LUTZ— During Florida Baptists’ 2023 annual meeting, church leaders shared stories in three distinct “Right Beside You” testimony sessions, highlighting their churches’ roles in planting new churches, engaging in mission work, and nurturing young people over the past year.
The first session, held Monday, Nov. 13, at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, featured a panel led by Nathan Schneider, next generations catalyst, Florida Baptist Convention. Youth directors and pastors discussed practical approaches to discipling young people and their families. Schneider highlighted, “Seventy-seven percent of American youth are open to learning about Jesus. They are the open generation.”
Nancy Bentley, lead director of children’s ministries at Calvary Church East Lake campus, illustrated her approach to serving the next generation. Her strategy involves collaborating with local schools, offering resources like parking and volunteers as needed. Bentley also mentioned a unique program: When a child decides to follow Christ, the entire family participates in a class to learn Bible reading together. Additionally, Calvary Church conducts Bible classes to teach parents how to disciple their children.
Noel Morera, youth and English language pastor at Iglesia Bautista Northside in Hialeah, emphasized the significance of modeling Christlike character to youth. “Lead the youth to realize there’s more than just oneself. Through the gospel, they learn to serve. We show them what living a Christ-centered life entails,” he said.
Hunter Bruce, director of Next Generation Ministries at Mission Hill Church in Temple Terrace, shared his approach to connecting with youth. He emphasized the importance of engaging them in their familiar environments, such as sports games. “Showing genuine interest in students’ lives opens doors to meaningful interactions,” he said.
Josh Hall, associate pastor of student ministries, First Baptist Church of Tallahassee, discussed engaging students in sharing their faith. He advises students, especially college-goers, to be missionaries in their own contexts and helps them identify healthy churches to join post-graduation.
During the Tuesday morning session, James Peoples, director of Send Network Florida with the North American Mission Board, introduced pastors Jose Abella and Kidannie Laboy. Laboy shared his journey of initially failing a church-planting assessment, then succeeding after participating in a residency program at Providence Road Church in Miami, led by Abella. “The residency honed our character and prepared us for planting a church with grace and for His glory,” Laboy reflected. Laboy planted Iglesia Comunidad Biblica in Spring Hill.
Peoples highlighted the importance of collaboration among pastors to nurture the next generation of church leaders. “Together, we achieve more,” he encouraged.
The final testimony on Tuesday evening focused on Florida Baptists’ mission work domestically and internationally. Tommy Green, Florida Baptists’ executive director-treasurer, introduced a new partnership with the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio and welcomed its executive director, Jeremy Westbrook. Myles Dowdy, Florida Baptists’ lead catalyst for missions and ministries, shared the successes of a recent Caribbean mission trip, which resulted in 4,820 professions of faith.
Keny Felix, senior pastor of Bethel Evangelical Baptist Church and president of the Southern Baptist Convention National Haitian Fellowship, narrated his church’s mission endeavors in France, The Bahamas, and the Dominican Republic. “Like the early church, Haitians have been dispersed worldwide, carrying the gospel to the nations,” he concluded.
Photo by Michael Duncan.