SILVIS, Ill.—In an era of gargantuan Christian conferences attended by thousands of pastors, Jon Jenks and Will Hatfield planned something different—a local church conference intended to encourage personal spiritual growth.
The two pastors got to know each other when they began serving on the GARBC’s Council of Eighteen. Jenks is pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., and Hatfield is pastor of Campus Baptist Church, Ames, Iowa. Discovering they had similar interests and ministry ideas, they began connecting each other to a wider circle of Baptist pastors who shared their same values. Hatfield recalls many conversations that began with, “You really need to get to know this guy,” leading to new ministry connections. Now the pastors and church leaders are meeting at First Baptist Church, Silvis, Ill., with Pastor Steve Lovelady serving as host for the first Worship Connect conference.
As the conference opens, Hatfield challenges everyone to become “cross-pollinators,” an agricultural metaphor he does not need to explain to the pastors from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa. “We felt like this would be a great way for churches from these four states to get together,” Hatfield says. “This is about encouraging each other in Christ.”
As a result, the conference sessions are planned around expository preaching and lengthy periods of worship. The opening session began with Dr. David Culver’s sermon from Isaiah 6, challenging guests to meditate on the glory of God. “If this Worship Connect conference is to be effective, the first connection we need is with the One Who desires our worship,” Culver said, then offered a concluding summary of the passage: “The revelation of the Lord in glory transforms the lives of God’s servants and inspires us for service.”
Steve Barton, pastor of outreach and worship at Calvary Baptist Church, Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., planned worship times that reflected the preaching texts. The Friday night session included an extended time of quiet, personal confession and meditation, motivated by Isaiah’s acknowledgment of “unclean lips.” Later he led guided prayer that emphasized words of adoration and worship.
On Saturday, workshop leaders addressed several areas of practical church ministry, including evangelism, discipleship, worship, preaching, teen ministry, and leadership. Hoping to produce more effective training, Pastor Jenks and Pastor Hatfield planned a bit of homework. Before arriving for the weekend, participants had been given individual assignments to help them prepare for the group discussions.
“I want any helps, tips, and suggestions that I can get,” says Mike Bartlett, a deacon at Faith Baptist Church, Adams, Wis. He’s attending the conference with his pastor, Ryan Lowery. Both learned of the conference through their connection with Jon Jenks.
Stephen Moore, pastor of Horton Baptist Church Waverly, Iowa, says he came to the conference because “I want to find things that sharpen me and make me the leader and pastor that I need to be. And I’m here for the fellowship, too.”
Worship Connect was the first of three local church events that, taken together, seem to confirm an emerging trend among our churches. One of the best ways to teach church ministry is to see it being modeled effectively. One benefit of church associations is the opportunity to share resources, encouraging one another toward better ministry. “We’ve always been a grassroots movement,” says GARBC National Representative John Greening, noting development of local ministry conferences. “These are guys who want to try new ideas within the parameters of our theology, thinking critically about ministry, enjoying the beauty of our God.”