By Carol Pipes and Aaron Earls
RIDGECREST, N.C. — After a year away, organizers and attendees expressed excitement at the opportunity to “gather on the mountain again” for the 2021 Black Church Leadership & Family Conference held July 19-23 at Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 conference was held virtually. This year, nearly 400 met in person for the annual event, while more than 400 were also able to participate online through Lifeway Digital Pass.
“The new post-pandemic paradigm for the church and this conference is both/and, not either/or,” said Mark Croston, Lifeway’s national director of Black Church Ministries. “We are taking advantage of the new skills and technology that have helped us in the COVID-19 quarantine to continue to push the gospel out as far as possible.”
The conference theme, “No Doubt,” is based on 1 John 5:13: “I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
“This past year, sickness, loneliness, discord and suffering has shaken many to the core,” said Croston. “That’s why we chose the theme ‘No Doubt’ for our conference. No matter what else changes or is shaken in life, our faith in God is not.
“We know church leaders have had a tough year due to the challenges brought on by COVID-19. Our hope is that leaders will leave this conference renewed and refreshed and re-energized to carry on the tasks to which God has called them.”
The annual conference provides worship, preaching, training, and motivation for leaders of Black churches and others involved in urban ministry, outreach to Black communities, and parenting of Black children.
“I would not miss this mountain top, life-changing experience. It’s always fulfilling,” said Laverene Williams from Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in Eatonville, Fla. “I come to be taught and poured into. God meets us here on the mountain and He anoints us afresh every year.”
Each day conference attendees enjoyed a schedule of morning exposition in Scripture based on Lifeway’s YOU curriculum, a customizable track of classes, gender-specific afternoon sessions and an evening message and time of worship.
On the opening night of the conference, Ben Mandrell, president of Lifeway Christian Resources, preached on Jesus healing 10 lepers in Luke 17. Highlighting the one leper who returned to thank Jesus, Mandrell challenged listeners to practice gratitude even in the most difficult challenges of life. “God uses the heavy things of life to help us see our need for Him,” he said. “You won’t truly encounter God’s power until you’ve run out of your own.”
On July 20, Haywood Robinson, senior pastor of The People’s Community Baptist Church in Silver Springs, Md., preached on “a crisis of belief” in modern times. “You can’t make me doubt [Jesus],” he said, “because I know too much about Him.” Drawing from the epistle of Jude, Robinson told those at the conference, “We are kept in Jesus, by Jesus and for Jesus.”
More than 80 faculty and staff led Bible studies, worship and a wide range of classes focused on issues such as evangelism, discipleship, leadership, missions, finance, next generation ministry, and women’s ministry. The breakout sessions included training from leading experts throughout the Black church community, as well as from organizations like Lifeway, the North American Mission Board, the International Mission Board, the Woman’s Missionary Union and GuideStone Financial Services.
“We’re seeking to equip leaders in areas where they feel like they need specific training,” Croston said. “The conference also offers leaders an opportunity to interact with our Southern Baptist entities.”
One aspect that makes the Black Church Leadership & Family Conference unique is that leaders are encouraged to bring their families, as the conference provides events for all age groups. Specific blocks of time are devoted to activities families can enjoy together.
“Many pastors and their families have been under enormous stress during the COVID-19 quarantine. Sickness, death, finances and more have taken their toll,” said Croston. As part of caring for church leaders during this time, the conference provided two on-site counselors to speak personally with pastors and their wives.
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.
For Croston, the conference provides a needed and timely break for church leaders. “Time on the mountain away from the hustle is therapeutic, restful and encouraging — just what we need in times like these,” he said. “We want to provide an environment for people to experience God in a new, fresh way.”
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.
Carol Pipes is director of communications and Aaron Earls is a writer at Lifeway Christian Resources.