Follow the Leader
Refine: 2015 D6 Conference
By Eric K. Thomsen
Clang! Clang! Clang!
With powerful blows, the smith strikes the misshapen lump of raw metal. Sparks fly as the hammer falls time and time again. Days pass into weeks until, finally, the metal is shaped into a useful tool in the hands of the master.
It’s a beautiful illustration of discipleship. Over days, weeks, years, even decades, parents and grandparents reinforce the truths of God’s Word in the next generation. It is a long and sometimes difficult process as the lives of children are molded—refined—into useful tools for the Master.
The 2015 D6 Conference called parents and church leaders to take a closer look at this discipleship process, examining current ministry strategies and seeking the most effective ways to mold the next generation for Christ. The conference theme, drawing from principles of Scripture, called them to Refine.
Over 1,500 attendees from 41 states made their way to Louisville, Kentucky, September 16-18, for the seventh annual D6 Conference. In addition, attendees traveled from 21 countries, including Malaysia, Thailand, South Africa, Brazil, Canada, Australia, and Belgium. For three intense days, 55 speakers tackled a wide range of subjects with a single goal: refining generational discipleship.
The conference offered 72 seminars and workshops led by presenters such as Timothy Paul Jones, professor and associate vice president at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky; Melissa McDonald, national children’s specialist for the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination; Richard Ross, founder of True Love Waits; and Lydia Randall, author of My Faith Box and creator of Faith Path.
Nashville-based theatrical percussion performance group StikYard provided an unforgettable beginning to the conference as the sound of a hammer striking the anvil led to a spectacular fusion of pyrotechnics and rhythmically charged sounds of percussion instruments.
The multi-sensory display brought the already energetic crowd to their feet before Ron Hunter (pictured above), D6 Conference director and CEO of Randall House, challenged parents, grandparents, and churches to develop a generation of “battleships” fully prepared to defend against the negative influence of culture. He reminded listeners that according to Scripture, God says this happens best at home as the church helps equip parents—the primary influencers of their children. “One church hour a week is not enough for effective discipleship,” he urged listeners. “Kids take their cues on how to react to life from parents.” He challenged fathers to be fully engaged, reminding them “a spiritually absent dad is no different than an absent dad.” He issued a call for pastors to fight for their congregations, dedicating themselves to equipping parents and grandparents for discipleship.
Shaunti Feldhahn, former Wall Street analyst turned social researcher and best-selling author, debunked five common marriage myths often perpetuated by the church. The number one myth is that Christian marriages end in divorce at the same rate as unbelievers. She shared a single common ingredient discovered in her research that keeps marriages together—hope! She challenged pastors to address the challenges and blessings of marriage openly with their congregations, and to make sure children and teens are present for those conversations.
Pete Wilson, pastor of Cross Point Church in Nashville, Tennessee, encouraged listeners to follow the example of David’s showdown with Goliath—be diligent; fight for your dreams (even if you are facing a giant); remember the power of God (compared to any obstacle you face); and act in belief rather than doubt.
Alvin Sanders, senior vice president of World Impact, told listeners the Great Commission should be the “Christian operating system.” He encouraged them to put “fresh eyes” on this passage. These words of Jesus will tear down walls of racial division and cut to the heart of the matter—the gospel is for everyone. He challenged churches to stop being “racial islands” and reach the community surrounding them: “Don’t tell me you’re reaching your community,” he admonished, “when you are not reaching all demographics in your community.”
Tim Elmore, best selling author and president of Growing Leaders, challenged church leaders to “march off the map,” leaving the settled, safe world of the church to pioneer “new maps” for the next generation. He urged churches to implement programs based on future needs of the next generation rather than past traditions, and defined the next generation as EPIC: Experiential, Participatory, Image Rich, and Connected. This, he explained, is the new reality in which the church must operate.
Veggie Tales creator Phil Vischer encouraged listeners to pursue innovative ways to integrate faith and storytelling. He addressed two areas of communication where the church needs improvement: what we teach and how we teach it. He warned against shallow biblical teaching (admitting the simple, moralistic messages of Veggie Tales™ fall into this category). He reminded listeners that kids are far more capable of learning than most adults think, and he urged the church to lead children (and their parents) through the entire Bible to give context to the message of the gospel. He encouraged repetition and offered four simple guidelines for teaching—be clear, be concise, be sticky…and repeat.
Jen Hatmaker (pictured above), popular speaker, reality TV star, and bestselling author, recalled teen years immersed in the church culture—strong youth group, revivals, trips, Christian concerts, and camps. She shared her horror at seeing Christian friends leave the faith after high school and expressed growing concern as successive generations continue to leave the church in record numbers. The solution to this problem is not attraction, events, or consumer-oriented churches, she asserted. Instead, she suggested it is a failure to disciple when discipleship is the core of the church. Today’s generation is looking for depth—teachers who dive into the Word, tackle tough issues, and come alongside them as mentors. Rather than entertaining the church at large, she urged church leaders to pour themselves into the lives of a select few, concluding: “I seriously believe we will get more done with a small number of committed disciples than with a stadium full of spoiled church members.”
Brian Haynes, creator of Legacy Milestones and lead pastor at Bay Area First Baptist Church in League City, Texas, reminded the audience that the staff (and volunteers) at a church break or make the ministry. He offered four suggestions for recruiting and hiring church workers: start at the values level; shape for strategy; hire or staff according to vision (rather than filling a slot); and occasionally move forward by going backwards. He told listeners the most effective church staffs are based on vision and fueled by honesty, even when it hurts.
Well-known humorist and speaker Carol Barnier, author of Engaging Today’s Prodigal, opened the window to the shadows of her past as a former atheist, giving church leaders and parents of prodigals a unique opportunity to look inside the mind of someone who left the Church (but thankfully returned). She warned, “Even Christians growing up in capable, loving homes can become atheists.” As a former activist who baited young people away from the church, she provided guidelines for opening doors of redemption to a generation losing its faith: teach apologetics; learn new ways to start conversations; give Jesus room and time to work; interact with love and respect; and recognize the power of influence we possess. She urged parents and leaders not to give up on prodigals, that the God of the Universe is waiting with open arms when they finally turn toward Him: “As long as there is breath,” she encouraged listeners, “there is hope!”
Main Stage Extras
For the third year, D6 Minis gave a number of speakers an opportunity to deliver short, powerful messages with a single point.
Chad Overton, minister to children at Houston’s First Baptist Church, advised listeners to plan a “winter” in their lives, taking time to “sharpen equipment,” rest, and allow God to replenish and nourish their souls.
Todd Meadows, pastor of students and missions at Grace Baptist Church in Somerset, Kentucky, encouraged listeners to build a bridge between church and home, to think purpose before practice, being before doing, people before programs, and quality before quantity.
Photo: Performance by Nashville-based theatrical percussion performance group StikYard.
Ron Deal, founder of Smart Stepfamilies, shared the complex challenges facing today’s blended families. He challenged churches to educate and equip themselves to meet the needs of stepfamilies and break the generational cycle of divorce.
A panel group featured Kurt Johnston, leader of student ministries at Saddleback Church; Scott Rubin, director of Elevate junior high ministry at Willow Creek Community Church; and Tom Schefchunas, multi-campus director of middle school ministries at North Point Ministries. These leaders explored the challenges (and blessings) of middle-school ministry, and shared lessons learned on a wide range of topics, from relationships with senior pastors to juggling busy schedules and recruiting volunteers.
Beyond the Box
The D6 Conference is filled with much more than seminars and main-stage speakers. Between seminars and sessions, attendees flooded the exhibit area and explored the latest resources from 40 ministry exhibitors. They exchanged ministry challenges over coffee, swapped solutions, and prayed together about the burdens of ministry.
D6 2015 offered two new opportunities for training and networking. Lunch With a Leader provided intimate, small-group moments where attendees came face-to-face with leading advocates of family ministry (and avoided long lunch lines). Each leader spent the time with a maximum of 20 people, answering specific questions about ministry challenges and opportunities.
Connect Groups teamed up leaders from various ministry types—student, family, children, and leadership—for brainstorming, encouragement, networking, and sometimes simply conversation with new friends. “This has been great,” said Jason Byerly, D6 blogger and children’s pastor. “D6 is the highlight of my year and I can’t wait to get here.”
Throughout the conference, attendees sang along with Matt Papa, pastor and recording artist from Durham, North Carolina, whose music is saturated with theology from, in his own words, “a heart that longs to see people from every corner of the world set ablaze by the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.”
Drew Worsham (pictured above), on campus pastor of Resonate Church in Pullman, Washington, kept watchers guessing and gasping with his skills as an illusionist and mentalist.
Conference emcees Tommy Swindol, discipleship pastor at The Donelson Fellowship in Nashville, Tennessee, and Josh Griffin, high school pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, guided the flow of sessions, interviewed speakers, and provided (sometimes out-of-control) comic relief in the form of energetic crowd breakers, crazy games, and a steady stream of banter.
During the closing moments of the conference, Tommy Swindol urged attendees to take the discipleship responsibility personally—not as a minister, staff, or team member…but as a Christian. “It’s my responsibility to disciple,” he shared, “and it is your responsibility as well. We’re here to own it. We’re here to make disciples for Him. And with His power, we can change the world.”
“I am so thankful you came to D6,” Ron Hunter told attendees. “It has been another great conference, and we are thrilled to be part of how God is working around the world through generational discipleship.” He celebrated the expansion of D6 Conferences to Australia, France, Norway, and Southeast Asia before announcing the 2016 theme—Generations. The 2016 American D6 Conference will be held September 21-23, in Louisville, Kentucky. Get the lowest registration rate by visiting www.D6Conference.com. This year, bring your senior pastor at no cost, simply by entering the code PastorFree.
About the Writer: Eric K. Thomsen is managing editor of ONE Magazine.
After seven years of covering D6 Conferences for ONE Magazine, I have come to anticipate six particular moments that occur during each conference
and seem to define the conference for me:
The frenzy. Pallets, boxes, people scrambling in all directions. Lifts, lighting, sound checks, airport runs—few people know the pandemonium that takes place behind the scenes as D6 staffers prepare for the crowd to arrive. “It’s really cool to see everyone work together to make it happen,” said Brandon Roysden, event coordinator. “Every year, we take this empty space, and in just a few hours, turn it into the background for a life-changing event. This is a great team.”
The quiet. Dimly lit ballroom filled with thousands of empty chairs. Speakers praying over empty rows. Haunting melody echoing through the space as a guitarist runs through one last song. With preparations complete, the room is poised, ready, just waiting for the doors to open. As a journalist, I am privileged to enjoy this moment few conference goers experience.
The opening. Excitement. Energy. Electricity. As the final few seconds tick off the countdown clock, the anticipation is almost palpable. Then, the lights go down, and the entire room takes a collective breath. D6 is underway!
The question. The moment during a seminar when everyone connects—a shared burden, an a-ha moment, the question everyone is thinking, but only one has the courage to say aloud. The follow-up. The intense discussion. It’s the moment when conference becomes Christian community.
The song. “Lord I Need You.” “In Christ Alone.” Every year, one refrain resonates. This year was no different, and I will never forget the tingles that ran down my spine as 1,500 voices joined as one during the closing song, ringing out the words:
I believe in God the Father; I believe in Christ the Son
I believe in the Holy Spirit; our God is three-in-one.
I believe in the resurrection; that we will rise again
For I believe in the name of Jesus.
The connection. The moment when you realize God is speaking…to you. From main stage to hallway to seminar room, His Spirit tugs at your heart, and you realize this is why you came to D6.