More than 3,000 Florida Baptist pastors and ministry teams were renewed, equipped, challenged and sharpened during Sharper! ministry conferences held simultaneously across the state Feb. 23.

Displaying a commitment to “pull back the curtain” of their own ministries, 22 Florida Baptist churches from Pensacola to Miami hosted and coordinated the meetings at their facilities, inviting ministry teams from across their regions to attend.

“Sharper! was a great unifying event for Florida Baptists because everyone was doing it,” said Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, who hosted the training event attended by 75 participants. “Churches of all sizes came together. We even drew some from Alabama.”

Traylor added, “even if no one showed up it helped our own team to bring us together to ask ‘why do we do what we do’ and ‘how did we get here.’”

Offering the training event in multiple churches “on your own turf” was significant, Traylor added, because it did not require travel from the pastors’ ministry fields and offered practitioners as ministry models.

A Sharper! conference at South Biscayne Church in North Port drew 108 participants, said Pastor John Cross, who called the experience “unbelievable. It was one of the greatest things I have done in my 26 years as a Florida Baptist.”

“The collaboration was great,” he said. “It was more than ‘y’all’ come and learn.”

Each church had the responsibility to determine topics and choose leaders from their own staff or enlist others to lead break-out sessions. Cross asked Christian coach Mark Brown of Charis Counseling to come and “encourage the executive pastors” attending the South Biscayne conference.

The Sharper! Conference was sponsored and funded by the Florida Baptist Convention, as well as by grants from the North American Mission Board. This was the first event of its kind.

Florida executive director Tommy Green also termed the event a unifying moment for Florida Baptists.

“The unity of the 3,000 plus individuals across Florida involved in Sharper! reminds us that we are always better together,” he said.

“Sharper! provided a high quality opportunity for our pastors to learn from each other. The churches who hosted Sharper! established relevant and practical training sessions in ministry,” he added.

Forrest Smith, director of missions for the West Florida Baptist Association, attended the Sharper! Conference hosted by First Baptist Church of Panama City.

“I believe that this type of peer learning format could be extremely beneficial for encouraging and sharpening fellow leaders in the faith,” he said.

“From evangelism to student ministry to policy and procedures, and every other area of ministry, this was extremely helpful.  Not only for our association, but also in how we can help our congregations be more effective at reaching the lost and building God’s kingdom.”

Ben Sutton was among pastors from the West Florida association that participated  in the Sharper! conference at First Panama City.

“I got more information than I know what to do with,” said Sutton, pastor of New Prospect Baptist Church in Chipley. “The philosophy of worship material was particularly helpful since we are looking for a worship leader. As a young pastor, this information will really help me think through those things.”

Terry Ryan, pastor of First Baptist Church of Cutler Ridge, expressed appreciation to Family Church in West Palm Beach for “opening their doors and hearts” to those attending the Sharper! conference there.

“I have attended many conferences in my life, but this was by far the best! The team at Family Church was real, honest, open and a blessing.  Taking nine members of his church to the conference, Ryan added. “Every one of them was excited and talkative about what we learned. We will be back next year.”

By Barbara Denman, Florida Baptist Convention, March 14, 2017