By Kelsi Peace, Features Editor
Church leaders who normally offer service to their congregations received some encouragement and inspiration of their own at an ACU-sponsored ElderLink forum, which took place in Dallas on Saturday.
ElderLink is an ACU ministry founded by Dr. Charles Siburt, vice president for church relations, in 2000 to “equip, encourage and link those who lead and serve as elders in Churches of Christ,” according to the ministry’s Web site at www.acu.edu.
About 200 past, present and future elders, spouses, ministers and church leaders attended the Dallas forum, which offered a keynote speaker and 24 breakout sessions, Siburt said.
Forums are now offered six times per year, each one at a different location. Other cities that host forums are Portland, Atlanta, Houston, Nashua, N.H., and Rochester, Mich.
Siburt said attendance has increased, with about 1,200 people attending ElderLink forums.
“We see both repeat and first-timers every year,” Siburt said.
Randy Harris, Bible, missions and ministry instructor, returned to ElderLink as the keynote speaker. Harris said ElderLink is important because it encourages elders-who are volunteers-in their ministry and personal spiritual lives.
“I think being an elder today is very difficult,” Harris said. “Elders are the groups in churches who get no training.”
In a two-part series, Harris delivered themed speeches “Spiritual Guidance: Preparation for the Most Important Task” and “Spiritual Guidance: Beyond Crisis Counseling.”
Harris said his basic task was to “help people pay attention to God and what God might be doing in their lives.”
Elders often reach out to people who are suffering from intense problems, Harris said, and those people need to be helped earlier.
Harris said Tracy Kidder’s book, Mountains Beyond Mountains, which describes Dr. Paul Farmer’s quest to eradicate tuberculosis in parts of Haiti, impacted him.
“I spend a lot of time treating spiritual tuberculosis … I would like to do some preventative work,” Harris said.
Lunch at the forum is also an important time, Harris said, because elders have a chance to meet one another and share their experiences.
Dr. Sally Gary, assistant professor of communication and director of forensics, attended the forum for the first time and led a breakout session with Kurt Boyland, counselor in the Counseling Center, where they discussed “Ministering to Persons Who Experience Same Sex Attraction.”
“I thought it was a beautiful experience,” Gary said.
Siburt invited her to the forum to talk about a new ministry, CenterPeace, which offers support for men and women who experience same sex attraction and equips churches to respond, Gary said.
Gary said the session essentially asked leaders “how do you respond?” and discussed an issue that the media frequently discuss without including God.
About 20 people attended the session to discover how to reach out and “be Jesus” to people who experience same sex attraction.
Gary said when excluding these people, the church forgets that “it’s not the sin above all sins, it’s a sin among sins.”
Attending ElderLink was rewarding, Gary said, “to see my Alma madder continuing to reach out and help churches.”