LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – More than 1,600 students, young adults and church leaders gathered Saturday, March 5 at Immanuel Baptist Church (IBC) in Little Rock for the 2022 Lead > Defend apologetics conference which is a Cooperative Program ministry of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC). That number included middle/junior high students who attended Lead > Defend:Foundations which was held for the first time at the City Center, a ministry point located on the south end of the IBC campus.
Each event featured a nationally known main speaker and breakout sessions led by a variety of ministry leaders from Arkansas. J. Warner Wallace (coldcasechristianity.com), a cold-case homicide detective, author and Christian apologist, returned to lead the high school and college portion of Lead>Defend.
College + Young Leaders Team Leader Bruce Venable explained that the decision to expand the conference to include middle school students came out of a conversation with J. Warner Wallace the last time he was in Arkansas. Venable said, “Wallace asked why we weren’t doing this for middle school students. So, I sat down with Warren Gasaway, ABSC student consultant, and a group of student ministers and began to plan.”
The attendance of 500+ at Foundations exceeded Venable’s expectations. Middle school students from across the state arrived with parents and youth leaders ready to learn how to stand firm and intelligently defend and share their faith.
Illusionist and evangelist Kolby King (threethirtyministries.org/kolby) captured attention as he brought students onstage to participate in a variety of tricks as he reminded them to know the Truth so they will not fall for the devil’s tricks. As he spoke throughout the day, his theme verse was 1 Peter 5:8, “Be alert. Your enemy the devil prowls like a roaring lion, seeking for someone to devour.”
Brett Kunkle, surfer and founder and president of MAVEN (maventruth.com), a movement to equip the next generation to know truth, used a surfing analogy to explain the goal for the day. He talked about the first step or short-term goal in teaching his children to surf was to protect them from the ocean, then comes the equipping and training to actually surf. Just as surfing sends one out into the ocean, parents want to send their children out into the culture of this world, but they must be trained and equipped first.
Kunkle encouraged students and leaders to make use of resources available to learn the difference between subjective and objective truth. Subjective truth is based on preferences while objective truth is true whether one believes it or not. Of course, the Bible is objectively true.
Breakout sessions were offered in the morning and afternoon and students were able to attend two of the six options. These were led by King, Kunkle, Kunkle’s wife, Erin, and by Brock Caldwell, middle school student pastor at First Baptist Church in Rogers, Bill Newton, generations pastor at First Baptist Church in Hot Springs, and Adam Venters, Little Rock Baptist Collegiate Ministries campus minister. Topics such as Navigating Gender, More than a Myth, and Evolution: Do You Come from Goo? were explored from a biblical perspective.
Chris McCarty, children’s pastor at Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Cabot, said, “The Foundations conference was amazing! The speakers and breakout sessions were engaging for our younger students and challenged them to think about the ‘Why’ behind their faith.”
One of the middle school students who attended with the Mount Carmel group, Care Malone, expressed her thoughts, “I loved it because they didn’t just help you understand the ‘how,’ they helped you understand the ‘why’ of what God has in store for us. I also loved the environment with all of the speakers and students my age.”
Jacob Payne, pastor at The Church at Pinnacle Mountain in Little Rock, attended Foundations with his two daughters. Payne shared his thoughts as a pastor and as a parent, “The subjects and the way the speakers handled them were great! I got to hear a little bit from all of them during the breakout sessions and I loved how each of them was committed to giving the children applicable and culturally current information while sticking to biblical truth.”
Payne went on to mention what his daughters had said on the way home, “The worship was great, and the speakers really intrigued them and kept them focused and interested. They both said the worship was their favorite part but also that the speakers made a lot of sense and made them think. Kolby was their favorite speaker. They both took away a lot from the speakers they heard. They attended the session on doubt and said they connected with Brett Kunkle’s lesson.”
Plans are underway for next year’s conferences to be held on Saturday, March 4, 2023, so mark your calendars and clear your schedule.