RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–Few conferences begin as early as Black Church Week. The early praise service began at 6:15 a.m., before breakfast or even coffee.
Few go as late either. Evening preaching ended about 9:30 p.m., with ice cream closing out the day at the Nibble Nook at the LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
In between were preaching, Bible study and training, with plenty of fellowship during meals around the tables.
“We’ve had a great week on the mountain, haven’t we?” T. Vaughn Walker, senior pastor of First Gethsemane Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., told the 1,000-plus participants at the Black Church Leadership and Family Conference sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The applause and amens gave affirmation to his question. Walker, who also is professor of Christian ministries and black church studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was each morning’s Bible exposition leader.
A SENSITIVE SUBJECT
Walker’s topic one morning, “What We Don’t Like to Talk About” drawn from the Book of 2 Samuel, addressed sexual abuse.
“As a 30-year pastor, I find one of the most disturbing parts of my ministry is hearing from members of my congregation who have been sexually abused,” Walker said, nevertheless calling on churches to address the issue that is so prevalent in today’s society.
Sexual abuse is not new and is addressed in the Bible too, Walker said, in stories such as the rape of David’s daughter Tamar by her half-brother Amnon.
Young men hear the message that sexual conquest is one of the marks of being a man, Walker recounted, while young women see other women marginalized as objects of lust because of their physical beauty and suggestive attire.
“Sexual abuse can affect every relationship in a victim’s life,” Walker said. “Victims will find it hard to trust anyone. If a family member inflicted the abuse, there will be issues with shame, self-loathing and powerlessness. And they will always wonder why mama or daddy didn’t try to stop it. Worst of all, many victims deal with guilt, thinking they must have done something to deserve it.
“We as a church must reach out to victims of sexual abuse with kindness and compassion,” the pastor said. “We need to bring them in, not kick them out. We need to wrap our arms around them instead of talking about them.”
Perpetrators need healing as well as the victims, Walker reminded. “They need to be shown compassion, and they need to recognize and confess their sin,” he said. “Many of these perpetrators were abuse victims themselves and just were never taught better.”
Throughout Black Church Week, a variety of options were available, focusing on such themes as discipleship, outreach, strategic planning, evangelism, marriage and family enrichment and student and collegiate ministry.
In a session on choosing Sunday School curriculum, Christina Zimmerman, from LifeWay’s leadership and adult publishing area, exhorted, “Think about the responsibility and charge you have been given as Sunday School leaders. You are there to help people learn how to study the Bible. Once they begin to know how to study the Bible, their lives will be transformed.”
Mark Croston, senior pastor of East End Baptist Church in Suffolk, Va., taught “Truth About Grace,” LifeWay’s January Bible Study for 2011 based on the Book of Galatians exploring the truth that salvation is by God’s grace not human works.
“We are saved and kept by grace,” Croston said. “When you really grab hold of your need for grace, then you become more willing to extend grace to others. One reason I know so much about grace is that I know how messed up I’ve been! I’m saved and continue to be saved not because I’m so good but because God will not let me go. I am bound to Him. I am saved and secured by grace.” (See separate BP story today on Mark Croston’s workshop on the January Bible Study).
Maina Mwaura, youth pastor at the Atlanta-area Greenforest Community Church in Decatur, Ga., spoke to youth leaders on handling the emotional needs of students.
“God is teaching me that Christianity is messy!” he said. “Students [who] come in to talk with me can have some messed up stuff going on. And these are church kids!”
Mwuara urged adults who work with youth to have a strong and healthy spiritual life with God, including daily devotions and Bible study.
“You have to be prayed up and ready when you walk into a room with a student,” he said. “Even if it starts with chaos, every counseling session needs to end with you giving the student steps to come next.”
Mwaura urged the leaders to be alert to students who continually “request prayer” for others, as that sometimes is a ruse.
“Watch out,” he said. “Don’t let prayer requests be a cover-up for gossip. The best way to handle that is just to come right out and say, ‘Hey, this sounds more like gossip to me.'”
Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans brought a “big busload of people” to the Black Church Week’s July 19-23 sessions, said church member Ethel Palmer. “Our church comes every year for training. The conference leaders have been anointed. I have been so blessed….
“I do not want to go home [spiritually] the same way that I came,” Palmer said. “I feel like I have learned so much. God has touched my heart and I have to go back and share it and use it.”
Polly House is a corporate communications specialist with LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Next year’s Black Church Leadership and Family Week will be July 18-22 at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center.