Above: The Black Church Leadership and Family Conference at Ridgecrest drew more than 400 registered participants, July 18-22.
RIDGECREST, N.C.—Church leaders from across the country gathered to encourage one another through hardships they’ve endured and challenge each other to continue in ministry, during the Black Church Leadership and Family Conference on July 18-22, at Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina.
The theme “Faith Tested!” comes from James 1:2-3 and fits this moment for churches and pastors, said Mark Croston, national director of Black church ministries at Lifeway.
“James was written for people going through a struggle,” Croston said. “As we come through the struggle of COVID and other challenges, we have found our faith is able to endure struggles. A faith that is not tested is unsure, but a faith that is tested can withstand adversity.”
This year, in its 29th anniversary, the event drew more than 400 registered participants. Croston said the conference is the largest national gathering of African American Southern Baptists and brings together pastors, leaders and their families for times of training, refreshment and connection.
Each day, attendees participated in early morning praise and worship, Bible exposition based on Lifeway’s YOU curriculum, a customizable track with more than 80 small-group class options taught by dozens of ministry experts, gender-specific afternoon sessions and an evening worship service and sermon.
“We want to provide resources for attendees that enable them to be successful in their local churches,” Croston said.
On Monday evening, July 18, Frank Williams, lead pastor of two Bronx, N.Y. churches—Bronx Baptist and Wake Eden, preached from Matt. 17:14-20 on Jesus healing a man’s demon-possessed son and the lack of faith His disciples showed.
“Faith and unbelief are both communicable,” Williams said, challenging attendees to live out their faith in Christ. Drawing from Jesus’ words about the impact of a mustard seed-sized faith, Williams said, “If mountain moving is possible, anything less than that is possible.”
Tuesday night, Tommy Green, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, focused on Psalm 78:72 and the type of heart and hands required to be a pastor.
“Spiritual warfare is imminent, not imaginary,” he said. “Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy. And you have a bullseye on your back.”
In the midst of spiritual attacks, however, Green reminded leaders God knew exactly where they were because He had placed them there. “God will not lead you where He will not protect you,” he said.
In the Wednesday evening session, Breonus Mitchell, lead pastor of Nashville, Tenn., Mount Gilead Missionary, spoke of the “Refiner’s fire” in Malachi 3. Mitchell said the book of Malachi serves as a type of court case in which the people of Israel charge God with being unfair.
“Do we really want God to be fair?” he asked. “Where would you be, what would you have, if God was fair? God is not fair, but He is faithful.”
Mitchell encouraged listeners that the fires of testing demonstrate God is working in their lives. “When we are in the fire, we have God’s undivided attention and unconditional affection,” he said.
For the final evening session on Thursday night, Fred “Chip” Luter, senior associate pastor of New Orleans, La., Franklin Avenue, Louisiana, drew from 1 Corinthians 15 on the importance of the resurrection.
“The resurrection power that raised Jesus Christ from the grave is the power we can walk in today,” he said. “If Jesus rose from the dead, you can overcome anything in your life.”
As he encouraged pastors and leaders to make the Gospel the priority of their lives and ministries, Luter spoke of the impact the truthfulness of Paul’s message to the Corinthian church can have on a life.
“The reality of the resurrection has already happened in history,” he said, “how we trust in that resurrection can change our eternity.”
The conference also serves to strengthen ties between local African American churches and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). In addition to Croston and others from Lifeway being present at the conference, representatives from the SBC Executive Committee, the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, GuideStone Financial Resources, the Woman’s Missionary Union, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and the North Carolina Baptist Convention spoke to attendees during the evening sessions.
“Many African American churches are newer to the convention,” Croston said. “The conference helps them learn about these connections, how the entities exist to serve them and how their ministry can be enriched by increased participation in the SBC.”
Two other important aspects of the Black Church Leadership and Family Conference that Croston pointed out are the intentionality to welcome families and to provide downtime for attendees.
“There are daily experiences for people of all ages,” he said. “Usually when a pastor goes to a conference, he has to leave his wife and children behind. We don’t want that to be the case here. One pastor from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., was able to come and bring his wife and seven kids.”
Despite all the events taking place, Croston said there are specific periods of unstructured time, and he even encourages attendees not to do everything.
“During those moments of downtime, attendees often form relationships with others, some of which develop into lifelong friendships,” he said. “After many conferences, pastors leave exhausted. We don’t want that to be the case. We want them to leave refreshed and energized for the ministry God has called them to in their local churches.”
For those unable to attend this year, the 2022 conference is available to purchase online and on demand, including more than 24 hours of training sessions, at live.lifeway.com. Purchasers will have access to the material until July 2023.
Registration is now open for next year’s 30th anniversary Black Church Leadership and Family Conference on July 17-21, 2023, with the theme “Reimagine.” To register, visit RidgecrestConferenceCenter.com/events/bclfc.