Lifeway’s ETCH Conference reunites leaders of kids, students

NASHVILLE (BP) – “How do we walk worthy of our ministry calling during a season marked by prolonged challenges?”

This was the question posed to attendees of this year’s ETCH Conference, held Oct. 11-12 at Forest Hills Baptist Church in Nashville. “Reunite” was the theme the conference, which brought together in person 350 ministry leaders of kids and students and around 130 churches and individuals by way of simulcast. ETCH, hosted by Lifeway Christian Resources, stands for equipping the church and home.

To answer the question about how to walk worthy, Noe Garcia, pastor of North Phoenix Baptist Church in Phoenix, Ariz., encouraged leaders to press into the conference’s theme verse of Ephesians 4:1.

Keynote speaker Jonathan Evans, author and chaplain of the Dallas Cowboys, encourages ministry leaders to reunite around the common cause of making disciples at Lifeway’s ETCH Conference, held October 11-12 at Forest Hills Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo by Carol Pipes

“We are to ‘walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we’ve been called,’” Garcia quoted from Scripture. “Remember, you are already a child of God. You are worthy enough because of what Christ has done for you on the cross.”

Still, Garcia admitted that the last two years of pandemic life have left leaders feeling as if they aren’t walking, but barely crawling in their ministry callings. He encouraged attendees to take heart because “our pain pushes us to rely on His power.”

Garcia chronicled a season in his life when he went from the ministry highs of being a “golden boy college pastor” to the lows of what felt like being “the most hated person in the church” as senior pastor. This led to a season of deep depression. As difficult as this was, Garcia said it allowed him to stop relying on his own skills and instead depend on God’s divinity to accomplish His purposes. Garcia encouraged attendees to remember their identity in Christ during their own difficult seasons, to humbly remember their humanity before God, and to remember that their real enemy is the devil.

“Your identity is not dependent on your activity. Your performance doesn’t dictate your worth or your calling,” he said. “You can walk in confidence because of who you belong to. The Creator who hung the moon and stars chose you for this role.”

Other keynote and breakout speakers tapped into the wounds the pandemic has left on families in the church. David Thomas and Sissy Goff, authors and directors at Daystar Counseling Ministries in Nashville, addressed an increase in cases of anxiety in kids and students. They provided ministry leaders practical tools to enable parents to help their children battle the tendency to worry. In separate breakout sessions, Thomas discussed how to nurture resilience in kids when they face adversity while Goff helped parents and leaders of teens work through the challenges of adolescence.

Chuck Peters, director of Lifeway Kids, and Jana Magruder, Lifeway Kids strategic initiatives director, welcome leaders of kids and student ministries to Lifeway’s ETCH Conference, held October 11-12 at Forest Hills Baptist Church in Nashville. Photo by Carol Pipes

Kandi Gallaty, author and co-leader of Replicate Ministries, spoke about the importance of kids and students developing a quiet time and provided techniques to help parents come alongside their children in this area. Meanwhile, Chuck Peters, director of Lifeway Kids, introduced positive findings from Lifeway Research, stating that most American churchgoers said they felt strengthened in their relationship with God by recent events and that an overwhelming majority say they value the times they can attend worship services in person. Peters also encouraged leaders to regularly pray for the “empty chair” in their ministries, acknowledging that there is always room for one more.

Mark Croston, national director of Black Church Partnerships at Lifeway, challenged parents and other leaders to ready their minds for maximum impact because of the heavy influence they hold in children’s lives. However, he also encouraged them to reset their thoughts about discipleship, stating it often happens in small increments, “more like a dial than a switch.”

In the spirit of reuniting ministry teams, Ben Trueblood, director of Lifeway Students, encouraged leaders of kids and students to press into five key relationships needed to succeed: the senior pastor, volunteers, parents, friends, and family. Jana Magruder, Lifeway Kids strategic initiatives director, spoke on reuniting relationships by building a culture of belonging within the church.

Keynote speaker Jonathan Evans, author, former NFL player and current chaplain of the Dallas Cowboys, walked leaders through a “Job-like” season in the Evans’ family life marked by a terminal diagnosis, several unexpected family deaths and a pandemic. He encouraged attendees through advice his mother shared with him before her passing. “Never forget that ministry is the reason you exist,” she said, “Use your gifts continuously, and do not grow weary of doing good because that’s why you’re here.” The pandemics of life, she said, are where Christians are needed the most.

Evans drew from his football experience to illustrate how every Christian has a different position and skill set on Jesus’ team, but that all Christians come out of the huddle with the same Great Commission play call.

“You cannot have disunity and think you’re going to have God’s presence,” Evans said. “We need to be reunited around this common cause: ‘Go ye therefore and make disciples.’”

Worship at ETCH was led by the Student Life praise team. Hymnwriters Keith and Kristyn Getty, accompanied on stage by their young daughters, capped off the conference with a mini concert and singalong. Recording artist Michael W. Smith also made a guest appearance and played a worship song before speaking on Christians’ acceptance before God as His beloved children.

The entirety of this year’s ETCH Conference can be accessed through Lifeway Digital Pass. Next year’s ETCH Conference will be held at Music City Center in Nashville Oct. 3-5, 2022.

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