The guys start trickling in right after school. They might play cards, catch football, or just hang out and talk. More boys show up closer to 6 p.m., arriving after they’ve been at band or sports practice. Seymour serves a full dinner at 7 p.m., and 45 minutes later, it’s time to start studying the Bible.
"They break out into six different groups for Bible study time," Seymour said. "Each of those groups has two or three leaders who actually lead the lesson and discussion."
Based on a questionnaire that is handed out each year, only about a third of those who come regularly attend church.
"For two-thirds of them, this is their major spiritual connection," Seymour said.
When the study ends at 9 p.m., many teens drive other guys home. Seymour takes some kids to their homes, and Randy Smith, a member of Seymour’s church (Calvary Baptist Church), also picks up a load of boys to drive home. Randy’s wife, Debbie, organizes a rotation of a crew of ladies from the church who make desserts for the group each Thursday.
"I was cooking it all and I didn’t realize how much time I was spending on desserts until Debbie did that. That really was a big help," Seymour said. "Sometimes people will send something. I make some casseroles. And we do a fair amount of grilling with a crew of guys who help."
The leaders who head the Bible study consist of almost 20 young men, ranging from high school and college-aged to those in their mid-20s. And they all began as Bible study attendees themselves.
"They are a very committed group," Seymour said. "They’re here for a couple hours on Monday, going over the week’s lesson, and then for a few hours on Thursday. And they do some follow-up during the week with the kids that are in their group. We take the leaders' role quite seriously,"
The leaders and Seymour even came up with a written covenant agreement last fall. Areas that were addressed included personal behavior, personal growth as a Christian and their commitment to doing their job within Bible study. And in his role of leadership, Seymour said it’s a priority for him to be growing spiritually as well, so he makes time each morning for his own Bible study.
Once a year, Seymour hosts a parents’ night at his home so parents can meet him and ask any questions. He admits that he occasionally gets asked why the study does not include girls.
"That would substantially change the dynamic of the group," he said. "We have had a vision for years to get something similar going for girls. That would take two or three mature Christian ladies, mothers or whatever, willing to do it."
Seymour has been involved with the youth at his church for nearly 30 years. He started hosting Bible study in his home after thinking that boys might benefit from more than just 45 minutes on a Wednesday night at church to become more spiritually grounded. He suggested to four boys that they get together with him for more intensive Bible study every couple of weeks.
"They were not wildly enthusiastic," Seymour said with a smile. "I sweetened the pot by saying we’d go out to eat or something first. I really had no vision at all that it would become what it has."
The format for study alternates every other week. One Thursday night, the guys learn about a Bible passage that the leaders have studied the previous Monday. The following Thursday, leaders select a topic to discuss to apply the Bible to daily living.
Aside from his ministry serving the group of guys who come to Bible study, Seymour still works part-time for Eastman, the company that brought the native of the Midwest to this area. He retired from Eastman three years ago after working there for 36 years. Seymour also teaches calculus two days a week at Kingsport Christian Academy.
Seymour said long range plans for the Bible study include finding another "homey" facility, because he knows he won’t be able to host the study forever. Shorter goals include getting more young adult men to chaperone, and more contributions, whether financial or in supplying and cooking food. For more information on how to help, email Bob Seymour at email@example.com.
Folks You Should Know is a monthly feature about local people with interesting stories to tell. Share your ideas about folks we should feature by contacting Sunday Stories editor Carmen Musick at firstname.lastname@example.org.