As You Go: 2021 D6 Conference
By Eric K. Thomsen
“As you go...”
What picture does this familiar catch phrase bring to your mind? For me, it recalls long childhood trips from our Florida home to my grandparents’ farm in northwest Arkansas, crossing four states on worn highways and bumpy county roads. Just when I thought I could ride no further, my dad would let up on the gas and ease into a “wayside park” (think rest area without bathrooms).
After pulling up to a weathered picnic shelter, we clambered out and unloaded our big, green plastic Igloo™ cooler. I always knew I could count on bologna sandwiches (Spam on occasions) and cheese puffs, a rare treat! After lunch, Mom and Dad stretched their legs and repacked the car while I explored. I learned to anticipate these special moments “along the way” when we paused our trip as a family, and these simple lunch stops remain among my most treasured memories.
Generational discipleship works much the same way, as we pause from our daily journey through life to mark faith moments with children, grandchildren, and others we are discipling. These simple moments as we go become milestones they never forget.
With this in mind, attendees to the 12th D6 Conference, April 7-9, in Orlando, Florida, were challenged to make discipleship deliberate, a conscious part of everyday life. Three remarkable days featured 60 speakers and 83 breakout sessions covering every imaginable discipleship topic. Lydia Randall, conference speaker, reflected on the remarkable week: “D6 is truly a conference like no other, it is uniquely special. I have had the blessing of being part of D6 since the beginning. It has greatly impacted me in ministry and in leadership, but most importantly, it has helped me grow as a mom and wife.”
On the Main Stage
John Trent kicked off the conference by reminding listeners it was “the Word of God flowing through the Spirit of God that made it clear in Scripture that discipleship should take place in the home.” “When we chose this year’s theme,” said Dr. Ron Hunter, director of the D6 Conference, “it was because we realized when it came to discipleship, God didn’t give us another ‘appointment on the calendar.’ He simply asked us to teach our children as we go. We are at this conference to learn to do this more effectively.”
Dr. Tim Elmore, Founder & CEO of Growing Leaders and author of Generation Z: Unfiltered, offered profound insight into the current generation that has grown up with smart phones, social media, mass shootings, and skyrocketing anxiety—topped off with a global pandemic. Based on research, he predicted Gen Z will respond with cautious behavior and distance themselves from authority figures they see as unnecessary. He challenged listeners to follow the example of the sons of Issachar in 1 Chronicles 12:32, who understood the times and knew how to respond. How do we disciple this troubled generation? Remind them God has more for them than surviving a pandemic. Believe in them, and pour ourselves into preparing them for adulthood, “building bridges of relationship that bear the weight of Truth.”
Valerie Bell, chief executive officer for AWANA, defined the difference between precaution and preparation. One guards children against perceived threats. The other equips those same children to face the danger and become resilient disciples. How do we produce resilient children? Develop the “spiritual elasticity” of a child to bend and flex but not break against the weight of the culture, understanding resilience is the muscle discipleship builds. This starts with saturating our own lives with faith so children can follow our example.
Arlene Pellicane, author and founder of Happy Home University ministers to families through speaking and writing. She offered humble (and humorous) guidance to help parents manage technology’s influence on their children. She challenged them to turn digital devices into “vegetables” rather than “candy” by limiting gaming, restricting phone use, and banning devices at mealtime and from the bedroom at night. These simple steps allow parents to impress God’s love on children “while they are young and in the absence of technology.”
Dr. Ron Hunter, Randall House CEO, compared discipleship to visiting the Grand Canyon. Many are content to stay on the rim and gaze in awe, while only a few are willing to hike into the depths of the canyon for the full effect. To “go deeper” into discipleship, Dr. Hunter encouraged people to deploy four approaches to discipleship: D6 discipleship, church integration, discipleship milestones, and adoptive (or mentoring). These models overlap to form a comprehensive discipleship program. He urged both a plan to start the “descent” into discipleship but also to complete the journey out of the canyon. Churches must prepare parents, grandparents, and children for the “ascent,” the continued moments of discipleship that happen throughout the week with intentional faith connections.
From Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush, Ryan Frank, CEO of KidzMatter, exhorted listeners not to become distracted or discouraged by their own inabilities and shortcomings but to find comfort and encouragement in God’s simple statement: “I AM.” Fear of people should not overwhelm us, because, “It’s not about what you are, but about WHO is with you.” God doesn’t always speak when or how we expect; instead, He simply needs us to be available when He calls. Dr. Frank closed with the words of the old gospel song: “Through it all, through it all, I’ve learned to trust in Jesus through it all.”
In a first for the D6 Main Stage, a three-person research panel explored hot topics and trends in family discipleship. Dr. Michael Wilder, Dr. Shelly Melia, and Dr. Timothy Paul Jones, explored the renewed emphasis on discipleship beyond the church; new appreciation, support, and training for parents and grandparents; and significant focus on reaching, discipling, and teaching teens. In addition, they discussed the church’s growing focus on ministry to singles and single parents, as well as addressing the particular needs of their community context.
After describing how much the world has changed since the first D6 Conference 12 years ago, Tennessee pastor Jay Strother reminded listeners it is difficult for young adults to find their way in today’s culture. Further, this generation is choosing things other than church. How can we recalibrate church ministries to meet young adult needs? Strother pointed to the relationship between Paul and Timothy as an example of what young adults need: 1) spiritual mentors; 2) a spiritual root system; 3) someone to feed the fire of their spiritual gifts; and 4) opportunities to share in gospel ministry.
During the final Main Stage session, Dr. Tim Kimmel, founder and director of Family Matters, tackled the tough yet important topic of grace-filled marriage and sex. He acknowledged today’s marriages—especially ministry marriages—are difficult. With this in mind, he reminded listeners the key to building a resilient, loving marriage requires deep commitment to maintaining a heart connection with your spouse. He (and his wife Darcy) challenged attendees not to look at their spouses through the lens of selfishness but through the lens of God’s grace, understanding intimacy within marriage provides the best “test kitchen” for this grace. A grace-filled marriage views sexual intimacy as a way to personally honor and bless one’s spouse. Grace gives us the power to overcome ways sex is often misused in marriage by keeping the focus on God rather than one another.
More Than the Main Stage
Between breakout and main stage sessions, attendees had plenty of time to explore exhibits filled with discipleship resources. This year, they heard from D6 ministry partners from a “mini-stage” located within the exhibit area. In spite of masks and social distancing, 891 attendees renewed friendships, shared burdens, and rejoiced to be together.
Conference attendees enjoyed powerful worship led by the Kirby FWB Church (MI) worship team, under the direction of minister of music Don Myers, who was joined by his wife Amy and daughter Abby. Now-familiar conference emcees Tommy Swindol and Jon Forrest engaged the crowd with humor, dialogue, games, gags, giveaways, and interviews with both speakers and other ministry leaders. Floridian Scott Humston amazed and entertained the audience with a unique blend of comedy and illusion, coupled with deeper devotional thoughts.
During the final session, attendees prayed together, asking God to use the things they learned throughout the conference to make them more effective in ministry and generational discipleship as they go. The room buzzed as people shared their challenges and dreams for the future with one another before closing with the beautiful lyrics to “The Blessing” taken from Numbers 6:
The Lord bless you and keep you
Make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you
The Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.
After his first D6 Conference as coordinator, new Randall House events director Derek Altom observed, “Family ministry is so important! We are blessed as a denomination to have a ministry like Randall House leading the way. I count it an honor to be part of what God is doing here. All for His glory!”
About the Writer: Eric K. Thomsen is managing editor of ONE Magazine and has attended every D6 Conference.