Stephen Boynton, a member of Acton Baptist Church in Granbury since 1967, recently retired as a lieutenant after 34 years of service with the Fort Worth Fire Department. He currently serves on the volunteer fire department in his community, which he has done since 1979. Boynton also published The Adventures of Slade the Fire Dog, a children’s book illustrated by fellow church member Katie Toon.
From deep in the heart of one Texan, Boynton shares his background and thoughts on being a follower of Christ in public service. To suggest a Texas Baptist leader in the marketplace to be featured in this column, or to apply to be featured yourself, click here.
Where do you currently serve?
My wife and I—along with another couple—teach a married couples Sunday school class at our church. I have taught Sunday school for 35 years. I sing in the choir, serve on the hospitality committee, the Missions Advisory Council, the security team and have served as a deacon since 1991.
Where else have you served, and what were your positions there?
I have been yellow cap certified with the Texas Baptist Men for many years, working in Texas on Hurricanes Ike and Harvey; the West, Texas, disaster; and in Florida on Hurricane Irma.
Where did you grow up?
After my dad retired from the Navy in 1967, we moved to Granbury, my mother’s hometown, and I have lived here in the Acton community ever since.
How did you come to faith in Christ?
After a good old Southern Baptist revival at our church, I asked Christ into my heart. I was 7 years old.
Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?
After two undisciplined years of college at Tarleton State University, I took a job in Fort Worth in 1982. About 10 years ago, I returned to college and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in organizational leadership from Mountain State University in West Virginia.
Life in public service
Why do you feel called into public service?
As my career started out, God opened doors for me that only he could. I always had been drawn to disasters and times of trouble, especially the aftermath. My interest in those things led me to being called into the fire service.
How does being a Christian influence your decisions in public service?
I think it was because I was a Christian that I was drawn to help people physically during perhaps the roughest moments of their lives. As Christians, we are reminded everything is temporary—even terrible, heart-wrenching times. It also helps to remember God is always in control.
What is your favorite aspect of public service? Why?
It might sound funny, but saving people’s lives is incredible. But probably being able to bring order from chaos, on a personal level and a community level, is my favorite because we do it so often.
What one aspect of public service gives you the greatest joy?
It has to be saving people’s lives, or more appropriately, helping in saving someone’s life. To see and be a part of a well-trained crew, working swiftly and quickly to save a person’s life is beyond words. The satisfaction the Lord gives you in that situation is terrific.
What one aspect of public service would you like to change?
The impact it has on responders and, ultimately, their families. The stresses of the work schedule and the impact of the trauma responders see regularly are very damaging. As a civilization, we need people to do the work of a public servant, but we are not taking care of those who take care of us.
What is the impact of public service on your family?
Without an understanding wife, I wouldn’t be writing this today. She understood my calling and has been dealing with it ever since we started dating. I missed important family times, church events, all measure of things during my career. I hope it has shown my sons how important public service is and how satisfying it is to be in God’s will for your life.
What did you learn on the job you wish you learned elsewhere?
How beautiful and selfless people can be. Sometimes it takes a disaster to remind us of that.
How has your place in public service changed you?
I am much more aware than a lot of people of just how fragile this life really is. I’ve been beside lots of people when they died, and that tends to affect your outlook. I know the Lord can call you at any moment. I strive to be ready.
How do you expect public service to change in the next 10 to 20 years?
In urban and suburban areas, I think the sheer number of calls for service will become the most pressing problem. However, each advance in emergency medicine and firefighting—especially in what we call PPE, or personal protective equipment—will make it safer for first responders in all phases.
In rural areas, funding for all aspects of the service will need to be secured.
Name the three most significant challenges and/or influences facing your area of public service.
As always, funding is a very big challenge.
As a volunteer fire chief, I am very concerned about the lack of people willing to make the commitment to volunteer in their community. Without volunteers, there is no volunteer fire or EMS service.
Mental health for responders will need to get more coverage. People can’t see the things seen by first responders and not be affected.
What do you wish more people knew about public service?
The satisfaction one gets by being part of a family of people dedicated to a common goal. The camaraderie of the service. Yes, it is a big commitment, but it is worth it.
Why are you a Baptist?
Well, first off, our fellowships are the best, no doubt. And I love the Cooperative Program, as well. But seriously, when I was young, I was a Baptist probably because my parents were. We were at the church every time the doors were open. As an adult and having studied the Scriptures, I think the Baptists have it very close to right. There are some things we do that make me scratch my head, but overall, I like what we stand for.
What are the key issues facing Baptists—denominationally and/or congregationally?
I think we Baptists have allowed ourselves to be painted into several corners where we don’t need to be. On many current issues—homosexuality, immigration, the authenticity of the Scriptures and feminism, just to name a few—our silence or passivity has allowed the media and other groups to define to the public where we stand and what we believe, and most times this is incorrect, of course. The church’s silence has harmed us.
What would you change about the Baptist denomination—state, nation or local?
To quote one of my favorite jokes: “How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb? Change?”
I guess I would lighten us up from our desire to follow all the rules perfectly. Following the rules perfectly can’t be done; people are imperfect. Love people like God does, and the rest is easy. Focus on the sinner, not the sin.
Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?
My father’s service to his country during World War II and Korea probably shaped my career more than I really know. Both my parents were godly people and a great influence on me. I miss them every day.
I had many great Sunday school teachers in my day. They showed me commitment to my home church, to the Scriptures and to the Lord.
Other than the Bible, name some of your favorite books or authors, and explain why.
C.S. Lewis is a hard one to top. He just says things the way they should be said.
After having two sons, Robert Lewis’ book Raising a Modern-Day Knight was a great influence on me and my circle of friends.
Norman Maclean and his son John N. Maclean both wrote great books on very tragic forest fires, and those books helped us understand things like we had not previously. Great storytellers.
What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?
Psalms 46:10—“Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in all the earth.”
I love the idea of being still. Easy to say, hard to do. I guess in my line of work, in all that I’ve seen, peace and silence look very good to me.
Who is your favorite Bible character, other than Jesus? Why?
King David. How can you not love and admire a man God said was a “man after my own heart?” He was such a man’s man, flawed and all, yet God used him in such great ways. I’ll take some of that.
Name something about you that would surprise people who know you.
I read a lot of books as a child and still do. I remember some great children’s books. After I retired, I wrote a children’s book and had it published. I have now written 6 more books and am waiting to get those published, as well.
If you could get one “do over” in public service, what would it be, and why?
I would pay more attention to the hurt people suffer. At the least, a kind word here or there might make a difference in someone’s life.