I attended a day of training at Lakes Church in Lakeland, Florida last year. At the conclusion of our time together, door prizes were handed out and I received an “all expenses paid” trip to a Timothy Barnabas conference with my wife. Essentially, this is a 3-day get-away time for instruction and encouragement for couples in ministry.
I had heard about these conferences for years but never seriously considered attending. You don’t crave what you haven’t experienced and enjoyed, right?
Well, let me share some pictures, videos, and reflections from Kim’s and my time in Greensboro, Georgia.
We left on Sunday afternoon in order to get our youngest son to the airport. After his plane took off on its ways to let Joseph spend some time with his grandma, Kim and I started driving north. After spending the night in Savannah, Georgia, we got up on Monday morning and finished the drive to the Ritz-Carlton in Greensboro, Georgia.
So, how much does it cost to stay at The Ritz-Carlton overnight? In the month of March, it averages around $549 a night. There is no way we could have afforded that amount nor could we have justified that amount even if we could have afforded it.
Staying two nights at the resort would have cost well over $1,000. Fortunately, this conference is subsidized (I suspect) by the North American Mission Board and generous donors. Because of that, Kim and I were able to stay two nights at the hotel, all meals included, for $399. And Lakes Church (Lakeland, Florida) paid that amount.
When we arrived, we checked into our room.
After settling into our room, we were ready to head to the main ballroom where we would enjoy our first evening (Monday) of the conference.
After Mac Powell and his band led in worship, Harris III took the stage. He is a master storyteller and illusionist. It made for an incredible evening!
The evening came to an end much too quickly. After a great night’s sleep, we went downstairs for breakfast at 8:00 AM. The meals were some of the extra special times at this conference. The food was excellent but there was something else that made meal time wonderful – it was meeting other ministry couples.
Couples who are not in ministry will not understand what I’m about to say. Those in ministry will give a hearty “amen.”
Kim and I enjoyed being able to simply be “Kim and Matt.” While I love my calling as pastor, that title carries 24/7 stresses that can be emotionally taxing. Just as Jesus often got away from the crowds to be by Himself and with His Father, so it is helpful for anyone in ministry to do the same. We cannot give and give without finding time to get filled back up. Ministers and their spouses who are running on empty will not lead and love well.
On Tuesday and Wednesday morning, from 9 AM – Noon, the women met separately from the men. The women were instructed and encouraged by women who spoke to their particular interests and needs. The guys heard from Johnny Hunt and a couple of other pastors who also instructed and encouraged.
After rejoining Kim at noon for lunch, we got a few hours off. While we thrived on the instruction and encouragement, it felt great to have some down time with my Sweetheart. No ministry demands, no teaching, no work to do – just stress-free down time, six hours away from where I pastor. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Kim and I haven’t felt that stress-free in a very long time.
LifeAction Ministries had a table outside the ballroom during the conference. I chatted with the guy at the table on Tuesday morning about how much I respected the President of LifeAction. John Avant was the pastor of Coggin Avenue Baptist Church in 1995 where the Brownwood Revival started. It swept across the United States in hundreds of colleges, seminaries, and churches. I experienced that revival when I was a student at the Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. It was during that time that I came to deeply understand what it means to enjoy God and to thrive in His grace.
I wrote about my experience in the Brownwood Revival a few years ago and you can access that article here. As Kim and I showed up for supper on Tuesday evening, John Avant arrived. I had to get a picture with the man God used in the story of the Brownwood Revival.
After spending some time with John Avent, Kim and I made our way into the ballroom where we enjoyed supper and some great conversation with two couples in ministry. Then, we settled in for an evening of singing, teaching, and inspiration.
During Mac Powell’s time on stage, he asked for anyone in the audience to call out the name of a song that they wanted to hear. After a moment of silence, Jason Hoard, playing the mandolin, said he was going to play a Bluegrass song and asked if anyone was from Kentucky. Kim was sitting in front of him and she raised her hand. So, he said he was going to do the Bluegrass song for her. As he started singing “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” I recognized the tune that I’ve heard Kim hum before. After finishing the song, he pointed to us, the folks from Kentucky (who now live in Florida).
After the time of entertainment and worship, Johnny Hunt took the stage again. It was always a treat to hear him speak. He was used by God to grow an incredible church, the First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Georgia. Out of the wealth of his experience and knowledge of Scripture, I suspect that everyone present loved to sit and listen to the wisdom he gave for those of us still in the trenches of ministry.
As the evening session came to an end, Kim and I spent a little bit of time speaking with Johnny Hunt. We thanked him for leading such a helpful conference and then spoke about some mutual friends (Hershael and Tanya York). Then, I asked if I could get a picture with him and he graciously agreed.
After getting our second night’s rest at The Ritz-Carlton, we got up on Wednesday morning, ate a delicious breakfast, and then enjoyed our final sessions.
At noon, the conference was over. We all grabbed our luggage, hopped in our vehicles, and headed back to our ministry assignments.
I love the folks at First Baptist Church. I am a blessed man to be their pastor. So, I looked forward to getting back to work. But I also wished that this conference could have lasted one more day. I so much enjoyed this time to get away, spend time with my wife, get to know other ministers and their spouses, and get spiritually recharged.
I’m already looking forward to attending next year. I want to bring the other FBC ministerial staff members and their spouses with Kim and me to one of next year’s Timothy+Barnabas conferences. In fact, I hope to make this an annual event for our staff. It was such a blessing!