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Students gain insights into SBC & its leaders

NASHVILLE (BP) — For seminary student Jamin Eben, the inaugural Student Leadership Conference cosponsored by two Southern Baptist entities proved doubly beneficial.

Eben, a third-year master of divinity student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said the event provided “a much better understanding of the nature and day-to-day shape of the cooperation that makes up the Southern Baptist Convention.”

“The core of Southern Baptist identity is not structure but cooperation, and the leadership conference truly brought that out,” Eben said via email.

The first-time event also helped by exposing him to various Southern Baptist pastors and leaders, Eben said.

“Leadership is desperately needed in the church today,” he said. “However, styles of leadership are so diverse that as a young leader I often wonder how to work toward my own development. Seeing a vast diversity of godly leaders helped me think through my own development a great deal.”

Eben was among 62 participants — primarily students with some faculty and staff members — from three SBC seminaries and seven Baptist colleges or universities at the March 26-27 conference in Nashville. The conference, cosponsored by the Executive Committee and Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), was held in conjunction with the second annual ERLC Leadership Summit on “The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation.”

Between and after sessions of the ERLC Summit, students interacted with Southern Baptist pastors and entity leaders. They also had the opportunity to ask questions of them in panel discussions at three meals during the summit.

Frank S. Page, president of the Executive Committee, explained the work of the EC and the convention at the March 26 dinner before joining three pastors for a question-and-answer session. ERLC President Russell Moore responded to students and other guests at a Question and Ethics segment during the March 27 dinner break. Six LifeWay Christian Resources staffers on a panel fielded questions at a March 27 luncheon sponsored by the entity.

Page said the student conference enabled the Executive Committee to engage in its assignment from the convention of building cooperation — specifically in this case “to encourage students in their understanding of and appreciation of the work of the convention.”

“We were able to connect personally, as well as to share information,” Page said. “It was a wonderful time of connection and networking. We are hopeful this event will encourage cooperation in the days ahead.”

The goal of the student conference “was to invest in next generation leaders by growing them as leaders, networking them with key SBC leaders and educating them on how the SBC works,” said Phillip Bethancourt, the ERLC’s executive vice president who emceed the dinner programs.

“We hope this will become an annual event that strengthens the SBC’s connection to younger leaders,” he told BP by email. “Imagine the impact on the denomination after a decade if 500-plus key SBC leaders have attended this event and shaped their ongoing commitment to investing in the SBC.”

The conference developed from a model used by Southern Seminary, Bethancourt said.

Each spring, Southern’s Student Life office takes its ministry leadership interns to Nashville to meet those who serve the SBC at entities in the city, said Jeremy Pierre, the seminary’s dean of students and an assistant professor of biblical counseling.

“We want them to see models of faithful leadership so that they might grow into better leaders themselves,” Pierre told BP by email. “We also want to increase their appreciation for and dedication” to the SBC.

“At the ERLC Summit, our students witnessed careful thinking on a sensitive topic,” Pierre said. “Race relations is full of potential for misunderstanding and hurt, and we saw displayed a mature love for people, as well as a mature love for God’s Word.

“In addition, the folks at LifeWay and the Executive Committee demonstrated a heart for the mission of the Gospel and strategic energy for accomplishing it,” he said. “The students had high praise for everything. And they’d tell me if they thought otherwise!”

For Anderson University in Anderson, S.C., it was the first time for its students to make a trip to Nashville for such an event, sending five students and two faculty members.

Tim McKnight, assistant professor of Christian studies at Anderson, aimed “to introduce our students to the important work the ERLC is doing related to engaging cultural issues with a Christian worldview and particularly from a Kingdom perspective. Particularly, we were excited about them learning how a Christian worldview and Kingdom perspective relate to the issue of racial reconciliation.”

Anderson’s students “learned how our convention seeks to engage our culture by holding out the truth in love,” McKnight said via email. “They learned that racial reconciliation is an outgrowth of the Gospel’s message of reconciling man with God and man with man. They heard how they can engage sensitive cultural issues by holding out the truth of Scripture with the love of Christ.”

The students also were “able to hear firsthand from leaders within our convention and hear their hearts for engaging our nation and the world with the Gospel,” said McKnight, who expressed gratitude “for the opportunity and generosity extended to our students” by the Executive Committee, ERLC and LifeWay.

In addition to Southern Seminary and Anderson University, students from the following schools also attended: Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.; Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth; Criswell College in Dallas; Dallas Baptist University; Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.; Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark.; Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and the University of Mobile (Ala.).

Joining Page Thursday evening in answering questions about ministry and the SBC were Nathan Lino, senior pastor of Northeast Houston Baptist Church, and Vance Pitman, senior pastor of Hope Church in Las Vegas. Jon Akin, senior pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Lebanon, Tenn., moderated the question-and-answer time.

LifeWay staff members who addressed such topics as Bible translations, discipleship, church planting and digital technology at Friday’s luncheon were Trevin Wax, managing editor of The Gospel Project; Mark Dance, associate vice president for pastoral leadership; Micah Carter, spokesperson for the Holman Christian Standard Bible; Todd Adkins, director of leadership; and Daniel Im, church multiplication specialist. Jonathan Howe, director of strategic initiatives, moderated the panel.