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Dakota retreat counters isolation among leaders

ABERDEEN, S.D. (BP) — Snowy landscapes and distances lead to isolation for many ministry leaders in the Dakota Baptist Convention. Encompassing 147,878 square miles, it is considered a small convention with only about 90 Southern Baptist churches in the two-state region.

In its ministry leaders’ retreat, the convention sought to “draw pastors and church leaders together to break the isolation they have on the field,” DBC Executive Director Garvon Golden said, so they can “enjoy intimate fellowship with one another.”

Another benefit of the retreat, Golden noted, is that leaders from within the convention provided training and nurture to help others grow. At this year’s retreat, pastor Sam Ellyson from Sovereign Grace Church in Aberdeen, S.D., spoke on biblical counseling, and pastor John Flowers and his wife Debbie from Living Hope Baptist Church in Fargo, N.D., shared ways that leaders can endure in ministry and stay “Dakota Strong.”

Three dozen pastors and ministry leaders participated in the retreat from diverse areas, backgrounds and ministries. Some had been in ministry in the Dakotas for many years while others were new to their churches and areas. Several leaders came from Native American churches while others work with affinity groups in reaching out to equine or farming communities. In addition to lead pastors and church planters, pastors’ wives, children’s ministry workers and worship leaders also attended.

Nick Geray and his wife Colleen, from the Dusty Way Chapel cowboy and rodeo ministry in North Dakota, were among the attendees who gathered at the Best Western Ramkota Hotel in Aberdeen.

“I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of ministry to be had at this gathering,” Geray said. “There is great value in not only challenging our own pastors and leaders to minister at a higher level but also in taking advantage of skills and experiences which are uniquely ‘Dakotan.'”

Scott Ristau, a worship leader from Sovereign Grace, led the group in times of Scripture reading, prayer and song during each session, and Sovereign Grace member Cory Nils shared original worship songs as a concert one evening.

Ellyson, introducing the concept of biblical counseling, shared ministry and discipleship tools he has gained through courses with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).

“Biblical counseling is simply a conversation where one person with questions, problems and troubles seeks assistance from someone they believe has answers,” he said. “It is biblical wisdom properly applied by spiritually mature counselors.”

Ellyson laid out principles of biblical counseling, showing that the Bible is sufficient for all of a minister’s counseling needs.

“Why would Christians ever hand soul care over to a secular culture?” he asked. “Scripture makes clear that our problems don’t come from our circumstances but from within our own hearts.”

Geray said Ellyson “delivered more information on biblical counseling than we could ever absorb in three short days,” while Golden noted that “our pastors and leaders were getting in tune with the need for biblical counseling. This is really such a great tool for them to use in discipling the people in their churches and ministries.”

Ellyson encouraged attendees to learn more about biblical counseling at upcoming training sessions in April and May in Sioux Falls, S.D., or by going to the ACBC biblicalcounseling.com website.


In seeking to provide an opportunity for fellowship and growing relationships between ministry leaders, Golden noted, “As I talk about different ministries and pastors to other pastors in the Dakotas, I realize that they don’t know each other. This retreat gave them an opportunity to meet and form friendships that will encourage them in their areas of ministry. This fits into the DBC’s vision of wanting to be an encouragement to pastor families.”

John and Debbie Flowers, who have pastored in the Dakotas for more than 35 years, led in community-building exercises that had attendees laughing and talking with one another. A group game of rock, paper, scissors as well as discussion questions such as “Which animal do you most like to watch at the zoo?” led to deeper conversations.

“I loved the community building exercises,” Colleen Geray said. “It was a genuine pleasure getting to know the other ministry wives and being able to fellowship together.”

A popular favorite was John and Debbie’s top 10 lists. They first gave a top 10 list of things not to do in ministry and later gave a list of 10 things to do in ministry. “Not establishing boundaries” topped the “no-no list” while “maintain the daily discipline of Bible intake and prayer” topped the “to do” list.

John, sharing how to be “Dakota Strong,” focused on the book of 2 Timothy and ways that the apostle Paul encouraged young Timothy in serving Christ, such as intentionality, endurance and dealing with suffering.

“John and Debbie’s activities built community even out of the most diverse group,” Nick Geray said, “and John’s messages challenged me to press on despite the difficulties.”

Golden said he would like to see two more ministry leaders’ retreats in the next 16 months for leaders across the Dakotas to have the opportunity to get together for fellowship, discipleship and growth. Location, topics and speakers are yet to be determined.

“This opportunity to pull leaders together in smaller groups meets two needs we have as Dakota Baptists,” Golden said of the Feb. 21-24 retreat. “We get the encouragement of fellowship as well as the deeper content that will help us reach out in our ministry areas.”

    About the Author

  • Sarah Dixon Young

    Sarah Dixon Young is a writer in North Dakota, where her husband Paul is pastor of Dakota Baptist Church.

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