By Marissa Postell
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For attendees at ETCH 2022, the gathering was a place of friendship, rest and encouragement.
On October 3-5, 2022, 800 children and student ministry leaders from across the nation filled Music City Center in Nashville and were reminded their identities are found in the One who has called them by name and called them for a purpose. The conference theme, “Called by Name” comes from Isaiah 43:1 where the Lord says, “I have called you by your name; you are mine” (CSB).
“When was the last time you thought about the fact that you have been called by name?” asked Ben Trueblood, director of student ministry for Lifeway Christian Resources.
Trueblood reminded attendees they have been called by name to oversee the flocks they are serving. But God’s sovereignty and calling doesn’t stop with them and their ministries, he said. Every leader who serves under them has been called by name. And their flocks have been called by name to be their flocks.
Not only that, but Chuck Peters, director of Lifeway Kids, told leaders they were in the room attending ETCH 2022 because they had been called by name. If no one was in the room by accident, he said, then nothing that happened in the room would be an accident either. So, Peters encouraged leaders to connect with Lifeway and each other during the conference.
“We are here not only to resource you but to support you and come alongside you in ministry,” said Zac Workun, Lifeway student ministry specialist.
As the conference kicked off Monday evening, Kevin Jones, pastor and dean of Cedarville University, challenged leaders to keep the gospel as the heartbeat of their ministries—the center of everything they do.
“Where there is no heart, there is no life,” Jones said. “Where there is no gospel, there is no life.”
Jones sympathized with leaders, acknowledging that there are many distractions from ministry, but it is the leader’s responsibility to make sure every aspect of their ministries points their flocks to the gospel.
Gregg Matte, senior pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church, encouraged leaders that although there are desert seasons in ministry, God has a purpose. Teaching from Galatians 1:13-24 and emphasizing Paul’s three years “in the desert,” Matte said, “The desert is a place of preparation and recalibration. Many of us want a great ministry without paying the price of going through a desert.”
But Matte reminded his listeners they are not alone in the desert. He encouraged leaders who find themselves in those seasons to remember God has called them and set them apart.
Other keynote sessions focused on the importance of leaders caring for their own souls in order to be effective and equipped for ministry.
Lifeway President and CEO Ben Mandrell and his wife, Lynley, led attendees through a practical exercise of evaluating whether they were living out of their strengths. They challenged leaders to consider which tasks are life-giving and which are draining. “Find where your passions lie and where you need to pray for people to fill in your gaps,” Ben Mandrell said.
Christy Nockels, singer, songwriter and author, shared some of her journey of learning what it looks like to serve from a place of rest in God. “God taught me how to live from Him and not just for Him,” Nockels said. “There is a rest that propels us.”
Jana Magruder, strategic initiatives director of Lifeway Kids, hosted a conversation with author Katy Boatman and her niece, Shelby, about walking through worry and anxiety with kids. Boatman noticed the battle with worry and anxiety that adults face is also happening among young students, like Shelby.
“I want them to know a God who is with them in the crazy—that we know a God who never changes,” Boatman said as she discussed her devotional book and song, “You Can Rest.” “This is the future of the church. If we care for the future of the church, we need to pour into them now.”
Shelby encouraged leaders that their presence was enough. Simply knowing someone was there who would care, listen and carry their burdens with them is often the encouragement young students need.
Peters then called leaders to remember not only what they teach but also who teaches matters. Churches need leaders who are chasing after Jesus so they can invite kids and students to follow them as they follow Him. And that begins with leaders seeing every kid as made in the image of God—someone worth investing in.
“Every kid in your church needs a champion in your church,” Peters said.
Trueblood challenged leaders to love well. He said in order to love someone well, leaders must “prioritize them ahead of their own agenda” and “seek to understand life from their perspective.” While acknowledging the difficulty of this, Trueblood said seeking to understand where someone else is coming from places value on them.
Chad Higgins, parent ministry specialist for Lifeway Students, spoke of the ministry of loving parents well by offering them a seat and taking the time to hear from them. He reminded leaders that parents are not the enemy, and ultimately, it should be the leader’s goal to consider what is best for the family, not the ministry.
“Your Father loves you. And He wants to meet with you and sit with you,” Higgins said. “He loves your children more than you could ever know. And He loves you so, so much.”
Discussing the temptation to become inward focused as a ministry, Ben Mandrell shared some of his family’s story of becoming church planters in Colorado.
“We start out as fishers of men, and then we become keepers of the aquarium,” Mandrell said. “Don’t forget about the nonreligious kid who’s not showing up at your church. If you really want to reach your community, it’s in the kids and student ministry.”
Encouragement for ministry leaders
Darren Whitehead, lead and founding pastor of Church of the City, closed the week with a word from 1 Kings 19:1-13 for leaders facing discouragement in ministry.
“There is an epidemic of discouragement among pastors and church leaders in America,” Whitehead said.
But God has not forgotten the discouraged pastor or ministry leader. God helps the discouraged rest, invites them into His presence and turns them into dreamers.
“The greatest antidote to discouragement is fresh vision from God,” Whitehead said. “God wants to give you fresh vision, fresh hope and fresh dreams.”
A place for equipping
This year’s ETCH (Equipping the Church and Home) Conference provided several pre-conference events. New2Ministry was a one-day intensive for new preschool, kids and student ministers who’ve been in their positions for two years or less. Other pre-conference sessions included “Mental Health in Ministry” and “Raising Gender Healthy Kids & Teens in a Gender-Confused World.”
Breakout sessions during the main conference included:
- Change the Way Your Church Views Kids Ministry—Be Heard, Be Seen
- How to Make Student Ministry a Priority Again in an Apathetic Age
- Pastoring Screen-addicted Teens
- Avoiding the Pitfalls of Ministry Trends
- The Way to Find Rest as a Busy and Burnt-out Leader
The ETCH 2022 digital pass, with access to watch the main sessions and listen to audio recordings of all 40 breakouts, will be available for purchase soon at Lifeway.com. And details about next year’s ETCH Conference, to be held in Nashville, Tennessee, in October 2023, will be available at etchconference.com with early bird pricing available for a limited time.
Marissa Postell 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. Headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, Lifeway receives no denominational funding and operates as a self-supporting nonprofit.