The youth group at Jacksonville First Baptist Church attended last month’s Lead>Defend conference for the first time. The one-day event sponsored by the College + Young Leaders Team of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention was at Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock and had over 1,300 participants. In the Understanding Gender Development mega breakout session, they heard about the 65-95 gender identities in the culture. In Abortion: A Case for Life they learned what the Bible says about abortion. In a main session, all were challenged to be used where God has planted them. “God will use your influence in this culture in ways you can measure and in ways you cannot,” said speaker Jim Denison.
Before they even left the parking lot after the event, the high school students asked their youth minister one question, “Can we come back next year?” Their student pastor, Tim Moses, said yes, they would be back next year. Moses said the conference impressed him. He especially liked the “practical answers to engage in conversations about Christianity with people of all backgrounds.”
Rebekah Duckworth, a 20-year-old young professional, went to the conference with Walnut Street Baptist Church in Jonesboro. One of her biggest takeaways was related to communicating with people from different backgrounds which she learned during Mary Jo Sharp’s breakout session Encountering the Problem of Evil in Everyday Conversations. Sharp gave personal examples from her own life which encouraged a softer approach and a listening ear to those who are atheists. After the session, Duckworth feels better equipped to handle conversations with nonbelievers who ask, “If God is good, why is there evil in the world?” “If I was in that situation, I would not get combative,” she said. “I would take a step-by-step conversation instead of a harsh debate.”
David Zerak, a financial software professional in his early thirties called the breakout session leaders “amazing people.” Probably because of his job, Zerak said he likes the “technical stuff: it’s good for me.” Dealing with the science and the Bible at his age, he said, is not new. But, session leader Andy Jennings’ breakout session Faith vs. Science gave “a good, educational refresher versus a touchy, feely platitude.” Jennings’ approach resonated with him. “I like hard content,” Zerak said. “You can interpret that in many ways. I like hard science vs. soft science--it’s more concrete.”
“I’ve been selling this thing for 4 years,” said Gassville Baptist Church youth minister Galen Doyel concerning his encouragement to get his church to attend Lead>Defend. This year, he brought not youth (they came with their parents) but youth leaders. Doyel said the church of about 150 is in a “very insulated area (near Mountain Home)” but “it's changed drastically.” Doyel said that he’s seen this town he grew up in evolve. “We’re in an unchurched environment,” he said. “People need to be able to prepare to handle issues. We’re dealing with a wide variety such as nihilism (life is meaningless) and LGBT issues in all forms,” he said. “The conference teaching is valuable because it addresses current cultural issues in a careful way: biblically accurate yet sensitive.”
Moses said he would bring his group back next year for similar reasons. “My students are challenged every day at school and in our community with difficult questions and doubts about Christianity,” he said. “Lead>Defend Conference brings in top-notch speakers and cares about encouraging and challenging every person who attends. They provide relevant talks and breakout sessions that will give you and your students confidence to boldly live for Jesus.”