GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–Shy at first, then bold and talkative, members of Forest Baptist Church from Louisville, Ky., found it impossible to brand their church with a one-word tag.
When asked to describe their congregation with a single adjective, the group of 13 who traveled to LifeWay Glorieta (N.M.) Conference Center for Black Church Leadership Week claimed they are “growing and exciting,” “a loving family,” “caring,” “sharing,” “spiritual,” “encouraging,” “friendly,” “Christ-centered” and “biblically based.”
“We are a Kingdom-focused church and Great Commission Christians,” said John Crittenden, pastor and veteran participant of Black Church Leadership Week. “Our vision is to impact our community by winning the unsaved to Christ and developing the saved for Christ.”
The week is a joint effort of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, the North American Mission Board, the International Mission Board, the Annuity Board and Woman’s Missionary Union. The July 21-25 conference was designed to “present an overall picture of what is available for African American churches in the SBC,” said LifeWay’s Jay Wells, who coordinates the event.
Three of the 13 Crittenden took to Glorieta were members of other churches, including two pastors whose congregations are new to the Southern Baptist Convention.
Michael Smith, pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Shepherdsville, Ky., and his wife, Betty, joined the group on their Glorieta journey “to learn.”
“This is my first time here, and it has been a blessing,” Smith said. “It’s never too late to learn. I have so many notes from the workshops I’ve taken that I’m going to have to get them in order to share with my congregation.”
Many of the conference weeks at Glorieta and at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center are “one-dimensional — for Sunday School, music or discipleship leaders,” Wells said. “But at Black Church Leadership Week, churches bring their whole groups, and a lot of the churches have no idea of what makes up the SBC. We’re trying to tell them what’s available to them from our various denominational entities.”
Forest Baptist Church is representative of a church group attending the conference.
Crittenden brought his wife, Margaret, the youth director (with several other church duties); Janita Perry, Sunday School director, and her husband, Al, treasurer; Charlene Williams, women’s Bible study leader; Dye Ann Foree, a new member still pondering a leadership position, and her husband, Charles; and Lisa Jacobs, who attended for spiritual renewal. Two young people also joined the group — Josh, the Crittendens’ son, and Austin, the Perrys’ grandson.
Black Church Leadership Week offers plenty of opportunities to learn, but it’s not as if Crittenden’s 600-member congregation, averaging 180-200 in Sunday School, doesn’t know a thing or two about doing church. “We baptized 13 before we left,” he said.
They are involved in the FAITH evangelism strategy and LifeWay Sunday School curriculum for all age groups, Woman’s Missionary Union, January Bible study, women’s and men’s ministries, new member training complete with certificates, discipleship studies, and Vacation Bible School for babies through adults.
“We are really excited about the things happening with FAITH,” Crittenden said. “It works so well that I am almost repenting that I didn’t know about it sooner.”
Currently, he said the church has six FAITH teams making visits, with preparations for student, basic and advanced classes in the fall.
Vacation Bible School’s 2003 Kingdom Capers curriculum for all ages was a big hit too, the pastor said.
“We had a class for adults you could hardly get in — we had chairs out in hall. Plus, I always wanted to be a secret agent.”
Though Forest is a mature church with plenty of programs, Crittenden said he hopes never to miss an opportunity to take a group to Black Church Leadership Week.
“The reason I love the week is because when I come home I have tools to put in motion. I wouldn’t be coming back if I wasn’t getting fed.”
Black Church Leadership Week is held on alternate years at Glorieta and Ridgecrest. In 2004, it will be at Ridgecrest near Asheville, N.C. For more information, visit www.lifeway.com.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: TIGHT-KNIT CHURCH.