By Aaron Wilson
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — When attendees arrived at the 2018 ETCH family ministry conference, each discovered a small, monochromatic card on their seat.
Over the course of the conference, church leaders assembled these seemingly insignificant cards into a giant collage that revealed a Helen Keller quote: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
The visual aide marked the tone for a conference focused on breaking down silos and helping ministry leaders and families link arms around the gospel. ETCH—hosted by LifeWay Christian Resources—stands for equipping the church and home.
This year’s ETCH conference, held Oct. 18-19, drew about 1,200 kids and student ministry leaders to Nashville and offered more than 50 speakers and breakout leaders.
Ben Trueblood, director of student ministries at LifeWay, admitted tensions can run high between different ministries in the local church.
“Sometimes, we allow our passion for what we do supersede everything, and we’re willing to run over people for the sake of what we believe God has called us to do,” he said. “What’s at stake is a collapse of the vision we share of building life-long faith.”
Trueblood said 66 percent of teenagers active in church while in high school leave the church during their college years. To battle this statistic, he urged attendees to practice humility toward other ministry leaders and to build relationships with parents.
“The reason many parents don’t disciple their kids isn’t because they don’t want to, but because they don’t know how,” he said. “If we [church leaders] are serious about making disciples of kids and teenagers, we have to take a missional view of the adults in our congregation so that we forge those connections.”
Trueblood said the strength to do this flows from the gospel.
“You can fulfill what you’ve been called to do because God has forged a link with you through His Son,” he said. “It’s an unbroken link that will never be taken away no matter how much this life hammers against it.”
Bible study teacher and speaker, Lisa Harper, discussed how God breaks down divisions in the church to bring about redemptive results. She asked attendees to consider the backgrounds of Peter and John Mark.
Peter denied he knew Jesus, and Mark’s reluctance to continue a mission trip caused Paul and Barnabas to split, she said, noting that Mark was likely also the unnamed man who ran away from Jesus naked the night before His crucifixion (Mark 14:51-52).
“Yet, God chose to take these two train-wrecks and train them how to be team leaders,” Harper said.
She also noted that Mark’s Gospel is the only one to record Jesus saying a house divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:20-27).
“If we come together as a covenant community, no one can plunder us,” she said. “Community under the banner of the gospel is covenant family.”
“We desperately need to recover the idea of church as a family,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Moore told attendees one of the most essential things they can do at their churches is to connect people with spiritual fathers, mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers who can help carry the burdens of younger church members who need guides.
“The last thing your kids and students need is a cool factor,” he said. “They don’t want people who are going to try to act their age; they want mentors.”
Moore also expounded on Luke 14:25-27 and said taking up one’s cross means not making family an idol.
“The problem is not usually that people have too low a view of family, but that they have too high a view—one that turns family into one more arena for winning and displaying,” he said. “If you don’t put family first [in front of the kingdom of God], then you’re actually free to love your family.”
Dorena Williamson, author and first lady of Strong Tower Bible Church in Nashville, Tenn., spoke on what it means to display a close and personal love to one’s neighbors.
“Sometimes we attempt to qualify who our neighbor is,” she said, “But it’s really a simple question.”
Williamson reminded leaders that Jesus “moved into the neighborhood” through the incarnation and that the Good Samaritan cared for his neighbor with no sign of getting repaid for his efforts.
She also participated in a panel discussion with other speakers on the topic of how churches can create and nurture a gospel-centered vision of racial reconciliation.
“If we’re not having these discussions [about racism and racial diversity in the kingdom of God] and giving our children this information in their mental file folder, someone else is going to fill that folder for them,” she said.
Williamson also encouraged churches and parents to avoid telling children to be color-blind when it comes to race.
“Children see color at a very young age,” she said. “It’s insulting to our children to tell them to be critical thinkers but then teach then to deny that they see the colors of the people around them.
“To call oneself colorblind when it comes to race diminishes the glory of God,” Williamson said, “Because we’re all masterpieces fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Panel speaker Dan Darling, vice president for communications at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, added that Scripture is filled with passages addressing race. He cited stories like Pentecost and the giving of the Great Commission.
“The topic of race is all through the New Testament,” he said. “As these things come up in the text, we can teach them to our kids as long as we don’t miss them.”
Michael Kelley, director of Groups Ministry for LifeWay, cautioned churches against bunkering down in an inward-facing posture. He warned this leads to kids concluding Jesus is not a sending God.
“The very nature of what it means to be a Christian is to be sent,” he said. “We must show that the best place for a Christian is not right inside their carefully constructed environment, but rather living as a stranger and an alien in the world.”
Kelley gave three ways churches can break people from a bunkering mentality: limit programs to protect margin for members to engage their community, help families normalize gospel conversations, and encourage Christians to lean into hospitality.
“Hospitality is not a single act like making a casserole,” he said. “God calls Christians to live in a posture of hospitality.”
Other speakers at ETCH included Jana Magruder, director of LifeWay Kids; Crawford Loritts, senior pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Roswell, Ga.; singer-songwriter and author Ellie Holcomb; and writer and speaker Jamie Ivey. Comedian and illusionist Jared Hall also performed at the event, and the Jimmy McNeal Band led worship.
The next ETCH conference is scheduled for Oct. 7-9, 2019 in Nashville. For more information, visit EtchConference.com.
Aaron Wilson is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.
Some 1,200 kids and student ministry leaders gathered in Nashville, Oct. 18-19, for the ETCH conference hosted by LifeWay Christian Resources. Photo by Amanda Mae Steele
ERLC President Russell Moore speaks to children and student ministry leaders about the importance of connecting younger church members with spiritual mentors. Photo by Amanda Mae Steele