Director

  • 1994 Pastor / Trinity FWB Church / Nashville, Tennessee

  • Dies, May 2, 2007



   Vice President / Freshman Class/ FWBBC
   President / FWBBC Ministerial Fellowship
   President / FWBBC Alumni Association (twice)
   President / St. Francois County (M0) Sunday School Convention
   Chairman / Executive Committee / St. Louis District Quarterly Meeting
   Clerk / Missouri State Association of Free Will Baptists
   Editor / The Missouri Gem
   Board Member / National Sunday School Association
   Curriculum Committee / National Sunday School Association
   Vice Chairman / School Board / Donelson Christian School (TN)
   Commissioner / FWB Softball League / Nashville, Tennessee
   Secretary / Sunday School Secretaries Commission
   President / Woodbine Kiwanis Club / Nashville, Tennessee



“Roger Reeds was a pioneer, a visionary, a very able man. He saw what needed to be done and set out to do it. He had a real heart for training people.”
—Dr. Melvin Worthington, Executive Secretary Emeritus (NAFWB), Former Chairman / Sunday School Board

“Our denomination would not have had Randall House had it not been for the efforts of Roger Reeds as he worked out the dreams he had for it. I am happy I was able to follow him and build on the foundation he left.”
—Dr. Alton Loveless, Former General Director / Randall House Publications

“Roger Reeds led the effort to establish a national literature program for the denomination. He saw clearly the importance of unified efforts at the national level to best serve a growing denomination. He never lost his pastor’s heart. His commitment to the local church was evident throughout his lifetime.”
—Dr. Billy A. Melvin, Former Executive Secretary (NAFWB)

“Roger Reeds offered me a job with the Sunday School Department in 1962, and I stayed 30 years. He believed in me and gave me opportunities to advance. My last eight years with the department, he allowed me to start and develop the Youth Ministries Division. Although we didn’t always agree, we always respected each other. He was a man of God and a great mentor.”
—Jim Lauthern, Former Assistant Director / Randall House Publications

“As the first director of Randall House Publications, Dr. Roger Reeds is remembered for his incredible visionary leadership. We shared several lunches this past year and discussed the history of Randall House. I think of him in one-word descriptions: pioneer, visionary, futurist, leader. He was a man ahead of his time in the way he thought and created products. Randall House Publications was built by his hard work, and the foundation he laid is that we continue to build upon today.”
—Ron Hunter, Jr., Executive Director and CEO / Randall House Publications

“Roger Reeds and I were best friends. When he came to the Free Will Baptist Sunday School Department, there were very few resources there. He built a strong curriculum, bought printing presses and a building, and hired authors and artists. Roger built one of the finest Sunday School departments that existed in one of the smaller evangelical denominations. A great giant in the Free Will Baptist denomination has fallen.”
—Dr. Elmer L. Towns, Co-Founder, Liberty University

“Dr. Roger Reeds was a pioneer in the field of literature during the early years of my ministry. I was his pastor six years and served 12 years on the Sunday School Board. His consuming desire was to give Free Will Baptists the best possible Bible study materials. I believe he did that.”
—Reverend George C. Lee, Former Sunday School Board Member

“Roger Reeds was a generous, caring, Christian friend. Randall House employees were given room to be themselves, contribute their talents, and be part of the organization. He was innovative and unafraid to try something new. He had a fertile mind and was gifted in building camaraderie among employees.”
—Reverend Harrold Harrison, Former Assistant Director / Randall House Publications

“Roger shared his vision for the Sunday School Department and its ministry with me when I served as chairman of the Board for several years. I marveled at his insight into the direction the Sunday School Department should take. He had clear, long-term goals for the future.”
—Reverend Herman Hersey, Former Director / Board of Retirement / Free Will Baptist Foundation
Former Chairman / Sunday School Board

“My first encounter with Dr. Reeds came as he graduated from Free Will Baptist Bible College. I was new to the ministry, and Roger advised me, “You just do your best and trust God’s leadership.” He always had a word of encouragement, and was helpful when I became Home Missions director.”
—Reverend Bob Shockey, Former Director / Home Missions Department

“My first remembrance of Roger Reeds was at a Kentucky State meeting as he stood and shared the need for strong Sunday Schools. He gave many of us our introduction into how effective Sunday School could be for the local church.”
—Dr. Tim York, Moderator / National Association of Free Will Baptists

“Dr. Reeds was a unique individual. He always wanted to improve the literature and outreach of Randall House, and to have the best possible facilities and equipment. He appreciated the dedicated employees and his family who sacrificed for the ministry of Randall House. He touched my life and the lives of most Free Will Baptists. When God called him home, his family and friends lost a treasure, and our denomination lost a hero.”
—Mrs. Carolyn Lane, Former Secretary-Administrative Assistant to Dr. Reeds


©2007 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists