Answers to scriptural conundrums greeted attendees of the Black Church Leadership and Family Conference (BCLFC) July 18-22 at Ridgecrest Conference Center in Ridgecrest, N.C.
What happened in Matthew 17 as the disciples of Jesus tried to cast a demon out of a little boy? “The demon defied their attempts. How did the demon know, ‘I don’t need to obey?’” ponders New York Pastor Frank Williams. “Jesus said, at its root, there is some unbelief somewhere (among the disciples). How did Jesus know it was unbelief? He’s the son of God. He knows everything. OK. How did the demon know it was unbelief?
“Could it be that they were sending out signals or vibrations of unbelief in their words that were picked up in the spirit realm?” Williams, pastor of Wake Eden Community Baptist Church and the Bronx Baptist Church, asked on the conference opening night in his sermon on walking by faith. “Unbelief is a subtle thing. It’s like a contaminated element that spoils the quality of our faith.”
In another sermon, Florida Baptist Convention Executive Director Tommy Green ponders pastors’ attempts to lead with pure hearts and skillful hands, qualities attributed to David in Psalm 78:72.
“The struggles of a pastor and family are real. Spiritual warfare marks every day of your ministry,” Green said. “Spiritual warfare is imminent, not imaginary. And the battles are from outside the church, and they are from inside the church. Evil has a place, and evil has a face, and evil has a taste. Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy, and you have a bullseye on your life.”
But God knows what pastors are facing, Green said in exhorting pastors to trust in God, shake off the dust of discouragement and defeat, and rise up in the victory that comes in Jesus Christ.
“Heart and hands stretch every fiber of our being. Look unto Jesus. He is the author and finisher of our faith,” Green said in a poetic homage to Jesus’ hands. “Jesus moved with compassion of heart and hands. He had healing hands that touched blind eyes to see. He had healing hands that touched deaf ears to hear. He had healing hands that reached out to lame limbs to walk. He had healing hands that made the sick whole.
“He had holy hands that calmed the sea. He had holy hands that raised the dead. He had holy hands that fed the multitudes. … He had humble hands that washed the feet of the disciples.”
In its 29th year, the BCLFC exposed attendees to a broad display of Southern Baptist life, presenting national, state and local leaders in daily schedules packed with preaching, worship, Bible study from the Lifeway YOU curriculum, fellowship, recreation and dozens of classes in leadership and personal edification.
The attendance of just over 400 was less than half the annual attendance before the COVID-19 pandemic, but conference convener Mark Croston said the numbers proved favorable.
“Our numbers were smaller than usual, but this provided for an even more powerful and personal experience. About one-third of the participants were first-timers,” said Croston, Lifeway Christian Resources’ national director of Black Church Ministries. “Many of our churches are only seeing about half of their members in live worship and some are still not open and that also impacts our numbers.”
Special activities engaged women, men, young adults, youth and children in activities targeting their interests and spiritual needs. Woman2Woman speakers were Archalena Coats, a member of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee, a Florida educator and wife of Covenant Baptist Church Pastor Patrick Coats; and Elizabeth Woodson, a Bible teacher and author from Dallas. Addressing men in Man2Man sessions were Ken Felix, senior pastor of Bethel Evangelical Baptist Church in Miami Gardens, Fla., and JerQuentin Sutton, senior pastor of Lebanon Baptist Church in Westwood, N.J.
Among other Southern Baptist leaders on tap were Willie McLaurin, interim president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee; Leo Endel, executive director of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention; Jamie Dew, president, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; Todd Unzicker, executive director and treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, and Valerie Carter Smith, executive director and treasurer of the Woman’s Missionary Union of Virginia.
In other evening sermons, Breonus Mitchell, lead pastor of Mount Gilead Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., presented Malachi 2:17-3:6 as a court case, with the Israelites as the plaintiffs waging a complaint against God.
“The Israelites have taken God to court, and they have charged God with being unfair and unfaithful. They say that the God of host has abandoned His covenant relationship with the children of Israel, because everybody around them is living their best life while the children of Israel are living their worst life,” Mitchell preached July 20.
“In reality, tonight, do we really want God to be fair? Next time you open your mouth, talking about what you don’t deserve and how somebody else got what you deserved, you wish you had something else, go back down memory lane,” Mitchell encouraged. “Where would you be, what would you be, what ministry would you have, what church would you pastor, what marriage would you have, what children would you have, what money would be in the bank, what health would be in your body if God was fair?”
Fred “Chip” Luter, son of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church Senior Pastor Fred Luter, focused on the historical truth of the resurrection in the final sermon of the week July 21, saying that to refute the Lord’s resurrection in the face of all the historical evidence would be like refuting the tragedy of the attacks of September 11, 2001, that killed thousands, or the COVID-19 pandemic that all the world experienced.
Jesus appeared to 500 men and women after the resurrection, and his body has never been found, but armored guards contended that Jesus’ disciples stole His body from the tomb.
“Do you know that the original conspiracy theory started after the resurrection?” asked Luter, Franklin Avenue’s senior associate pastor. “Can you imagine these armored soldiers saying, ‘Oh, His disciples came and stole the body?’ Let me just give a little context. Does anybody remember the kind of disciples Jesus had?” They were fishermen, tax collectors and physicians. “Can you imagine? Really bro? They stole the body?
“But here’s the thing. If you can buy the lie, you don’t have to submit to the truth.”
Much of the conference will be available on demand beginning July 25, with access available for purchase at lifeway.com/blackchurchconference. More than 24 hours of content will be available until July 2023, Croston said.
“There was a recent study that reported that the majority of people do not watch TV by time anymore, but via recordings and OnDemand,” Croston said, “so this is right in line with the new viewing patterns of people.”
Registration for the 2023 BCLFC, scheduled for July 17-21, is open at ridgecrestconferecnecenter.com.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ senior writer.)