On the Go: Bringing Hope and Connection to Ministers and Church Leaders
For over a decade, LCU has hosted the Moser Ministry Conference, an event devoted to aiding and empowering ministers through mutual fellowship and through distinguished presenters and leaders in the Christian community. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the 13th annual gathering for this conference was cancelled as the world ground to a halt.
In 2021, when faced with the question of whether to bring the conference back, Dr. Jeff Cary (‘95), Dean of the Alfred and Patricia Smith College of Biblical Studies, determined that the effects of the pandemic on the landscape of ministry called for a different kind of approach.
“We had already been considering reevaluating the Moser conference to see how we could make it more appealing,” he explained. “It was a mainly local event, with predominantly local ministers participating. After COVID, ministers were less inclined to travel and were struggling with simply staying afloat after a very challenging season in ministry. We decided to experiment. Rather than ask ministers to come to us, we decided to try going to them.”
The goal was to target different regions away from West Texas, and Dr. Cary, along with Dr. David Fraze (‘91) and Dr. Shannon Rains, both professors in the Smith College of Biblical Studies, quickly settled on Houston, Austin, Dallas, and Denver as locations for the new event termed “On the Go.”
“The idea was to bring something that wouldn't take a whole day,” said Dr. Cary, explaining that they decided to make the individual events smaller and to center the experience around lunch. He emphasized, “The main thing we focused on was a presentation designed to be encouraging, to help them know that what they're doing matters.”
In the wake of 2020, the world has continued to experience high levels of burnout—and ministry leaders and volunteers are not exempt. In response to such needs, Dr. Cary, Dr. Rains, and Dr. Fraze framed the On the Go event to emphasize providing encouragement and hope.
“We want them to hear us saying, ‘We see you, we care about you, and here is something that may help you as you retool and refresh,’” Dr. Cary noted.
Dr. Rains, who directs the Children’s Ministry program at LCU, added that their desire is to give attendees practical tools to help them navigate the tensions and turmoil of the world post-2020.
She explained, “Nearly everyone who researches ministry was telling us that, coming out of the COVID pandemic, we'd start losing ministers, because they had to push through so much for their churches during that time—we knew that it was going to be hard for many to recover from burnout. We wanted to be able to provide a place where they could name some of the things they were dealing with and help find some common ground among each other. It always helps when we know other people are going through some of the same challenges.”
She added that they also wanted to help give some bigger-picture resources to those ministers and church leaders. “I also wanted to help them understand some systems theory,” she explained, “to talk about what they can control within their systems and explore how anxiety works in a system. We emphasized that we could choose joy in the middle of all that mess. If we do that consciously, when everything else is screaming at us to be negative and to focus on how hard everything is, it will help us see where God is at work, where we can find joy.”
Dr. Fraze added that, beyond keynote lectures, On the Go also focuses on time in smaller table discussions. “We have a lot of time around the table, as much as we can offer, for them to visit and ask questions,” he explained. “Because we have everything from children's ministers, preachers, elders, volunteers, and youth ministers. A few of them come by themselves, but most of them come in ministry teams.”
“We want it to be something conversational,” Dr. Rains added, “something that's not necessarily programmatic. A lot of conferences that you go to in ministry say, ‘Here's our big-box-thing that if you just take this and do it at your church, it'll all work.’ Those can be inspiring, but it's not necessarily true. On the Go is more about giving them tools, and hopefully, some skills that can work in any context. And especially in those table conversations, even as their different struggles are shared, they can also share different ideas regarding how to deal with whatever they’re facing. We want to give them new ways and new angles to think about some of the experiences they are having in their settings.”
“On the Go gave me an excellent opportunity to be uplifted, challenged, and renewed. It was powerful to connect as an alumnus with my university with the road trip! This made a difference in my week and my school year. I highly recommend using whatever margin you have to attend the next On the Go when it is close.”
Jeremy Thornton (BS, Secondary Education ‘03, Master’s, Educational Leadership '12), Elementary Principal at Brentwood Christian School in Austin, TX.
Following a successful first year of events, the department decided to continue the trend targeting churches in Lubbock, Denton, Fort Worth, and College Station in Texas, as well as an event in Ruidoso, N.M. As Dr. Fraze explained, with a new year’s lineup comes a new theme and emphasis, “This year we talked about how obstacles can become opportunities and how leaning into memories can be turned toward momentum.”
“One of the problems is that we're sometimes measuring ministry the wrong way,” he continued. “We're operating out of fear instead of passion and focus. It's been interesting to watch churches grapple with these ideas and new ways to think about ministry.”
Dr. Fraze continued by explaining that these events are open to church and Christian leaders beyond the Church of Christ. “We’ve had attendees who are Methodist, Baptist, Church of Christ, Christian church—we’ve drawn a really passionate, diverse group of new people who can learn more about what we offer at LCU.”
Dr. Rains stated that those decisions were strategic. “We're trying to advertise broadly,” she said. “Of course, most of our audience is Church of Christ, but a lot of that has to do with the connections we already have. We want to broaden our scope and become a resource for a wider audience. We haven't concentrated on any particular church staff positions either,” she added, pointing out that one event might have more youth ministers in attendance, while the next might have a small group of children’s minsters. “But what we're talking about are things that will help anyone in ministry, regardless of what positions they hold in their church."
“We tell our participants that one of our goals for the conference is to ‘Come as one, leave with one idea,’” added Dr. Fraze, “and the unity and camaraderie that we’ve all felt is tangible. We’re not there to give them our one big fix and say that we're experts—no, we're all in the field, we want to battle with them, and we want them to take a few tools with them to help move their people forward.”
“LCU’s On the Go event was a blessing. The theme of the event was Leadership in Anxious Times and that resonated with me personally as a church leader, especially given the challenges of the past few years. I gained new insights and resources that I have used going forward!”
Dr. Dave Hopper (MDiv ‘09), Lead Evangelist at Austin Christian Church
Dr. Cary echoed Fraze’s sentiment. “It’s meant a great deal to the participants. I hear again and again, ‘Wow, you guys took the time to come and be here with us.’ I think that sends a message, one that benefits LCU as a whole, not just our academic area. God has blessed the college of biblical studies with resources through the generosity of Al and Pat Smith, and because of that we're able to do this.”
The On the Go events have impacts even beyond the ministry for attendees, however—it also presents opportunities to shape and raise up the next generation of ministers. Dr. Fraze shared that at their annual ministry job and internship fair, he’s seen churches and organizations participate in that initiative because of the connections they formed during On the Go.
“These events give Dr. Cary an opportunity to stand in front of people and say, ‘If you know people who are interested in ministry, we want to help,’” he said. “It's authentic and real because we know our world needs more ministers. Of course, we pitch what LCU brings to that, but we also say that even if someone doesn't find that home here, we will still work to find that place for them.”
Dr. Cary shared that several students have already decided to attend LCU to pursue ministry after attending these events themselves, or because of a connection that was formed from an On the Go. He added to Dr. Fraze’s words, “We want to remind those ministers that they are on the front lines of calling the next generation to ministry. Sometimes they forget about that in the busyness of their jobs, but most of them would probably tell you one of the reasons they're in ministry is because they had an impactful minister in their lives."
The College of Biblical Studies plans to continue expanding On the Go into the future and is open to hosting events in other regions across the United States. “We had an alumna near College Station reach out to us, and that led directly to our upcoming event there in April,” Dr. Cary explained. “We would love for people from other regions to reach out if they think what we’re offering is valuable—it’s an open invitation.”
At the end of the day, these events come from a place of passion for ministry and those serving in Christian leadership. Dr. Fraze emphasized, “We love ministers, we love what they're doing, and we have the opportunity to step in to encourage them and to be a resource for them.”