“The Greek word ‘koinonia’ is a beautiful word that we all know, and it speaks to us about fellowship in Christ,” said Rick Lance. “Every church is a partnership, and every person who serves and every person we serve is important in the work of ministry.”
Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, delivered the opening devotion at the “GroupLife Equipping Workshop” at Hunter Street Baptist Church in Hoover on Aug. 5.
Lance thanked attendees for their work in local churches, their support of missions through the Cooperative Program and for their willingness to gather new ideas at the conference.
Daniel Edmonds, director of the Office of Sunday School & Discipleship, explained that this year’s training for church leaders moved away from the traditional Pinnacle Conference at Shocco Springs Baptist Conference Center in Talladega and involved six area weekend training events. The Hunter Street event was the third of six.
Edmonds said that Lifeway Research identified 17 areas pastors feel they need help with. “Fostering connections with unchurched people” was high on the list at 76%, but the greatest need at 77% was “developing volunteers and leaders.”
“We want to help with this, and we want to bring training closer to the people,” he said. “This year’s plan is part of that. We want to provide training in local associations and local churches in the years ahead.”
Attendees chose three classes from general leadership or from age-graded seminars, preschool through adult. A unique offering was a pastors meeting hosted by Lance and Buddy Gray, pastor of Hunter Street.
Ben and Judy Armacost, Southern Baptist representatives in London with the International Mission Board, shared a seminar titled “Leading Others to Share the Gospel.”
Ben Armacost said when focusing on making disciples, church leaders should think of their children and grandchildren and the legacy they hope to share by teaching faith to them.
“Radical faith simply means obedience, and if we serve the Lord and raise up leaders, then we hope to reverse the lostness in our world,” he said.
Armacost said the “elephant in the room” preventing sharing the gospel is fear of failure or rejection.
“We have to admit this and ask God’s help,” he said. “Some people excuse their witness by insisting they’re not gifted in evangelism. But there are some things everybody must do whether gifted or not, such as showing hospitality toward others. All Christians must share their faith in some way.”
Judy Armacost gave ideas on engaging people in gospel conversations.
“I’ve begun conversations with people who wear a cross or have a faith-themed tattoo,” she said. “I ask ‘Do you have any kind of faith?’ And I offer to pray with people. I’ve worked on my ‘15-second testimony’ and have it ready. Sometimes I sit on a park bench and pray that God would send people my way who need to hear that God loves them.”
Ben Armacost said they use gospel tracts in their ministry, but sometimes leaflets get thrown in the trash. He shared another method using the five fingers of one hand.
“Thumbs up is good news, and the good news is we’re important to God,” he said. “The index finger is the shame finger when we do wrong, and we all have. The middle finger in most cultures is the rude finger, and it reminds of the curse of sin. The ring finger speaks of relationship, and God seeks us for relationship. The little finger is small and vulnerable as we are as new Christians. We need the help of God and his Church to grow strong.”
Armacost then put fingers together and turned his hand around.
“See how the middle finger is tallest?” he said. “I use this to talk about the supremacy of Christ in all of life.”
‘Reach and disciple’
Topper Reid, vice president of the church coaching division of Unlimited Partnerships, directed a seminar titled “Small Group Basics.”
“The purpose of small groups is to reach people,” he explained. “A Sunday School class is the Church organized to reach and disciple. God puts people in our ‘traffic pattern’ who we can invite to our groups for Bible study.”
Reid said no leader can do it alone and needs a team.
“Give someone a job, whether it’s making coffee or greeting,” he said. “This ensures they’ll be there and gives them joy in serving the Lord.”
Reid calls for care groups within the larger groups.
“Every week the care group leader calls or texts the two or three members in his ‘family’ and asks, ‘Are you OK?’ Life hits us in the face between Sundays, and this helps us discover prayer and ministry needs so that we can love one another. This also helps prevent what I call ‘gray people.’ These are people who are becoming ghosts because we don’t see them anymore.”
Reid said the Sunday morning Bible class is called a lot of other things today, but it doesn’t matter what it’s called.
“Call it what you will; just do it and do it well,” he said.
In response to an audience question, Reid said all teaching materials should be approved by the church for doctrinal integrity.
“I’ve sponsored curriculum fairs before and let teachers and leaders see what our denomination offers,” he said. “They can choose from these offerings, and we can be assured the doctrine they teach is sound.”
Edmonds offered another caveat.
“We live in a generation that doesn’t know the Bible. We must teach them what the Bible is, how we got it, what it says and how we can live it out,” he said. “We do talk about engaging with culture, but the focus of our study isn’t culture or politics. It must be Scripture.
“I say the curriculum should be ‘pastor approved.’ Nothing should be taught in a group that the pastor wouldn’t choose to endorse and share in the pulpit.”
Edmonds can be reached at 800-264-1225, ext. 285. Documents and videos are available at alsbom.org in the Sunday School section under the ministries tab.