February 14, 2024

ANKENY, Iowa–A record number of guests attended the ninth annual Refresh Conference at Faith Baptist Bible College from January 31 to February 2, 2024. A total of 341 ministry leaders representing 173 ministries attended this year’s conference. Attendees hailed from seven countries outside the U.S. and four continents. From within the U.S., attendees represented 27 states from Hawaii to Maine. This marks the fifth year in a row that the Refresh Conference has broken its attendance record. 

The record number of attendees is confirmation that the Refresh Conference is reaching its goal to offer pastors, missionaries, and ministry leaders encouragement and spiritual nourishment by creating space for sweet fellowship with like-minded servants of Christ and inspirational, thought-provoking preaching and practical teaching.

In light of the recent alarming statistics on pastoral burnout and desiring to exhort ministry leaders to persevere, conference leadership focused this year’s sessions and workshops on the theme Soldier On: Train. Endure. This theme was based on 2 Timothy 2:3-4.

From what various attendees said, the conference once again met its goal. First-time attendees Jason and Beth Stamper came all the way from Portland, Oregon. Despite traveling quite a distance, the Stampers were glad they made the effort to attend: “We loved it. We genuinely were uplifted. It was everything [Faith was] trying to accomplish. We were warmed by the spirit of the student body, the fellowship of like-minded believers, and the whole-hearted hospitality of the leadership of Faith,” Jason said. 

For missionaries Kyle and Natalie Cline, the Refresh Conference was not a new experience, but it allowed them to renew relationships with friends and mentors. Natalie said she enjoyed opportunities to talk with friends who “really get down to what’s going on and encourage me toward Christ.” Kyle expressed a similar sentiment: “A big blessing from Refresh Conference has been, in addition to the preaching, reconnecting with so many people who have poured so much into my life.”

For yet others the music and workshops were most encouraging. Several attendees expressed gratitude for the music ministry of Matt and Christy Taylor from The Wilds. The Taylors performed their music throughout the week during general sessions. Practical workshop sessions were also a favorite feature of attendees. Local pastor Jason Blunk attended Dennis Wilkening’s pre-conference workshop “Getting Things Done in Ministry” and described it as “super helpful, super practical. Lots to take away. Actually, I’ve already put a couple of things into practice this week.” Highlights for many women during the conference were the workshops led by Mrs. Gracia Burnham. As missionaries serving with New Tribes Mission, Mrs. Burnham and her husband, Martin, were taken captive by a militant Muslim group in the Philippines. She told of their harrowing captivity for over a year in the jungles of the Philippines and her husband’s death in the gunfight that ultimately resulted in her rescue. Mrs. Burnham’s example of endurance moved those who heard her speak.

The preaching in general sessions was a highlight, as well. Many relished the opportunity to sit under others’ preaching for a few days. GARBC National Representative David Strope expressed gratitude for the opportunity to reverse roles, so to speak, and sit in the audience while others preached. “As someone who is regularly giving out and serving and preaching,” Strope said, “I always like to hear good preaching and to hear God speak through others. That’s really an encouragement to me.” 

The need for such encouragement has become increasingly evident of late as burnout tempts many leaders to resign from ministry. In the first general session on Tuesday evening, Dr. Jim Tillotson addressed this temptation directly in his keynote sermon “Ministering for a Lifetime . . .? or !” from 2 Timothy 2:1-7. With his typical style of interweaving exposition and pertinent examples and illustrations, Dr. Tillotson tailored the message to ministry leaders experiencing discouragement. He graciously reminded everyone that we are not strong enough on our own to continue in ministry for a lifetime. When we seek success and longevity in ministry in our strength, we are merely nodding to Christ rather than kneeling to Christ. He exhorted us to endure, explaining that it’s easy to quit but hard to endure, yet endurance is what encourages the next generation of leaders to continue preparing for ministry.

Subsequent general session speakers sounded the same note from a variety of angles and biblical passages. On Wednesday morning, Pastor Jason LaFlamme urged pastors to remember three simple truths: (1) “You have been redeemed” (Mt. 16:13-20); (2) “You have been reserved” (1 Tim. 1:12; 3:1); and (3) “You need to stay rekindled” (Jn. 21:15-22). In the second morning session, Pastor Joe Fant exposited John 3:22-30 in a message titled “Restoring the Joy of Ministry.” Pastor Fant urged pastors to remember that they will experience joy in ministry as they point others to Christ instead of to themselves. Wednesday concluded with an evening message by Dr. Josh Crockett from Romans 13:11-14. In “Awake and Armored,” Dr. Crockett pled with pastors to pursue holiness.

Drs. Marty Herron and Dean Taylor spoke on Thursday morning. Dr. Herron counseled pastors from Numbers 21 on the dangers of impatience and how to combat it in a message titled “Worn Out Along the Way: Defeating the Enemy of Impatience.” Dr. Taylor addressed the topic “Holy Companions: How Friends Help Each Other Endure in Ministry.” He surveyed several passages in Acts that demonstrate Luke’s enduring friendship with Paul, a friendship that sustained Paul through physical perils and spiritual trials. The day concluded with a message from Pastor Kurt Skelly titled “The Pre-Battle Is the Battle” from 2 Chronicles 20:1-30. Examining King Jehoshaphat’s prayer as the Moabites, Ammonites, and Meunites prepared to war against Judah, Pastor Skelly challenged us to stop, look, and listen. The coalition of enemies caused King Jehoshaphat to stop and seek God, to look and behold God as creator, covenant-keeper, and companion, and to listen, for God will hear and help. 

The conference concluded on Friday morning with two sessions from Faith’s own Drs. Paul Hartog and Dennis Wilkening. Dr. Hartog exposited 1 Peter 3:13-17 to contextualize the rallying cry of apologetics (1 Peter 3:15) to remind believers that our arsenal is spiritual and supernatural. The larger context instructs believers that Spirit-enabled virtuous living, disciplined speech, and endurance in suffering are divine means by which we effectively defend and champion the faith. Dr. Wilkening then sent attendees on their way with a simple yet profound message from 1 Timothy 1:12 titled “The Incredible Impact of Being Chosen.” He encouraged pastors to recapture the wonder and joy they had at the outset of ministry when they could hardly fathom the profound privilege of being chosen by God to serve Him in the pastorate.

As Dr. Wilkening concluded his sermon, another Refresh Conference also drew to a close, but we’ve already begun preparations for 2025. The next Refresh Conference will be our tenth, and we want to make it the best yet. If you are a pastor, ministry leader, or vendor, make plans now to join us February 4-7, 2025. The theme for next year’s conference is Leadership: Uniquely Called. Uniformly Focused. This theme comes from Psalm 78:70-72. Look for more information on faith.edu in the months ahead.