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12-13-11 Largest Continuous Gathering for Adventist Pastors
Pastor’s conference uses evangelism and leadership for successful ministry
By George Johnson Jr., NAD communication director
Oakwood University serves as a training ground for many Seventh-day Adventist® clergy. For 34 years, hundreds of pastors have been gathering at Oakwood University for what is now known as the largest continuous gathering of Adventist pastors in the world for leadership and evangelism training – the Pastoral Evangelism and Leadership Conference (PELC). Held December 4-6 with approximately 700 attendees, under the theme “Pentacost II: Walking in the Rain” this conference provided powerful worship, incredible teaching, and transformational experiences for Adventist pastors all around the world.
The history of PELC is very extensive. The very first meeting was held in 1977 in the C.T. Richards Chapel at Oakwood University comprised of pastors of the South Central and South Atlantic Conferences. “Evangelism Council,” as it was called then, was the brainchild of pastors E.E. Cleveland, Charles Dudley and R.L. Woodfork. Formed to focus on evangelism it also allowed African American Adventist pastors to speak about the issues that were common to them in ministry.
According to Charles Bradford, a retired president of the North American Division, minister, and the very first keynote address speaker in the history of the meetings, “evangelism councils allowed the brethren to come together and talk shop,” said Bradford. “Many times we are isolated in cities. Malachi 3:16 tells us ‘then those who feared the Lord spoke with each other, and the Lord listened to what they said.’ These types of meetings encourage us all who are involved in pastoral ministry,” he said.
In 2010, under the direction of Fredrick Russell, president of the Allegheny West Conference, organizers took a different look at what they were offering at the annual meeting and decided to add a leadership component. “We recognized that for a pastor to turn his or her church around and move them in the direction of evangelism he or she had to lead them in that direction, said Russell. “There is an interchangeable relationship with evangelism and leadership and you need both of them,” he said.
Since the conference’s missional refocus, it now revolves around three areas: encounter (dealing with the whole worship experience), equip (exposing pastors to best practices and methodology for doing ministry), and explode (experiencing a true baptism of the Holy Spirit). “Past all of the teachings and the preaching and the methodologies what brings it all together is that you are filled with the Holy Spirit,” said Russell. He and his team purposely continued with the Pentecost theme of the previous year “recognizing that the Holy Spirit isn’t something that you come out of. You must sustain that experience as a fresh experience every day,” he said. “If the attendees leave with a closer connection with a God, a relationship with the Holy Spirit and not talking about the preaching and singing we know this has been a success.”
The theme “Walking in the Rain” closely correlated to every workshop and plenary speaker. Keynote speaker Henry Wright, pastor of the Community Praise Center Church in Alexandria, Va., delivered a sermon titled “Preach the Word” encouraging attendees to stay connected with the Word of God as they lead their congregations. “The reason why there are weak and unproductive sermons is because people are not connected with the Word,” said Wright to the fully packed sanctuary of the Oakwood University Church.
Approximately 15 workshops were offered ranging in topics from church culture, bridging generational gaps, and reaching the community just to name a few. Nathaniel Lyles Jr., pastor of the Melrose Avenue Church in Roanoke, Va., believes that PELC’s programming has impacted his ministry by helping him to see a broader view of what ministry is all about. “Ministry is to God - giving myself first to Him and trusting that He will take care of my needs and making sure that I am filled with His spirit in order to share His love with others,” he said. Ron Williams, pastor of the Bethel City Church in Kansas City, Ks. also appreciates PELC’s programming because it helps him to “retool, stay sharp, get refocused and reenergized and be feed for ministry.”
Additional ministry tracks for pastor’s spouses and Hispanic ministries were also added to address the various needs of those growing populations. According to Ben Jones, ministerial director for the South Central Conference, the workshops are now more inclusive and add relevancy to all of the different types of pastors that are ministering. Jones serves on the team that plans the different workshops.
Every year, PELC draws attendees from all over the United States as well as Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean. The conference also invites students who are studying theology. James Kelly, a senior theology major at Oakwood University found it important to return for another PELC. “As a whole, the conference gives us relevant tools to use in ministry. It’s good for us to hear best practices from pastors who are doing things on a global scale,” he said. Curtis Roberts, a senior theology major at Washington Adventist University came to observe the “inner workings” of pastoral leadership. “The workshops gave me a practical application for ministry,” he said.
Approximately 30 vendors were also present at the conference offering resources and ministry ideas. Muta Mwenya of Elijah3Ministries in Michigan came to the conference as a vendor to direct the attendees’ attention towards urban youth ministries. “We believe that urban youth are a lost segment especially youth that are between the ages of 14 to 18,” said Mwenya. “We want churches and pastors to understand that this group that needs ministry specifically dedicated to them,” he added.
At the conclusion of the three-day conference, Russell turned over the leadership of PELC over to Jesse Wilson, a religion instructor at Oakwood University. Linda Penick of the Southeastern California Conference will also serve as the leader of the Clergy Spouses. Under their leadership, PELC will continue to be a conference that has a practical approach to expose pastors to quality ministry.
For more information about PELC, please visit www.pelc.cc