Pastors from around the state took a turn sitting in the pew at the inaugural Shepherds Conference held on Thursday, Sept. 28, by Arkansas Baptist Children & Family Ministries (ABCFM). 

“I’ve never been a part of a conference that has been more prayed for than this conference,” said John McCallum, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Hot Springs and keynote speaker of the event.  

The day centered around caring for the heart of a shepherd. Facing the platform, rather than preaching from it, pastors, chaplains, and other ministers worshipped through song and learning from the Word of God. 

“Shepherding is intense. It takes a lot of skill and time,” said Sean Culpepper, assistant director of counseling at Living Well, the professional counseling ministry of ABCFM. “Pastors and ministers have a lot of training aimed at administration and the pulpit ministry, but they seldom have more than a few classes to prepare them for the counseling/shepherding roles.” 

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Sean Culpepper, assistant director of counseling at Living Well, greets those in attendance at the inaugural Shepherds Conference.

Understanding this need for “soul care,” Culpepper planned the Shepherds Conference with help from Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC) employees Marcus Brown and Craig Jenkins, Stephen Harrison from The Summit Church, Bill Viser from Ouachita Baptist University and Steven Hall from Williams Baptist University. 

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Pastors and fellow ministers greet one another before worshipping together.

Pastors gathered in the old sanctuary of Markham Street Baptist Church, now an auditorium used by ABCFM, after donuts and coffee that morning to sing songs of praise led by a few members of Cross Church’s worship team. McCallum followed with a message for the shepherds in attendance. 

He informed pastors of the statistically stressful jobs they have and encouraged them to press on. He spoke of his own challenges and the juggling act pastors attempt with the hope of loving their families, their churches and God well. In this striving, he believes pastors have lost their “joy,” “eternal perspective,” “sense of call,” “confidence,” “vision,” “love,” and even more aspects of their God-given identities. 

“Something is lost that must be found,” McCallum said. 

He acknowledged that these casualties cannot be taken lightly. He pleaded with pastors to evaluate their losses and then pray that the God of restoration would return what the enemy has worked so hard to take away. 

“God loves it when lost things are found,” McCallum said. “If you can find what you’ve lost, it can be a balm to your soul, a comfort to your heart and a blessing to your congregation.” 

After a lunch break full of barbeque and fellowship, those in attendance selected breakout sessions, pertaining content related to either a “sincere heart” or “skillful hands.” 

“That is how we split out the focus of our breakout groups,” Culpepper said. “Some focused on the Shepherd’s heart like in our session on preparing for/preventing ministry burnout [and discipleship]. Others focused on skills such as restoration ministries for addiction and anger management.” 

Shane Fore, pastor of the Main Street Campus of Maple Grove Baptist Church in Trumann, led his breakout on recovery and homeless ministries, providing pastors with practical tips on how to involve their churches in helping those in need. 

“We live and breathe recovery and homeless ministries. When you’re around that many people with that many needs all the time, you build an incredible dependence on God, and you are constantly asking God daily to do things that only God can do,” Fore said. “And I don’t know of another way that you can experience such a closeness and such a reliance on God in the day and age that we live in and the country that we live in. I mean, if God doesn’t show up, our ministries are complete failures.” 

As an attendee, Fore enjoyed communing with other shepherds who knew about tending to a flock. 

“The conference was such a great break for me from my normal routine. To be around other pastors and fellow strugglers was fantastic,” Fore said. “Just to be in the same room for a day and know that I am not alone and that other people around the state are in the same battle that I am and to just get together and be encouraged in God’s word and through fellowship and prayer and worship was just a really, really needed break for me.”  

ABCFM gladly announced that next year’s conference is already planned for Sept. 26, 2024, with Bill Elliff as the keynote speaker.  

“We get to help build, strengthen and restore Arkansas families for Gods Glory,” Culpepper said. “It’s an awesome privilege.” 

Culpepper along with fellow planners of the event hoped it would be a “tune up” for pastors’ souls.  

“[The day] was very encouraging and I pray that the shepherds in attendance left with a stronger drive for their important work,” said Jenkins, director of convention advancement and news at the ABSC. 

And just in time for Pastor + Staff Appreciation Month, McCallum reminded pastors of their Heavenly calling. 

“God chose you for that church…Embrace it. Shepherd it,” McCallum said.  

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