Ideas, Creativity, and Relationships Mark EPA Convention in Lexington

By Lori Arnold

From seed to fruit to tree, the creative process can be marked with discouragement, distractions and despair, but believers can rest assured that God uses our experiences to help us in our craft. That was the message from singer-songwriter Nicole C. Mullen, who opened the 2024 Evangelical Press Association convention with a worship set that featured an inspiring rendition of her Dove Award-winning song “Redeemer.”

That theme of craft—from experiences and practical tips to emerging technology—was a common cord, during the 76th EPA convention. Mullen set the tone for the evening and beyond by revealing how a dark period in her life, and Job’s triumphant story, moved the singer to pen her 2001 Contemporary Song of the Year.

“God can use that very thing we despise, we hate, that we are embarrassed by to grow that seed into the tree to produce the fruit that he has ordained,” Mullen said, urging the media professionals to be patient with the transformative process of creativity.

Mullen was the lead-in to keynote speaker, Nona Jones, author, entrepreneur and Global Ambassador for YouVersion. She urged those in the room—writers, editors, designers, photographers and digital specialists—to not lose sight of their mission in pursuit of relevance.

 “We have been told not to worry about relevance,” Jones said, citing Matthew 6:31-33. “We have been told to not even worry about tomorrow. What we have been told to do is to first seek the kingdom of God. We have been told to stay on mission. We have been told to stay on purpose.”

Content-driven presentations

 What followed the opening presentations was two days of workshops, plenary sessions and devotions, all designed to equip Christian storytellers to balance the business of words.

 The stable-themed venue, situated in a Kentucky bluegrass region where horses are king, was the backdrop for 29 workshops, three awards presentations and numerous networking opportunities. 

Sessions covered a breaking news look at last year’s Asbury Outpouring, personal development such as Living with Intentional Purpose and several presentations on Artificial Intelligence.

One of the early-morning sessions included a sneak peek into the Lausanne Movement’s State of the Great Commission Report, which was released the following day. The report highlighted four key findings: The Great Commission in a Digital Age; the Question of Humanness; the New Middle Class and the Global Aging Population.

 “My favorite session was the report on covering the Asbury event,” said Mike Chapman, a missionary journalist with Cru Storylines, which placed in the Photo Feature category. “It was both fascinating and encouraging to hear what things were like behind the scenes from the student editor of the school newspaper, and the president and faculty member.”

 Beyond the educational moments, most attendees valued the interpersonal space that the convention provided.

 “One major takeaway is the incredible value of both the workshops and the networking opportunities, and the mutual encouragement and support from other Christian journalists,” Chapman said.

 Josh Mann, managing editor of The Lion—which won an Award of Merit and five Higher Goals awards—said he enjoyed the two AI sessions he attended.

 “The two presenters were committed Christians inside the AI industry and offered a balanced, though unashamedly optimistic vision of Christian use of AI for good,” Mann said. “AI is inevitable and its use will be unavoidable, in their view. Thus, they argued Christians should get in early to leverage it for good. Their perspective is important for Christian writers and publishers to consider.”

 Like Chapman, Mann said he’s been impressed with the culture of hospitality he’s experienced during his three years of attending.

 It’s encouraging to see so many writers, editors and publishers taking the craft seriously, striving to improve, and endeavoring to make an impact on the world,” Mann said. “Our stories run the gamut of genres and subjects, but the underlying Christian motivation is the same. To be together in one place, spurring one another on to be better, is invigorating.”

 Dawn Molnar, the managing editor of Teachers of Vision, which took home an Award of Merit and four Higher Goals honors, said her publication’s success in the competition “validated the hours we poured into our small magazine.”

 But she also acknowledged she was heading home with something even more significant.

 “I was shocked by how much this event renewed my passion for editing and writing,” Molnar said. “I hadn’t realized that my ‘cup’ was almost empty until the worship, speakers, and amazing professionals I interacted with began to fill my cup. I had forgotten what it felt like to feel alive and full—ideas, passion, and inspiration for my craft increasing each day I spent in Kentucky. As I packed my vehicle to head home, my cup overflowed.”

Russell Moore keynote

Just as the convention started, the closing plenary— featuring singer Natalie Layne and Russell Moore, editor-in-chief of Christianity Today—offered hope for the future and a rallying call to use our skills to cultivate the kingdom, a circling back of sorts to the seed, tree and fruit.

Layne, granddaughter of Dean Merrill, one of three honored this year with the Terry White Lifetime Achievement Award, signed her first recording contract just prior to the convention. The two other recipients were Dr. Bob Terry and Joel Belz, who received his honor posthumously.

Moore, the former president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, underscored the importance of being grace truth-tellers in a culture that likes to redefine truth according to feelings or convenience.

“When Jesus says, I will build my church, one of the ways that He is building His church, one of the ways that the gates of hell are being battered down is through the stories you’re telling, the stories you’re showing, through the news that you’re getting, through the analysis you’re providing, through the examples that you are giving to the imagination,” he said.

He urged the journalists to not “become bored of the cross.”

“Make sure that we are not the kind of people who could form ourselves to just another kind of story seller and, instead, to be the kind of people we know how to say, ‘Jesus is Lord, Christ in Him crucified.”

Offsite activities

Off-site adventures included an open Monday night when a free EPA shuttle transported attendees to Lexington’s downtown—home of the 14-room Mary Todd Lincoln House—for exploration and dinner.

A free tour of the Ark Encounter was offered to those wishing to extend their conference experience by a day. The Ark attraction, a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark, located in Williamstown, Kentucky, halfway between Lexington and Cincinnati, is owned and operated by EPA member Answers in Genesis.

Posted June 4, 2024

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