RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–The aging but ageless group of Southern Baptist discipleship leaders may have retired from their jobs, but they continue to demonstrate their timeless message that discipleship is about relationships.
“This group is a fellowship of the body of believers,” said Waldo Woodcock, 77, who retired in 1997 after 27 years as director of discipleship training in Georgia. Woodcock was at a reunion to honor retired state discipleship directors held during the July 3-7 National Discipleship Conference at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina.
Observing the strong bond between the venerable veterans — all over age 70 — who spent their careers as discipleship directors and their lives following Jesus, Jay Johnston didn’t hazard a guess at just how many years of Christian service were represented.
“I think it must be in the thousands,” said Johnston, LifeWay’s director of FAITH/evangelism and discipleship.
This year, Johnston invited 15 retired state discipleship directors to return to Ridgecrest. It was an annual pilgrimage they all took for decades to teach and receive discipleship training.
Woodcock has been coming to Ridgecrest since he was 16 years old in 1945 and had many fond memories of friendships built at the Blue Ridge Mountain retreat. The friendships continued through the decades.
“Discipleship takes time,” he said, turning to Sarah, his wife of 54 years, who said, “This group has worked together for so many years, there’s more than a triple bond or a cord of three strands.” Friendships through years of shared happiness and sorrow, she said, have forged “a deep, caring bond.”
“These people are just like brothers and sisters,” said Helen Maurice of Garner, N.C., whose husband, Kelly Maurice, died of cancer last year and served for 26 years as discipleship director in North Carolina.
This was Bob Cook’s 54th year coming to Ridgecrest. He was director of church training in Jacksonville, Fla., for 20 years before retiring in 1989. But, he said, the year just doesn’t seem complete without a family trip to Ridgecrest.
“It’s just a way of life for us,” said Cook, 80. “Both our children came here with us from the time they were a year old. These people helped raise our children.”
The conference was a chance to renew old friendships and reminisce about what God had done for many churches and lives through the discipleship training shared at Ridgecrest.
Looking around the room at his contemporaries, Woodcock smiled mischievously and said, “There’s no biblical basis for retirement, you know.”
Bible scholar T.W. Hunt, author of “The Mind of Christ,” was part of the recognition celebration, as were several other well-known teachers because of their past and continued teaching. Hunt grinned at Woodcock’s assessment of retirement.
“I retired twice. I flunked both times,” he laughed, recalling his first retirement as music instructor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1987 and his second from LifeWay in 1994. “I’m still on the road almost constantly for prayer conferences.”
Johnston said, “From 1978 to the mid-90s, it was a time of very strong growth in discipleship. It was a time that LifeWay moved into identifying the interactive learning process and really changed our resources to be focused on spiritual transformation.
“We wanted a way to recognize that we do have a great heritage as Southern Baptists and a gift to give the evangelical world in terms of discipleship,” Johnston said. “We wanted them to come together to be recognized for their contributions as we build upon that for the future to reach the lost for Christ.”
The reunion had many looking back on what Ridgecrest has done in their lives.
“The ‘mountaintop experience’ was 1989. We had a campus-wide revival,” Hunt recalled.
It all got sparked by a discipleship class where Hunt was last to speak in the lineup of instructors at Ridgecrest. It led to 435 decisions, from accepting Christ as Savior to surrendering to the ministry.
Some look back on that time as the heyday of Ridgecrest discipleship conferences, when you couldn’t get a balcony seat because there were thousands in attendance.
But Laverne Hunt, T.W. Hunt’s wife of 55 years, said, “There’s no doubt the best is yet to come.”