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Army of mobilized ministers move out for 1st boot camp

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–Shouts of “Yes, sir” and “Right now, sir” echoed through LifeWay’s Ridgecrest Conference Center near Asheville, N.C., as squadrons scurried to respond to the commands of drill sergeants and company leaders.

Clad in camo-green vests, more than 400 people toted backpacks containing compasses, flashlights and trail mix around the steep Blue Ridge Mountain landscape where they had come to receive advanced training in their chosen role.

But these weren’t career soldiers preparing for battle in remote locations. They were ministers of education (MEs) preparing for battle in churches throughout the world.

LifeWay’s first ME Boot Camp, conducted Jan. 11-14, employed a military theme to communicate the need for ministers of education to get back to the basics.

“They need to get back to teaching God’s Word,” said Bill Taylor, LifeWay’s director of network partnerships and the camp general. “They need to get back to theological training and equipping people for spiritual education.”

During the four-day boot camp, ministers of education from across the country separated into platoons and squads within color-coded companies and maintained a rigorous schedule of pre-dawn worship, detailed classes and camp-wide seminars.

Campers marched behind company leaders bearing brightly colored flags. They attended classes addressing age-graded ministries for adults, students and children; evangelism and outreach opportunities; and church-growth planning processes.

“This [camp] is the best thing that’s happened to me in terms of Christian education since I became a Christian [eight years ago],” said camper Raymond Bentley, minister of education at 18-month-old The Kingdom Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla. “I’ve been exposed to another level of minister of education training.”

While Bentley, a new minister of education, came to the boot camp to receive some tips and training, veteran ministers of education attended the camp for an additional reason.

John Tappan has been a minister of education for 25 years, so he knows his ministry path can be lonely. He serves at First Baptist Church of Mount Washington, Ky., and he is the only minister of education in town.

“This is my call,” he said. “I enjoy leadership teaching and seeing spiritual development, but I came [to boot camp] to be restored and to reaffirm my position.”

Throughout the last several years, the minister of education position has been viewed in a less-than-positive light, Bruce Raley told the campers on opening night. Raley serves as teaching pastor at First Baptist Church in Panama City, Fla., and taught a class at boot camp.

“The [minister of education] position has been devalued,” said Raley. “It’s seen as more administrative than educational.”

Raley said the goal of boot camp was to begin elevating the position again by offering advanced training and networking opportunities to ministers of education everywhere.

Taylor said plans are in the works for an NFL-style training camp conference next year inviting rookie ministers of education to arrive a few days prior to their veteran counterparts who can help guide the learning of the rookies.

LifeWay President James T. Draper Jr., told campers the diminished value people have placed on the minister of education position during the last few years could be changed if the ministers embraced the commitment, focus and obedience of soldiers.

“Keep learning, keep dreaming…. It can happen,” Draper said. “Don’t give up.”

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  • Brooklyn Noel