NASHVILLE (BP) — “Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.” This famous quote by pastor A.W. Tozer served as inspiration behind the theme — “Nothing Less” — of the 2017 ETCH family ministry conference.
More than 1,000 ministry leaders gathered Oct. 16-18 in Nashville for the event hosted by LifeWay Christian Resources. ETCH stands for equipping the church and home.
ETCH 2017 offered attendees more than 50 breakout session options, a concert event, and worship led by the Stephen Cole Band. Experts on children’s and student ministry, including LifeWay’s Eric Geiger, Jana Magruder, Ben Trueblood and others, spoke during the main conference sessions.
“Discipleship isn’t just receiving information or behavior modification; it’s about transformation,” said LifeWay’s Senior Vice President Eric Geiger, who spoke on making disciples of children and students.
Geiger reminded attendees that demons had knowledge about God and the Pharisees had behavior modification, but neither group had Christ ruling their hearts.
“We’re after kids’ hearts not just being formed, but transformed,” he said.
Geiger also said true discipleship can’t happen apart from God’s Word.
“The number one predictor of spiritual growth in kids is them being in the Bible,” he said, citing a new study by LifeWay Research.
“The church and the Bible rank low on the list of where Americans look for parenting advice,” said Jana Magruder, director of LifeWay Kids.
“And only 29 percent of parents say faith is an important influence on their parenting,” she reported, pointing to the LifeWay Research study. “As a culture, we’re chasing the wrong things.”
The research also shows the frequency of spiritual activities of children in Protestant churchgoing families, Magruder noted. Church-related activities such as Sunday school and Vacation Bible School attendance topped the chart, while personal spiritual activities such as daily Scripture reading ranked near the bottom.
Yet regular Bible reading in childhood is by far the number one indicator of spiritual health in young adulthood, said Magruder, author of “Nothing Less: Engaging Kids in a Lifetime of Faith.”
“There’s no right answer for how to read the Bible with your kids; you just have to find a way to do it that fits your family and style,” Magruder said. “It’s so profound, but so simple.”
Ben Trueblood, director of student ministry at LifeWay, recounted Moses’ final words to the Israelites in which he pleaded with them to choose life by clinging to God’s Word.
“The Israelites were to follow the whole counsel of God they had in that moment,” Trueblood said. “If we’re to make disciples of children and teenagers, we have to give them the whole counsel of God — not just passages that are easy.”
God’s Word, Trueblood said, is the most important thing children can take with them from church ministries.
“When children leave with only a handful of stories and not the whole counsel of God, they leave with a crippled faith,” Trueblood warned.
“Their faith is stunted by the books of the Bible we leave closed.
“We must give them the only thing that will grow their faith. It’s not our funny anecdotes; it’s God’s Word in its entirety.”
Eric Mason, pastor at Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, Pa., called for stamina in ministering to children and students.
One way to endure is to avoid making comparisons with other ministries, Mason said.
“Be very careful of being jealous of what someone else is able to do,” he warned. “Be satisfied with where God has placed you.”
Mason concluded the conference with the call, “Don’t give up. Keep plowing, keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and let nothing get in the way of your commitment to seeing Christ formed in children and youth.”
Other speakers from the ETCH conference included Joshua Straub, LifeWay’s marriage and family strategist; Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; author Rebekah Lyons; and Raechel Myers and Amanda Bible Williams from SheReadsTruth.com.
The next ETCH conference is scheduled for Oct. 17-19, 2018, in Nashville. For more information, visit EtchConference.com.