RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP) — “When Sinners Show Up” — the title of a Sunday School lesson — sparked the preaching of T. Vaughn Walker during the Black Church Leadership and Family Conference (better known as Black Church Week) with nearly 1,000 in attendance at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina.
“You need to give yourself an attitude check,” Walker, who preached each morning, suggested, “and ask yourself if you’ve become ‘too good’ to reach out to certain people.”
Walker, senior pastor of First Gethsemane Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., and a professor of Christian ministries at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was followed by afternoon and evening messages featuring several pastors: James Dixon of El Bethel Baptist Church in Fort Washington, Md.; James Graham of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Herndon, Va.; Brian King of Ezekiel Baptist Church in Philadelphia; and Delroy Reid-Salmon of Grace Baptist Church in the Bronx, N.Y.
Participants were offered the opportunity to start each day at 6:15 a.m. with praise and worship led by Gwen Williams, a folklorist, worship leader and author from First Baptist Church in Picayune, Miss. Williams, known throughout the black church world in her “Ms. Chocolate” persona, also served as the children’s storyteller during the July 18-22 conference sponsored by the black church area of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
More than 70 breakout sessions were offered during Black Church Week conference focusing on church leadership, discipleship/Sunday School, evangelism, prayer and spiritual renewal/motivation.
Fred Luter, senior pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, and his wife Elizabeth led one of the sessions, drawing from the book “6 Secrets to a Lasting Love” by Gary and Barb Rosberg.
“Do you remember your courtship?” Fred Luter, the SBC’s first vice president, asked. “You were always looking for ways to serve each other. Men, I bet you always opened her car door back then. Do you still do that?
“Marriage today is at great risk,” Luter said. “But despite what the world, society and even Oprah might say, God still intends marriage to be between one man and one woman for one lifetime.”
Walker, in his morning messages, referenced a lesson in LifeWay’s YOU Sunday school/small group curriculum to ask how the church members react to people out of their cultural “normal” and whose lifestyle makes them uncomfortable.
“Who do you find repulsive?” Walker asked. “It’s all about perspective.
“All of us, to some degree, are repulsive,” he said. “We may look clean on the outside, but we all have sin inside us.”
Drawing from the Luke 7:36-50 passage when Jesus went to Simon the Pharisee’s house for dinner and the prostitute came in and washed Jesus’ feet, Walker said four primary lessons were taught:
— Don’t avoid sinners.
— Get the right perspective.
— Realize that sinners make the best converts.
— Know that people will want to know who this Jesus is.
“Jesus went beyond the normal human perspective,” Walker said. “He went to a Pharisee’s house, and then he let this woman — identified by Simon as a prostitute — come in and touch Him!
“This woman risked everything to get to Jesus,” Walker continued. “Everything bad that could have happened to her already had happened, so she had nothing to lose. She was desperate to get to Jesus.”
In the passage, Walker noted, Jesus wanted Simon to see that one who is given more, loves more; one who receives more grace is more appreciative.
“This woman washed Jesus’ feet with her tears,” Walker said, “but Simon didn’t even extend the courtesy of a basin. She kissed His feet, but Simon didn’t even offer a kiss on His cheek. She anointed His feet with fragrant and expensive oil, but Simon didn’t even offer Jesus some olive oil for His skin or hair.
“Simon did only the minimum,” Walker said. “It wasn’t really wrong not to offer those things, but it would have been the courteous and respectful thing to do.”
In the passage when Christ told the woman that her faith had saved her and that her sins were forgiven, people sitting around the table wondered who this Jesus was that He forgave sins.
“They didn’t realize they were just as filthy as she was,” Walker said. “Our problem a lot of times is that we have too much dignity.
“My wife will praise God anytime, anywhere. But I was raised to have too much dignity,” he said, standing upright and straightening his clothes.
“I don’t like to get all worked up and sweat,” he said. “But when we think about what all God has done for us, we should never, never have too much dignity to shout and praise Him and be most grateful.”
Polly House is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. For information on the 2012 Black Church Leadership and Family Conference, July 23-27 at Ridgecrest, go to www.lifeway.com/africanamerican.
Elgia “Jay” Wells, LifeWay’s director of black church relations who coordinated the Black Church Leadership and Family Conference, answered several questions after the July 18-22 gathering.
Q: The Black Church Leadership and Family Conference is always one of LifeWay’s largest summer events. It fills Ridgecrest housing to capacity and several church groups stay in hotels in the surrounding area. Why do you think this conference is such a “must do” for so many churches?
Wells: Black Church Week is like a family reunion. It is a total experience for the entire family. The quality of the training and the fellowship seems to draw people back year after year. It is [a] conference where all the SBC entities partner together to help and encouragement the local church at the same time.
Q: You have several different preachers for the week. How do you choose the men who speak?
Wells: I partner with the other entities and we make a prayerful joint decision as to who the speakers will be. We are convinced that there are great men of God working in our churches who will bless any audience if given the opportunity.
Q: Unlike some conferences, BCLFC has little free time built in. It starts at 6:15 in the morning with a morning praise time and goes until late at night with worship. There is just one afternoon off. Why do you have such a packed schedule?
Wells: We are convinced that people want what we offer. We try to give them as many options as possible to get their needs met. They usually want more than we can deliver. We have been surprised at the commitment level of the people who attend. They express great appreciation of what we offer.
Q: School-age children attend the worship services in the evening with their parents. Gwen “Ms. Chocolate” Williams from First Baptist, Picayune, Miss., does a fantastic job with a children’s story time each evening. What do you want the children to learn from the worship time with her as well as with the preachers?
Wells: We want them to know that God is real and that He can be trusted with their lives.
Q: You’ve always had a youth conference/activity time that meets during the week for the teenagers who come with their parents, but next year the week will have its own Centrifuge camp. What kind of impact will this have for the churches that attend?
Wells: The impact of Centrifuge will be that more churches will be able to bring their youth groups to Black Church Week. In previous years we didn’t have the space for this to happen. The need was evident, but we did not have the capacity to deliver this kind of life-changing experience for youth groups. Centrifuge will provide the opportunity for our churches to more effectively be prepared to reach the youth culture in their settings.