Partners in the journey: Discipleship leaders find fellowship and encouragement at annual retreat

by Meredith Rose on February 24, 2022 in Church Health

On a chilly evening in November, pastors from across the state gathered in a cozy conference room of the T Bar M Resort in New Braunfels for the annual Texas Baptists Discipleship Leaders Retreat. Seated and standing around the room, they mingled and chatted before the first session started. Old friends were reunited and new acquaintances were made among this passionate group of discipleship and education pastors. They came together to fellowship, break bread, find encouragement and discuss leading in the church “from the second chair.”

As the session began, the pastors gathered around small group tables and took their seats. They heard greetings from Texas Baptists leaders before keynote speaker Mike Bonem, author of “Leading from the Second Chair,” took the pulpit. He begins by defining a second chair leader — a person in a subordinate role whose influence with others adds value throughout the organization.

“It’s not about the title,” Bonem encouraged the group, “it’s about your influence and your relationships. It’s about asking what is best for the entire church or organization. Most importantly, leadership from the second chair is rooted in reverence to God. We lead not for our ego or recognition, but in service to God.”

Bonem paused the session frequently, encouraging pastors to share and discuss their ideas with those at the table. Across the room, each pastor brought his own experience, insight and wisdom to the gathering. Some have been a part of this ministry for years, like Robby Barrett, minister of Education at First Baptist Church, Amarillo; others were attending the retreat for the first time, like Joshua Conner, spiritual formation pastor at Parkway Hills Baptist Church in Plano.

Barrett and Conner sat down with us to discuss their ministries and the impact of Texas Baptists Discipleship Leaders.

Discipleship for a lifetime

After attending seminary, Barrett took a position in discipleship and never looked back, remaining in the education ministry for the past 43 years.

“Throughout my many years in this ministry, I’ve seen that discipleship doesn’t stop anywhere on the journey,” said Barrett. “The challenge of discipleship is a life challenge, not just for a season.”

For Barrett’s church, discipleship is all about four action words — abide, belong, connect and do. He shared that Sunday morning Bible study is currently the most important form of discipleship at his church and that they view it as a catalyst for weekday worship.

“We try to connect people on Sunday mornings, but we want them to live out discipleship in other ways during the week through fellowship or Bible study or service,” he said.

Barrett emphasized that discipleship leaders can’t live the journey alone, and that fellowship with and encouragement from others is extremely important.

“Texas Baptists has been an encourager along the journey for me and my church. They invest in our church and in our leaders. They have had a direct impact in encouraging and providing resources for us,” said Barrett. “That’s one reason I participate in this retreat. It's a time to find partners in the journey.”

Focusing on organic discipleship

Conner has been in ministry for 11 years, three of which have been at Parkway Hills. He emphasized that discipleship is a concept that can be implemented in hundreds of different ways.

“To me, discipleship is more of an idea than a specific form. Discipleship is the function of equipping people to think, speak and act like Christ in whatever situation they're in. This can be done in so many different ways,” said Conner.

His church is currently encouraging people toward organic discipleship, where people focus on meeting and growing where they are at. Conner has set an example of this organic model by discipling a group of men he met at a local cigar shop. When one of the men died by suicide, the group remembered that Conner was a pastor and approached him with questions.

“We came together during a time of pain. It wasn’t forced. It just happened,” Conner explained. “They all got Bibles, and I explained to them the basics of finding chapters and verses with the big and little numbers. As our conversations deepened, one of the guys decided to give his life to Christ, and I recently got to baptize him.”

Conner got connected to Texas Baptists Discipleship Leaders through David Adams, director of Discipleship, as well as through participating in Cohort 5 of Leadership Texas Baptists, a nine-month experience to engage, equip and inform emerging leaders from churches across the state.

“The resources and encouragement David has provided me have been a huge help,” Conner said. “Also, all the connections I made with lay leaders, education ministers and leaders across the church through Leadership Texas Baptists have really benefited me.”

Texas Baptists Discipleship Leaders is a ministry of the Center for Church Health that connects leaders in education and discipleship ministries to provide fellowship, support and continuing education opportunities. To learn more or get involved in this ministry, contact David Adams at david.adams[at]txb.org.

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