Kentwood Community Church (KCC) — a Wesleyan church in Grand Rapids, Michigan — believes that every Christian should be equipped and encouraged to look for opportunities to share their faith. This belief was the genesis of the Next Level Leaders Conference (NLLC) launched in the fall of 2021 at KCC.
This global event attracted nearly 300 virtual and in-person attendees from all walks of life and business sectors who wanted to learn how to lead through current tough times.
NLLC’s host and lead coordinator, Debbye Turner Bell, leadership development pastor at KCC, said, “We are all going through these times together, so we had moms and dads, business owners, employees and ministers” all learning how to adjust to a new normal. Participants from Kentwood’s sister church in India and from Central America were included.
The conference emerging from conversations between Rev. Turner Bell and Kentwood’s Lead Pastor Mick Veach was synergistic with a Marketplace Multipliers cohort. Considerable time at NLCC focused on racial reconciliation and leading multiethnic teams, with the intent of helping attendees better understand how to build relationships.
One of the main speakers, Dr. Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendent Emerita and founder of World Hope International, believes there is more that needs to be done to embrace multiethnicity in Wesleyan churches today.
“How do we do more than just attend church on Sunday in a multiethnic setting? How do we live during the week in a multiethnic setting?” A key answer, said Dr. Lyon, is to do more intentional listening to each other to understand the other’s life experiences.
Rev. Turner Bell also said valuable time was spent in workshops listening and talking about how to build relationships with those who don’t look or think like us. “We’re not called to lead alone. Jesus sent disciples out two by two. The hope of this conference was that people would connect and network and meet their counterpart and form relationships.”
Dr. Lyon’s role was to talk about community development and the intersection of righteousness and justice, and how holy living not only impacts our own lives, but those around us. Referring to Amos 5:24, “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream,” Dr. Lyon said, “It is at the juncture of justice and righteousness that transformation takes place.” This concept was looked at biblically and historically as to how it relates to the church today. “There was space for thinking, conversation and exploration in a multiethnic setting. We need more of these” types of conferences, she said.
Regarding racial reconciliation, Dr. Lyon encouraged others to look for a path toward racial healing. “Distractions such as labeling things as Marxism, communism, CRT (Critical Race Theory) and other excuses hinder coming together. The early church was very multiethnic. … Therefore, no one knew what to call it except after Jesus Christ. Therefore, in Antioch they came up with the description of Christian.”
Co-lead pastor of Bayside Church Midtown in Sacramento, California, Dr. Efrem Smith, pastor, consultant, speaker, author and founder of The Sanctuary Covenant Church, a multiethnic church in Minneapolis, was the keynote speaker.
KCC leaders said Dr. Smith’s words on the rise of the liberated leader “left us all in awe in the opening session. Dr. Smith closed the conference with, ‘leading in the land of the impossible,’ that left people motivated, encouraged and ready for what God has next for us.”
“Hopefully it (the conference) is not ‘one and done,’” said Rev. Turner Bell. Because of resource requirements, Kentwood may host the conference biennially. Rev. Turner Bell said, “It is my hope and desire that this will be an ongoing effort. We want to continue to inspire and encourage leaders. We’ll move forward as the Lord allows.”
Dr. Lyon summed up NLLC saying, “This was a bold conference that truly reflects our Wesleyan theology and heritage. A model of this needs to happen across TWC.”
For more information on Next Level Leaders Conference, visit mykcc.ccbchurch.com.
Jennifer Jones is the district administrator for the South Carolina District of The Wesleyan Church.