Pastors’ Conference Uses Evangelism and Leadership for Successful Ministry First held in 1977, annual event draws hundreds. BY GEORGE JOHNSON, JR., North American Division communication director Oakwood University has been a training ground for 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, 2011, with approximately 700 attendees, under the theme “Pentecost II: Walking in the Rain,” this conference provided worship, teaching, and transformational experiences for Adventist pastors around the world. First held in 1977, the “Evangelism Council,” as it was initially called, was the brainchild of Adventist 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 common ministry issues.
According to Charles Bradford, a retired president of the North American Division, minister, and the 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 talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard.’ These types of meetings encourage us all who are involved in pastoral ministry,” he said.
In 2010, under the direction of Fredrick Russell, then the 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 God, with a relationship with the Holy Spirit, and not talking about the preaching and singing, we know this has been a success.”
The 2011 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, Virginia, 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 congregation that packed the 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 Seventh-day Adventist Church in Roanoke, Virginia, 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 Seventh-day Adventist Church in Kansas City, Kansas, also appreciates PELC’s programming, because it helps him to “retool, stay sharp, get refocused, and get reenergized and be fed for ministry.” Additional ministry tracks for pastors’ spouses and Hispanic ministries were also added to address the various needs of those growing populations. According to Ben Jones, Jr., ministerial director for the South Central Conference, the workshops are now more inclusive and add relevancy to all the different types of pastors who are ministering. Jones serves on the team that plans workshops. Every year PELC draws attendees from all over the United States as well as Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean. The conference also invites theology students. 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. For more information about PELC, visit www.pelc.cc .