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Many first-timers as Lifeway Black church confab returns onsite

Mark Croston, Lifeway Christian Resources' national director of Black church ministries, said the Black Church Leadership and Family Conference drew many first-time attendees this year. Photo by Aaron Earls

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP) – Donna Brooks of Belleville, Ill., found a quality at the Black Church Leadership and Family Conference (BCLFC) that she struggled to put into words.

“It’s just something different here,” the first-time BCLFC attendee said. “It was an accommodating atmosphere. Once we got here, everybody was just so pleasant and I think the classes were a blessing to us, and it kind of opened up my understanding a little more about how God can work in our lives.”

Praise and worship was a mainstay of the Black Church Leadership and Family Conference at Ridgecrest Conference Center in Ridgecrest, N.C. Photo by Aaron Earls

Brooks, a music minister, attended with her husband Rory who pastors New Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Belleville, Ill., as well two other members of the church that averaged 60 in Sunday attendance before the COVID-19 pandemic.

They were among many first-timers at the 28th annual event held July 19-23 in a hybrid format – online and onsite at Ridgecrest Conference Center near Asheville.

Aimed at equipping church leaders for urban ministry while providing events for entire families, the conference featured daily Bible study, evening and morning worship and exhortation, fellowship, nearly 100 onsite classes spanning diverse educational tracks and additional online classes. Gender-specific motivational and educational sessions, recreational and therapeutic activities, Centrifuge camp for youth, and events targeting pastors and women ministers spanned the week.

Among first-time BCLFC attendees were Donna Brooks, at right, shown with her husband Rory, pastor of New Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Belleville, Ill., and church minister Carolyn Cooper. Facebook photo

“The spirt of the week has been fantastic,” said conference host Mark Croston, Lifeway Christian Resources’ national director of Black church ministries. “Time on the mountain away from the hustle is therapeutic, restful and encouraging. Just what we need in times like these.”

Onsite registration numbered 400, and online viewership continues to rise with registrants from 22 states, Croston said.

“A lot of our churches have still not reopened, yet we have about 400 joining us onsite, which is a third of our normal attendance,” he said. “There have been many first-time attendees, which is always a healthy sign. They are coming from at least five different denominations. Many are being introduced to the You Bible Study and other Lifeway products for the first time.”

Ben Mandrell, Lifeway president and CEO, kicked off the evening series of sermons July 19 with a message highlighting the account in Luke 17:11-19 of Jesus healing 10 lepers and only one giving thanks.

Haywood Robinson, senior pastor of The People’s Community Baptist Church in Silver Spring, Md., preached the Tuesday evening sermon. Photo by Aaron Earls

“There’s always gifts from the Lord to thank Him for,” Mandrell said. “And some of you came to this conference and if you’re honest tonight, there’s some bitterness, some discontent, some unforgiveness, some anger, some resentment. And I’ve found, in the Bible and my own life, that the greatest way to defeat all that is to give thanks.”

Haywood Robinson, senior pastor of The People’s Community Baptist Church in Silver Spring, Md., preached from Jude 1-4 in encouraging listeners to believe God’s Word.

“Believing God is the crisis of the day and sometimes what God experiences from us is just outright unbelief,” Robinson said. “But often Satan tries more subtlety and tries to hit us with doubt en route to disbelief.” Experiential knowledge coupled with Scripture and the testimonies of other believers can help Christians persevere and contend for the faith, Robinson said.

Charles Grant, executive director of African American relations and mobilization of the SBC Executive Committee, leads a session on Rebuilding Through Missional-driven Small Groups. Photo by Diana Chandler

“You can’t make me doubt Him. Why? Because I know too much,” Robinson said. “I’ve experienced too much. I’ve studied too much. I’ve seen too much.”

Charlie Dates, senior pastor of Progressive Baptist Church in Chicago, and F. Bruce Williams, senior pastor of Bates Memorial Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., completed the slate of evening preachers. “No Doubt” was the conference theme, drawn from 1 John 5:13.

Special events included a ministers’ and wives’ welcome reception hosted by the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention, a Black Southern Baptist Denominational Servants Network meeting, and individual counseling sessions for pastors and their wives.

“Many pastors and their families have been under enormous stress during the COVID-19 quarantine. Sickness, death, finances and more have taken a toll,” Croston said. “This year we added male and female counselors, just for pastors and their wives, and they have been booked solid throughout the week.”

Bergina Isbell, a psychiatrist, consultant and author from Baltimore, Md., counseled women while Stan Parker, senior pastor of Faith Fellowship Baptist Church in Lansing, Mich., counseled men.

Key speakers included morning Bible study teachers Quincy Strafford, senior pastor of Carmel Friendship Baptist Church in Wesley Chapel, Fla.; Wayne Faison, senior pastor of East End Baptist Church in Suffolk, Va.; Robert James, senior pastor of Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Roswell, Ga.; and Milton Kornegay, senior pastor of Central Baptist Church in Syracuse, N.Y. Christian comedian Timothy Shropshire of Tim Shrop Comedy in Greensboro, N.C., performed on opening night.

More than 80 instructors completed the roster of onsite and online presenters.

Kaiya Jennings, minister of worship and ministry alignment at First Baptist Church Mahan in Suffolk, Va., and Gale Hall, wife of pastor Horacio Hall of Faithway Baptist Church in Chesapeake, Va., led Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon Bible study sessions for women. Mark Johnson, senior pastor of Edgewater Baptist Church in New Orleans and Dewayne Rembert, senior pastor of Flatline Church at Chisholm in Montgomery, Ala., led special sessions for men.

Roy Cotton II, music production manager at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, led evening worship along with his wife Niya, worship leader of Trinity Church in Cedar Hill, Texas. Russell M. Andrews, minister of music at East End Baptist Church in Suffolk, Va., led morning praise and worship.

The event was downsized from previous years that included additional breakout sessions, a missions banquet and a women’s ministry banquet. More than 5,000 viewed the 2020 conference sessions, Croston said, which were held only online during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Registration is open for the 2022 event set for July 18-22, which Croston said will likely be solely onsite. Register at 800-588-7222 or ridgecrestconferencecenter.com/events/bclfc.