By Aaron Wilson
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Churches who once felt sidelined by COVID-19 have adapted to change and are now ready to reach young people like never before.
“Reach” was the theme of this year’s ETCH Conference, held October 13-14, which brought together online more than 900 ministry leaders of kids and students for training and virtual fellowship. ETCH—hosted by LifeWay Christian Resources—stands for equipping the church and home.
The typically sold-out annual conference was moved online this year because of COVID. In addition to the four main ETCH sessions, which covered how to reach deeper, better, beyond and together, this year’s conference offered more than 60 breakout sessions, a dozen live Q&As with breakout leaders and two dozen networking rooms where viewers were able to engage in Zoom-style discussions about various ministry topics.
Ben Mandrell, president and CEO of LifeWay, helped kick off the conference using an expanding Hoberman sphere to illustrate how ministry often starts small with simple obedience but creates ripples that expand God’s kingdom in mighty ways.
A line-up of speakers including Megan Fate Marshman, Trillia Newbell, Derwin Gray and Robby Gallaty spoke on topics such as serving purposefully in disruptive times, embracing change, kingdom diversity and helping parents disciple their kids at home.
Megan Fate Marshman
Megan Fate Marshman, a women’s ministry leader at Arbor Road Church in Long Beach, California, asked viewers to examine their souls to consider whether they were trying to lead on empty after an exhausting season marked by “pivot fatigue.”
“Jesus has plans to reach others through you,” she said. “But will you first allow Him to reach toward you?”
Marshman examined John 4 and Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well to encourage leaders to be satisfied in Jesus and to challenge them to live purposefully during times that might seem like disruptions to the ministries they’ve planned.
She asked, are you interruptible to do God’s work on your way to do God’s work? “There’s ministry all around you; don’t miss it.”
Mark Croston, national director of black church partnerships at LifeWay, joined peanut butter and jelly together at the start of his session to illustrate the value of being better together and promoting teamwork in kids and student ministries.
In a culture that emphasizes individualism, Croston encouraged church staffs to pursue mutual edification and mutual service in carrying one another’s burdens. He also warned about the dangers of mutual destruction that can creep into ministries.
“Having worked on a church staff for many years, I know it doesn’t always go smooth or the way we would like,” he said. “But being better together must be fleshed out in our relationships with fellow believers so our horizontal relationships with each other are combined with our vertical relationship with the Almighty.”
Derwin Gray, lead pastor of Transformation Church in Indian Land, South Carolina, and a former NFL player, drew on his football experience to share how athletes train for sudden change—an unexpected turn of events in the course of a game.
“Instead of moping and complaining, we were taught that adversity is an opportunity that brings a heightened sense of intensity and a greater degree of participation,” he said. Using this analogy, Gray encouraged leaders to embrace the sudden change that events of 2020 have brought to their ministries.
Using an acronym of the word REACH, Gray spoke on the importance of remembering to live the gospel story, experiencing Christ in ministry, accepting Jesus’ work on our behalf, collaborating and creating with teammates, and being filled daily with the Holy Spirit’s power.
“In the midst of all the change, the most important ministry is not you and I ministering to people,” he said. “It’s allowing Christ to minister to and transform us.”
Trillia Newbell, author and acquisitions editor at Moody Publishers, encouraged leaders to teach children about pursuing racial diversity in God’s kingdom.
“We pursue diversity because the pages of Scripture are filled with it,” she said. “We pursue diversity because the gospel advocates for all people to be born again into a new family for a holy God.
Newbell presented leaders with eight practical ways to help kids and students love others, celebrate racial diversity and foster an environment where there is a robust understanding of the image of God.
Such tips included being color smart instead of color blind, showing hospitality to people who are different from us, resisting apathy and praying for opportunities to reach those unlike us.
Michael Kelley and Robby Gallaty
Michael Kelley, senior vice president of church ministries at LifeWay, and Robby Gallaty, pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee, presented corresponding messages about the importance of training parents to not outsource to the church their jobs of being the primary disciplers of their children.
We live in an incredibly specialized society where we go to the experts on a given subject, said Kelley, “But there are some things we should do ourselves. One of those things is the discipleship and spiritual development inside of our homes.”
Likewise, Gallaty called parents “untapped ministers in your ministry” and “gospel coworkers,” and asked leaders to consider whether the homes reflected in their church are actively drawing kids and students to God or away from Him.
After pointing out how the Tabernacle and the Temple were set up like homes, Gallaty noted that, “The home is the place God has given all of us as plan A to reach the world.”
Gallaty encouraged leaders to teach kids and parents to love Scripture, to live out the Word of God daily and to develop a model for family discipleship that protects families from seeking a “drive-through ministry model.”
Other speakers at this year’s ETCH Conference included Ed Stetzer, Trevin Wax, Jamie Ivey, Kelly Minter and Brock Gill. Worship was led by Jimmy McNeal. The event was co-hosted by Jana Magruder, director of LifeWay Kids, and Ben Trueblood, director of LifeWay Students.
A digital pass to this year’s ETCH Conference’s main sessions and breakouts is available at LifeWay.com.
Aaron Wilson is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.