Heart of the Child Conference draws more than 900 to Southwestern campus


FORT WORTH, Texas — More than 900 preschool, children’s, family ministry, pre-teen, church weekday, and disability ministry leaders from the southeast region of the United States gathered on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary earlier this month for the Heart of the Child Conference, an equipping conference sponsored by four Baptist state conventions.

The conference, which is offered every two years, “has a good reputation” because the leadership team picks “people to speak that we know are going to give practical ministry help so when you leave the classroom, you can have something you can use the next day,” said Karen P. Kennemur, professor of children’s ministry at Southwestern Seminary and preschool/children’s ministry associate at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

SBTC coordinated the conference alongside Oklahoma Baptists, Arkansas Baptists, and Missouri Baptists. Lifeway Christian Resources is a partnering Southern Baptist entity of the conference.

Kennemur explained a prayer team offered supplications for the conference alongside the event planners “to help us think through what ministers and leaders from churches needed and to make sure that we are carefully considering all of the details.” She noted that many of the conference’s attendees don’t attend worship on “Sunday mornings because they’re working” in age-graded ministries within their churches.

Part of the answer to prayer came through the worship leaders that the planning team “prayed earnestly that the Lord would lead” to the leadership team, Kennemur said. Collin Perkins, minister of worship at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Cedar Hill, Texas, and Christy Gandy, a member of the worship team at Rush Creek Church – Mira Lagos campus in Grand Prairie, Texas. Kennemur said event organizers have heard “nothing but praise” for the times of corporate worship.

Additionally, Kennemur noted, Amy Davison, podcast co-host and contributing blog author at Mama Bear Apologetics, was the main speaker at the Saturday morning SBTC family ministry breakfast, but was also a main stage speaker who spoke on “Raising a Warrior.” Davison, a 2018 Master of Arts in Christian apologetics graduate of Southwestern, has served with Mama Bear Apologetics since 2019. The ministry seeks to equip mothers with the tools of apologetics to help teach their children to defend their faith.

In addition to Davison, attendees learned from Nathan Lorick, executive director of the SBTC, and Chuck Peters, director of Lifeway Kids, during the plenary sessions. Participants also had to option of learning from keynote speakers over lunch sessions.

Through 50 different breakout sessions offered over the two-day conference, preschool, children’s, and disability ministry leaders were equipped through teaching times facilitated by practitioners who serve in churches in Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri, and who also serve at Lifeway, Christian universities and seminaries, and state convention staffs.

The breakout sessions offered included 12 “well-attended” sessions that focused on “disability,” Kennemur said. She added the high attendance numbers for those sessions show there is a “need” for equipping in the area of disability ministry in the local church. Kennemur explained the breakout sessions focused on “how to include all learners in the classroom” and also provided “helps” for “when inclusion doesn’t work.”

Additionally, attendees had breakout session options that included how to share the gospel with preschools to how to align kids’ ministry with the Great Commission.

“We pack as much as we can into about 24 hours,” Kennemur concluded.