By Aaron Wilson
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Ken Braddy has held several roles throughout his professional career, but many people at Lifeway Christian Resources simply refer to him as “Mr. Sunday School.”
It’s not hard to see why. When Braddy came on staff at his first church, there were 44 people in their Sunday School program. A decade later, the church’s Sunday School had grown to include more than 2,400 members. At another church, Braddy saw similar success, boasting the fastest growing Sunday School in Tennessee by percentage increase. And for the last dozen years, Braddy has used his experience and expertise to grow discipleship programs across the country by managing adult ongoing Bible studies at Lifeway and helping lead adult training. He’s also written numerous books and articles about group ministry and blogged about groups for more than a decade.
Now, Braddy is taking to the road in a newly developed role at Lifeway: the director of Sunday School and network partnerships. When asked to describe his new role, Braddy focuses on two words: training and networking.
By your side: the value of training
“Lifeway has a long history of being a training organization,” said Braddy. “COVID took some of those opportunities away from us, but we’re now in a season of rebuilding and reinvigorating our training structure. We want to lock arms with church leaders and become trusted partners in ministry.”
For Braddy, much of this training occurs within the context of Baptist state conventions and local associations.
“We’re continuing to build bonds with existing leaders, but also forging new relationships with ones who are coming onboard and who may not have known us or worked with us before,” said Braddy. “We’re investing in these new leaders—helping them connect with Lifeway by getting to know our people and who they can call when they have needs.”
Sometimes, Braddy’s new role requires him to travel to state convention events to provide discipleship training. Other times, it involves bringing church leaders to specific Lifeway events called Essentials conferences. These are small, intensive trainings Lifeway hosts over the course of one or two days to invest in church leaders from different regions. Regardless of the venue, Braddy said there are two questions he always gets from ministry leaders, ones that are also reflected in Lifeway Research’s study on pastors’ greatest needs: “How do I train my leaders?” and “Is my church’s discipleship strategy still valid?”
To answer these and other top-of-mind questions, Braddy often structures training around three key topics: 1) Where is the church going post-COVID?, 2) How do I teach adults the Bible in a more engaging manner? and 3) What are the signposts of discipleship? How do I really know I’m making disciples like Jesus commanded?
“One of the biggest wins for people who attend our training events is hearing from peers and discovering that everyone is in a similar position—you’re not alone, the issues you’re dealing with are the same ones everyone is facing,” Braddy said. “Ministry can be a lonely endeavor. Knowing you’re not as far off base as you thought and that others like you are finding ways to move forward is life-giving.”
Braddy said another benefit of attending a Lifeway training event is the friendships that develop between church leaders. “It helps leaders gain a set of new friends they can feel comfortable talking to about issues they face in their ministry contexts,” he said.
Investing in leaders
Braddy says Essentials Conferences and state convention training events help put a human face on Lifeway—or more accurately, faces on Lifeway, as he is just one of several employees doing similar networking and training. Other Lifeway teammates include Kelly King, manager of magazines/devotional publishing and women’s ministry training; Mark Croston, director of Black church partnerships; Chuck Peters, director of kids ministry; Zac Workun, student ministry specialist; Lifeway’s Vacation Bible School trainers; and many others.
For example, Workun and the Lifeway Students team host single-day, six-hour training events for student pastors. When one event is over, they pack up, drive to another city in the region, spend the night and host the same training with new attendees the next day. These traveling events enable Lifeway Students to have in-person touchpoints with leaders in up to three cities a week.
And through Lifeway Students’ Youth Ministry Booster membership community, Workun and Chad Higgins, parent ministry specialist, are paving the way in hosting online learning cohorts, something Braddy is looking to replicate for adult discipleship leaders. This consists of 9-10 youth ministry leaders engaged in a yearlong Mastermind, a cohort of fellow ministers from a similar context and experience level that thematically study areas of leadership and youth ministry growth. Because everything takes place online, Lifeway can invest in full-time, part-time and volunteer youth ministry leaders and help them build relationships with one another without requiring them to leave home.
Braddy says this overlap of virtual and in-person training from different ministry areas reflects Lifeway’s “Be Better Together” value, helping leaders dialog about best practices for ministry in a post-COVID world. Regarding the pandemic’s effect on the church, Braddy has an encouraging message for discipleship leaders.
“The church has a unique opportunity to hit a reset button, becoming healthier than it’s ever been,” he said. “It’s a golden age for group ministry because if there’s one truth we all realized over the past two years, it’s that we need each other. God created us with a need for relationships, and the church’s small groups are the places where people can experience biblical, age-appropriate studies while building deeper relationships with their fellow group members.”
Braddy said his previous roles on church staffs made him a “second-chair leader” and that he’s never had a desire to be the senior pastor of a church, instead preferring to bolster the groups ministries and the discipleship strategies of those churches. He has an appreciation for the influence leaders carry even when they’re not the ones in the main spotlight.
“So many church leaders are looking for answers,” he said. “It’s great when you can say, ‘I’ve been down that road myself. Let me tell you what I did and what resources are available.’ I really like being able to help the church and help people.”
Aaron Wilson is a writer for Lifeway Christian Resources.
About Lifeway Christian Resources
In operation since 1891, Lifeway Christian Resources is one of the leading providers of Christian resources, including Bibles, books, Bible studies, Christian music and movies, Vacation Bible School, and church supplies, as well as camps and events for all ages. Lifeway is the world’s largest provider of Spanish Bibles. Based in Nashville, Tennessee, Lifeway operates as a self-supporting nonprofit. For more information, visit Lifeway.com.