AAfter taking a virtual year due to COVID-19, the Ozark Christian College preaching and teaching convention celebrated its 75th year of in-person teaching this week. While teaching leadership and celebrating the word of God were the central themes of the convention, encouraging service during the pandemic was also an important focus.
“Over the past two years during this pandemic, many leaders have felt discouraged,” said Chairman Matt Proctor. “They are tired and exhausted. I want them to take away from this convention that they are not alone. We would like to breathe a fresh wind into their sails.
The convention ran Monday through Wednesday and included worship services, workshops, campus tours, and class reunions. A banquet included a keynote address from Alex Kendrick, screenwriter, director and producer of Christian films such as “Fireproof” and “Facing the Giants.” About 1,200 people from 12 states attended.
Proctor said the college had to pivot last year during COVID-19, and a popular saying on campus was “Happy are the flexibles, for they will never be out of shape.” Returning to an in-person convention after a year of meeting virtually was a welcome change.
“It’s like coming home,” Proctor said. “It’s great to be together in person again. I know there will be lots of people happy to give handshakes and hugs and have conversations in person again.
The congress was aimed at CCO alumni and friends of the college. Proctor said a lot of graduates like to come back to campus and catch up on what’s going on there. It was also open to non-former members of the ministry community and current students.
“It’s like continuing education for people in ministry, whether they’re vocations ministers or church volunteers,” Proctor said. “These hands-on workshops help them hone their skills and become aware of new areas of learning.
Many alumni also return to the CCO to lead sessions at the congress. Jim Dalrymple is the executive vice president of advancement and his department hosts the convention for the college each year. He said many of these alumni-led workshops are practical in nature and touch on the cogs and bolts of church leadership.
“Like any other industry conference people would attend, this event is helpful not only in the encouraging aspects, but also through these workshops to get into the more practical aspects of ministry,” Dalrymple said. “Coming out of a COVID year, we’ll be talking about a number of topics around getting back to health and getting back to what the new normal is.”
The theme for this year’s convention was “After God’s Heart,” a phrase used to describe King David in the Bible. This reflected the convention’s broader focus on building the heart and foundations of a leader. Proctor said leadership books often look at leadership infrastructure and teaching new skills. While these skills are important, they depend on the underlying fundamentals of the leader, he said.
“It’s what you would call below the waterline, what happens in a leader’s character, heart and soul,” Proctor said. “If he’s not a strong person of faith, it doesn’t matter what kind of leadership skills he has; their leadership will not stand the test of time.
The Seth Wilson Outstanding Alumnus Award was also presented at the convention. Wilson was the college’s founding academic director. The award is given to outstanding alumni who have spent their lives serving and leading the church.
This year’s recipients were alumni Ron and Pat Morse, who are in Southeast Asia and are part of five generations of missionaries serving Myanmar and Thailand. The Morse family ministry has planted 25 churches in Thailand and 500 churches in four countries.
The other recipients were alumni Drew and Michelle Sherman, who served 20 years at Compass Christian Church in Dallas. They led the church, which grew from 800 to 8,000 people on four campuses, and worked on service projects such as paying off $10 million in medical debt for more than 5,000 people in their local counties. .
“Those are some of my highlights at the convention every year, when we share these awards and see the product of the work we do here,” Proctor said. “These graduates trained here many years ago and now they have touched hundreds, if not thousands of lives in faraway places. It is such an encouragement to see the fruit of this work.
“Encouragement” was a key word at the convention this year. As the challenges facing church leaders during the pandemic increase, OCC leaders hope convention attendees can bring encouragement back into their lives of ministry.
“I think the last two years have been tough, to say the least,” Dalrymple said. “This is true for those who work in the service sector, whether it is medical or social services. Church ministry is sometimes one of those areas that is overlooked. It has taken its toll on those who serve in the ministry of the church. We hope that people will leave with hearts encouraged and come back this year ready to do whatever it takes to serve people.