Seminary students face a daunting task. Not only do they have to have sustaining and powerful faith, they also must take on a rigorous course load spanning multiple years.
Classes can, naturally, vary by denomination but often range from theology to philosophy to Biblical languages. The Rev. Wayne Racz can certainly remember those days.
The vice president and director of spiritual formation at Epworth By the Sea on St. Simons Island, attended Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta.
“I remember New Testament and Old Testament studies of the Bible as some of my favorites,” he recalled. “I also really enjoyed African American preaching courses.”
While he learned a great deal there, one of the topics they didn’t touch on often was how to manage the business side of a church. Pastors are primarily concerned with meeting the spiritual needs of their parishioners, but they are also responsible for much of the business aspect of making a church tick.
“Seminary really doesn’t teach a whole lot about leadership and management skills. It teaches you a lot about theology and Biblical concepts but really there is not a large portion devoted to leadership development,” Racz said.
Instead, it is frequently a skill learned “on the job.” But Racz says there is a local annual event seeking to change that — Epworth’s Winter Conference.
The multi-day training program invites preachers from throughout the region to come to the Methodist center to learn these important elements of pastoral work. This year, the Winter Conference will be held from Tuesday to Friday. Registration for minsters and lay leaders is still open. Spots may be reserved by calling Epworth at 912-638-8688.
“It’s our focus to help pastors and lay leaders as well get high quality training and information to improve their leadership skills,” Racz said.
Epworth’s Winter Conference has its roots in an older tradition called Winter Meeting.
Beginning in the 1950s, this gathering was modeled after “the camp” or revival that focused primarily on evangelizing.
“It’s been an evolution of what was previously the Winter Camp meeting ... but that type of event is really outdated. It was mostly an evangelistic event and it was a pretty long. This conference started 2016 and we refocused on having a training event for to help pastors and church leaders become better leaders,” he said.
Much of that has to do with business acumen, a course not frequently found in seminary curriculum.
“Businesses are usually run on a business model. There are a lot of courses taught in business and accounting schools but, the truth is, the church — with the resources that are given to us through congregations — ought to be the best run ‘business’ in town ... but in many ways we’re not because pastors haven’t been equipped,” he said.
To change that, the event hosts various workshops led by different pastors who are experts in a particular field.
While the clergy men and women will be learning throughout the day, they will be reaching out to the community at night.
The evening worship services are open to the public and will offer inspiring sermons from some of the region’s most talented ministers.
“The evening worship is at 7 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday and is open to the public. Preachers from three different conferences will be leading the services and preaching each evening,” he said.
Tuesday will see the Revs. Baxter Hurley of Macon and Desmond Rawls of Montezuma deliver the message.
On Wednesday, the Revs. Alice Rogers of Gainesville and Byron Thomas of Atlanta and Carol Allums, a former attorney and member of the North Georgia Conference Commission on Religion and Race, will take to the pulpit. Thursday the Rev. Michael Beck of Ocala, Fla., will give the sermon.
Racz says this is a unique opportunity for local residents to hear from a variety of ministers with different preaching methods.
“It is a worship that is going to have a lot of elements put together by a lot of talented people. Each one has a different worship style. Each evening there will be a lot of variety and these are some of the best preachers from each of the annual conferences,” Racz said.
“So it will be a high quality of preaching. There will also be music teams, not only from the Brunswick and Golden Isles area, but also from North Georgia and South Georgia.”
Racz encourages all who can to attend.
Not only will they receive powerful messages but will also present a variety of perspectives.
“I think we get stuck in our own preferences sometimes so we have a blind spot to other perspectives some that we don’t even know about. So when we hear another person from a different perspective our blind spots are revealed to us,” he said.
“We can have new ideas and whole new perspectives.”