Meet CDM’s Children’s Ministry Team. With decades of experience in churches of all sizes, the team can relate to the specific struggles in your church—and help develop practical strategies to enhance your ministry to children.

Children’s Ministry and Church Leadership Training Retreat 2023
Ridge Haven Conference & Retreat Center
April 18-20, 2023

2023 Theme: Looking at the Long View of Discipleship

How can we all be faithful to what God has called us to do (the fun, the not so fun, the tedious), for the sake of the long view (the Lord is working as the children are growing)? How is this all a part of our own discipleship as well? Join us as Rev. Charles Johnson, Pastor at Red Mountain Church in Birmingham, AL, and others remind us that discipleship is a marathon, not a race. In children’s ministry, we are laying a foundation that the Lord will build on as children grow. Join us as we worship and learn together, encourage one another, and remind each other of what is true.

The Children’s Ministry Leaders at your church (pastors, children’s ministry staff, volunteers in leadership roles, nursery coordinators) are invited to CDM’s annual Children’s Ministry Leadership Retreat at the Ridge Haven Retreat Center at Brevard in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Come join a community of leaders of the PCA, who are passionate about reaching the next generation for Christ!

Attend Workshops about:
  • Getting Started (for new leaders)
  • PCA 101
  • Personal Growth
  • Relational Engagement
  • Classroom Helps
  • Development

On Tuesday, you’ll have an opportunity to sign up for individual appointments with exhibitors.

Conference Details

Cost: $360/person

(includes registration, lodging in a shared room, and 6 meals).

Registration deadline: March 13 (unless it is filled up sooner)

If you need a private room, the additional cost is $140; there are a limited number so register early! (WE ARE SOLD OUT OF PRIVATE ROOMS.)

Things to know when registering:

  • Priority rooming assignments (types of rooms) will be based on the order that you register. For example, those who register first will get first priority on rooming choices. There are rooms with 2 double beds, and rooms with bunk beds. Register early!
  • If you have a roommate preference, please be sure to indicate that when registering. Your roommate choice MUST register within the week you register and include your name in order to be assigned to the same room.
  • If you would prefer a private room, there is an additional $140 cost. (There are limited single rooms available.)
  • You will receive an email 3 weeks prior to the conference with the list of other retreat attendees in order to share rides from the airport.
  • You will have an opportunity to indicate if you have medically necessary dietary restrictions.

If you have registration questions, please contact Kathy at or 678-825-1132.

Keynote Speaker:

Rev. Charles Johnson – Born and raised in Charlottesville, VA, Charles has had the joy of serving churches in his hometown as well as The Woodlands, TX, St. Louis, MO, Franklin, TN before going to Birmingham in 2020 as the Senior Pastor at Red Mountain Church. He received a Bachelor of Business Administration at James Madison University in 2005, and a Masters of Divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary in 2013. Charles is married to Shonda, and together they have two boys: Trent and Gavin. In his free time, Charles enjoys reading, whitewater kayaking, hiking, and University of Virginia Sports.

Workshop Speakers:

Ashley Belknap serves as the Executive Director of Engaging Disability (the Disability Ministry of the PCA). A gifted communicator with a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Reformed Theological Seminary, Ashley has the ability to tackle challenging issues with creative and practical ministry applications. She served for four years as Director of Women’s Ministries at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson MS, where she led a wide variety of ministry initiatives. As the mother of children with unique needs, Ashley has a personal passion to see families touched by disability discipled and enfolded into their church. Ashley and her husband, John, have three children and reside in Brandon, MS.

Bethany Belue is on staff with CDM serving in various roles within Children’s Ministry. Before coming on staff at CDM, she served as the Children’s Director at Redeemer PCA in New York City and Oak Mountain PCA in Birmingham, AL. She currently lives in Mobile, AL with her husband, Dustin, who is the assistant pastor at Grace Community Church PCA. Bethany and Dustin love investing in the next generation from small children to young adults. Life is full with their 2 young children, Patterson and Neely.

Jimmy Brock has been involved in children’s ministry since he was a child himself, serving churches in Virginia, California, Missouri, and Georgia as a Sunday school teacher, camp counselor, camp director, nursery coordinator, and most recently Pastor of Family Ministry. He is now the Church Planting Pastor for Resurrection Community Church in Virginia Beach, VA.

Mary Elizabeth Burton grew up in Alabama and graduated from Auburn University in 2013 (WAR EAGLE!). After graduating, she served on staff with RUF at TCU before moving to Chattanooga in the summer of 2016. Mary Elizabeth and her husband, Davis, love to travel, love tacos, love good stories and love any and all Tom Hanks films. They have a golden retriever, Hanks! This past June, they gave Hanks a best friend with the birth of their first son, Ezra. Hanks and Ezra are equally obsessed with one another.

Steve Collins is the Founder and Executive Director of Adults Protecting Children, which trains adults in how to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse. Steve has comprehensive experience training adults and working with organizations in how to prevent the sexual abuse of children. His experience includes developing and implementing child protection policies. He has expertise in how communities can create child protection initiatives that can train enough adults in that community that the culture of the community is changed and becomes a safer place to raise children.

Mariah Cunningham works as a Next Generation Mobilizer for the MTW Midwest Hub. She previously worked in education for 12 years in the areas of special education, communication arts, third grade, and ESL. She lives near St. Louis with her husband Jeff and her four children Kai, Aschwin, Pyper, and Boston.

Stephen Estock is Coordinator for the PCA Committee on Discipleship Ministries (CDM). A former USAF officer, he has been in pastoral ministry for almost 30 years, serving churches in Montgomery, AL and St. Louis, MO. Stephen has also been an adjunct professor at several seminaries, including Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis and Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta. His Ph.D. is in education, with an emphasis on competency-based learning and leadership training. He and his wife, Susan, have three children and live in Atlanta, GA.

Katie Flores
equips and encourages those who are working to promote discipleship among children in the PCA. She enjoys advocating for children as well as learning from them. Katie and her husband, Bryan, live in Birmingham, AL with their children, Caleb and Grace Anne. They worship at Covenant Presbyterian Church where Katie served in youth, children’s, and disability ministry for a combined 24 years before coming to work at CDM.

Deborah Harrell serves as the TCK Resource Team Leader for Serge. With over 30 years of ministry and education experience, Deborah provides educational seminars on Third Culture Kids, parenting conferences, oversees the Serge child protection policy and writes curriculum for both children and adults. Deborah is the author of What’s Up? Elementary, co-author of What’s Up? Discovering the Gospel, Jesus, and Who You REALLY Are (Teachers and Student Guides), a middle school Bible study and the Gospel Centered Parent. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, Jason, and daughter, Sarah.

Sue Jakes is mother of four, grandmother of 11, and lives in Atlanta, GA where she served as Children’s Ministry Ambassador for the Presbyterian Church in America’s Committee on Discipleship Ministries. She has served as director of children’s ministry at Covenant PCA in Fayetteville, GA and is now serving as children’s director at Westminster PCA in Atlanta. She has been teaching children, youth, and women’s groups in the church for over thirty-five years. Sue is co‑author of “Heart of the Home,” a Bible Study ministry for moms and Teach Me To Worship, CDM’s children’s church online curriculum.

Dr. John C. Kwasny is the Director of Discipleship Ministries at Pear Orchard Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Ridgeland, Mississippi. He is a Biblical counselor, an adjunct professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, and Director of One Story Ministries—authoring a complete discipleship curriculum for the church, home, and school (children and youth). John has written several books, including Children’s Ministry 101, Established in the Faith, and Learn it, Love it, Live it, Teach it.. (a 365-day children’s devotional).  He also does a weekly podcast called Biblical Counseling Today, dealing with individual, marriage, and parenting problems. John and his wife, Martie, have eight children, four sons-in-law, and four grandchildren.

Burress McCombe loves living in the Shenandoah Valley and has had the privilege of serving there at Covenant Presbyterian Church, Harrisonburg, VA as the Pastor of Worship. Burress also takes great joy in being a husband and a dad. He cares deeply for the church and desires to be a part of aiding the church in singing rich, biblically sound theology. He enjoys playing guitar, running, laughing and being bald.

Joe Parker is the Family Pastor at Atlanta Westside Presbyterian Church. For the past 30 years he has served in church plants to large size churches, from inner city to suburban settings. He has a passion for relationally engaging both our covenant as well as our community families with the gospel, equipping adults to disciple our next generation in such a way they grow to become Christ-changed, hope-filled, productive adults. Joe is head over heels in love with his wife Kelly for nearly 20 years, and are parents of their adopted boys Jacob and Makiah.

Dana Russell has been a member of Christ the King Church in Cambridge, MA for 25 years and has volunteered in the children’s ministry since its beginnings when the first children were born into the congregation. Her early years of service were spent on the nursery committee and teaching Sunday School at multiple grade levels. Dana has served as the Children’s Ministry Director since 2013 and is passionate about equipping teachers and parents in guiding and growing children in faith. She and her husband, Greg, an elder at CTK, are currently navigating raising three teenaged girls.

Becky Sinclair serves as the nursery coordinator for Oconee Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and serves on the Children’s Ministry Team for the PCA. She has a passion for teaching children God’s Word and training those involved in children’s ministry. Becky loves spending time with her husband, David, their children, and 5 grandchildren. Her hobbies include knitting, crocheting, and making cards.

B.A. Snider has more than 20 years’ experience as a children’s director in churches ranging in size from 200 to 4,000 but finds her passion is the same no matter how many children she’s serving. Show the children Jesus. Teach the kids all of the Bible so they see that the stories from the Old Testament point to Jesus and that the New Testament shows how Jesus fulfilled God’s promises—yesterday, today, and forever. B.A. began her formal ministry as a children’s director and consultant in 1993, but she has taught and led music for children since she was in junior high school. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Tennessee and taught college until the Lord called her to seminary and full-time ministry. She graduated with a master’s degree in Christian Education from Columbia International University. Speaking at conferences, consulting with leadership, and training teachers brought her to Great Commission Publications ( in 2014 as the Children’s Ministry Consultant and Marketing Director.

Laney Stayton – In one way or another, children’s ministry has been a part of Laney’s life,  starting as the child of a pastor and missionary, then through volunteering at her local church as a young adult, and now as a mom of three. After taking a quick detour as a certified shorthand reporter in Texas, the Lord called her to serve as the children’s ministry director of North Shore Fellowship in Chattanooga, TN. She has always had a love for children and desire to help them grow in their understanding of God through His Word, and she loves the opportunity her current role gives to welcome multi-generations to do the same.

Laura Tucker is the Children’s Ministry Director at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, AL. Laura grew up in the church and spent many summers there and at camp preparing her for a children’s ministry full of fun activities and time in God’s Word. Laura served as the nursery director before her role over preschool and elementary students. She is married and has three children who keep her involved in volunteer ministry to the youth as well. She enjoys time at the lake, playing tennis and cheering on the Dawgs.

Lisa Updike is the Director of Children’s Ministries at Covenant in Harrisonburg, VA and doesn’t remember a day when she didn’t love Jesus. Her ministry experience includes teaching, special education, leading children’s choirs, and writing. Several of her books and curriculum are available through the PCA bookstore. She and her husband, Kevin, have been married since 1989 and are blessed with 4 adult children, 3 of whom joined their family through adoption. Lisa and Kevin stay busy with church activities, creating art,  and best of all, doting on their two grandsons.



New this year…our workshops will be grouped by category. You can still select any workshop to attend, but you will understand the content by seeing these 6 categories.

Getting Started (New Leaders)

  • Children’s Ministry 101 (Bethany Belue, Laney Stayton) – Looking for the tools and structure to build a well-rounded ministry with the long view in mind? We have the perfect resource for you. Join Bethany Belue and Laney Stayton as we walk through the CM 101 book. Together we will learn more on where to begin, how to set a mission for your ministry, how to recruit and train volunteers, how to choose curriculum, and much more! Whether you are brand new to your role in children’s ministry or looking to refresh your ministry this workshop will offer encouraging and practical ideas to help you along the way.
  • Diapers to Diplomas and Beyond (B.A. Snider) – When looking at the long view of discipleship there is nothing more important than teaching the Bible to our children at every age level, choosing the right curriculum for each age group. Choosing the right curriculum for your church can be a daunting task at times. This workshop will look at the most important questions to ask as you look at all of the curriculums and try to make a decision as to which ones best meet the needs of your children and your church. Also, we will look briefly at how best to blend with your youth staff in continuing this teaching beyond the children’s level by planning a long view scope and sequence.
  • Forming the Foundation for Long-term Faithfulness (Jimmy Brock) – Many of our thoughts, decisions, and actions throughout our life are fundamentally shaped by our worldview and research shows that a child’s worldview is largely shaped by the time they turn 13. Come learn and discuss the why, what, and how of shaping a Biblical worldview in the children we serve.

PCA 101

  • The Sacraments, really? (Joe Parker) – Come find out how to teach the parents in your church the significance of the sacraments. Why do we baptize our children as infants? Why is communion more than a snack for your children? Why is this important? How do I as a children’s director help guide parents in understanding just how important this truth is for their family?

  • Covenant Theology – The Foundation for Ministry to Children (Sue Jakes) – Can you explain covenant theology? After this workshop you will be able to explain it to the children of your church. It is the heart of our gospel message, the foundation for the methods we use to communicate the gospel, and the motivation to never cease telling the children the Promise of God.

  • How Catechisms Provide a Map for Understanding the Bible (Becky Sinclair & B.A. Snider) – In her book Give Them Truth, Starr Meade writes, “We teach doctrine as our children grow up, rather than after they have grown up, because failure to teach sound doctrine results in children learning unsound doctrine.” She cites theologians Charles Hodge, Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, J.I. Packer and G. I. Williamson to demonstrate the usefulness of catechism instruction, and how it can enhance Bible study by providing a map that gives insight into Biblical truths. In this workshop, we will explain how the catechism can become a map for Scripture and talk about the different ways that the catechism can function as a “center” or “interval” of a lesson plan. We will use First Catechism to play games and explore memory tools to be used at home and church.

Personal Growth

  • Co-laboring with Your People: Staff, Volunteers, and Committees (John Kwasny) – As one of my pastors once told me: “Ministry would be easy if it wasn’t for all the people.”  Christians are commanded to serve together in unity, with the goal of building up the body of Christ. But sometimes this can be quite a challenge for us. Join me as we discuss strategies to work with your people: collaborating rather than working in isolation, communicating well within an efficient system.
  • Beyond Self-care: Taking Care of Yourself in a Self-sacrificial Way (John Kwasny) – Working in any aspect of church ministry as a leader will take its toll physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually. The culture tells us that we must learn to take care of ourselves before we can care well for others. How does this concept fit with the Biblical call to self-sacrifice and dying to self? Let’s talk about a more gospel-driven way to engage in much-needed self-care.
  • Power of Priorities: Thinking Beyond the Immediate Needs (Laura Tucker) – Keeping the long view of discipleship while focusing on the needs within your children’s ministry. We can often lose sight of our long-term desires for the children and families within our care when we get overwhelmed and hyper-focused on programming and the daily tasks that need to happen weekly. How can we as ministry leaders keep our eyes fixed on the long view of discipleship? Let’s talk practical tips for casting & keeping our ministry vision, remembering the whys, and setting priorities to keep our ministry running the distance, not sprinting, and sputtering out!

Relational Engagement

  • Engaging Children Today to Flourish in Faith and Life Tomorrow (Mary Elizabeth Burton) – We believe that our children are incredibly important members of our covenant community, but do we (their church family) engage them in a way that teaches them to believe this truth today and more deeply when they’re thirty or seventy. In this workshop, we’ll look at God’s covenant community, His command to commend His greatness to the next generation and explore the important role intergenerational connectedness has to play in the success of passing off a sustainable faith that leads to flourishing.
  • Discipleship Through Relationship & Relationship Among Disciples (Bethany Belue and Lisa Updike) – In this two-in-one workshop, we will explore how adults can help children connect in relationships through small groups in order to best disciple the children in our ministries. We will also explore activities that both reinforce teaching and build relationships among the children we disciple. This workshop will help give overall vision along with practical ideas for your ministry. Come ready to interact and have fun together!
  • Creating Safe Spaces for Children and Adults (Steve Collins) – Discipling children begins with creating a safe environment and secure relationships. Child safety is one of the most important aspects of creating a safe and secure children’s ministry. Sadly, the number one reason protestant churches have gone to court for the last 12 years is child sexual abuse cases. We can’t do children’s ministry today as we did ten years ago. It usually falls on the children’s ministry director to create those safe environments. This seminar will look at the importance of thorough and functional child safety policies and procedures. Whether you are just starting to write or need to refresh current documents, this seminar will give you some helpful tools and resources.

Classroom Helps

  • Teaching Strategies to Support Mixed Ability Classrooms (Ashley Belknap) – We want all children to learn God’s Word and grow in their understanding of who God is and what He has done for us through the gospel. How can teachers simultaneously and effectively address a wide range of learning needs in the classroom? This workshop will focus on strategies for the whole classroom. You will walk away with the tools you need to teach the Bible to students of all levels of ability.
  • Help them Learn to Lead and Teach (Sue Jakes) – How do you know you have “made” a disciple? Copying the Western world’s educational system, we tend to teach, teach, and teach some more. When do the children in your church begin to teach what they know and practice their own calling to “make disciples”? Having leadership and parents on board is key in engaging older elementary and young teens as leaders and teachers in your ministry.
  • The Long View of Missions (Mariah Cunningham) – Most missionaries serving on the field today were introduced to missions as a child. This workshop will explore the integration of missions into everyday Bible lessons. Cultivating missions into the development of our children’s Christian identity will give them a strong foundation for service to the church and towards kingdom expansion as they become the next generation to lead our churches.


  • A Nursery With a Long View (Lisa Updike and Kristen Zwanzig) – Far more than child care, nursery is discipleship of the youngest members of the covenant community. Many of us believe this, but wonder how this vision plays out in best practices for our nursery ministries.
  • Engaging Preschoolers (Katie Flores) – It’s fun to watch a preschool child play and imagine what the Lord is planning for their future. We get to watch them pretend, see their interests start to form, and learn what skills they are beginning to develop. This workshop will think through how to help preschoolers thrive at church. We will discuss helping them build habits that will carry them through many years of learning and growing at church.
  • Giving the Gospel to Elementary Aged Kids (Deborah Harrell) – Elementary aged kids (5-11 year olds) move beyond the basic plot of Bible stories and truly start to discover Jesus, the gospel and how it impacts their lives every day. This interactive workshop will help you engage your children with the Bible in new ways through discussion questions, activities, gospel-centered concepts presented in ways that help elementary aged kids understand and apply the gospel of Jesus.

Workshop Session #1:

  • Engaging Children Today to Flourish in Faith and Life Tomorrow (Mary Elizabeth Burton)
  • The Long View of Missions (Mariah Cunningham)
  • Covenant Theology – The Foundation for Ministry to Children (Sue Jakes)
  • Beyond Self-care: Taking Care of Yourself in a Self-sacrificial Way (John Kwasny)
  • Children’s Ministry 101 (Bethany Belue, Laney Stayton)
  • A Nursery With a Long View (Lisa Updike and Kristen Zwanzig)

Workshop Session #2:

  • Creating Safe Spaces for Children and Adults (Steve Collins)
  • Co-laboring with Your People: Staff, Volunteers, and Committees (John Kwasny)
  • How Catechisms Provide a Map for Understanding the Bible (Becky Sinclair & B.A. Snider)
  • Teaching Strategies to Support Mixed Ability Classrooms (Ashley Belknap)
  • Giving the Gospel to Elementary Aged Kids (Deborah Harrell)
  • Forming the Foundation for Long-term Faithfulness (Jimmy Brock)

Workshop Session #3:

  • The Sacraments, really? (Joe Parker)
  • Power of Priorities: Thinking Beyond the Immediate Needs (Laura Tucker)
  • Diapers to Diplomas and Beyond (B.A. Snider)
  • Discipleship Through Relationship & Relationship Among Disciples (Bethany Belue and Lisa Updike)
  • Help them Learn to Lead and Teach (Sue Jakes)
  • Engaging Preschoolers (Katie Flores)


Ridge Haven Conference & Retreat Center

215 Ridge Haven Road
Brevard, NC 28712


Conference Schedule and Meal Times:

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

2:00 pm: Check–In

3:00 pm: Opening Sessions

6:00 pm: Dinner

7:00 pm: Plenary Session 1

9:00 pm: Dessert Social

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

8:00 am: Breakfast and program

12:30 pm: Lunch

6:00 pm: Dinner

7:00 pm: Worship Service – Dr. Stephen Estock

9:00 pm: Dessert

Thursday, April 20, 2023

8:00 am: Breakfast and program

12:00 pm:  Lunch

1:00 pm:  Departure

It’s a curvy and mountainous ride to Ridge Haven, but once you’re there it’s beautiful!

Here are some things to note about transportation:

  • Best airports:
    • Greenville-Spartanburg (GSP) – About 1-1/2 hours from Ridge Haven
    • Asheville (AVL) – About 1 hour from Ridge Haven
    • Charlotte (CLT) – About 2-1/2 hours from Ridge Haven
    • Atlanta (ATL) – About 4 hours from Ridge Haven
  • There are no hotel shuttles and no Uber from airports to Ridge Haven.
  • Even though it may say 25 miles, it will take you a lot longer than you think because of the mountain roads.

Directions to Ridge Haven: Click on this link and print out directions ahead of time…you will want to have a hard copy of them in case you lose cell service in the mountains.

Covid Precautions: Please see Ridge Haven’s website with updated Covid guidelines. We will have a pre-screening arrival form to be completed (as well as Ridge Haven’s standard waiver that everyone will sign). Ridge Haven follows the mandates from the State of North Carolina.

Medical Release: With registration, the attendee agrees and acknowledges they are participating in the conference on their own free will. While CDM and the venue work to provide the safest possible environment for the events, the attendee acknowledges freely and knowingly that as a result of their registration and participation, they hereby assume responsibility for their own well-being and safety, releasing CDM and the venue of any harm. Furthermore, CDM and the venue assume no liability for an injury or death of an individual participating in an event if such injury or death results from the inherent risks of contracting COVID-19. The participant assumes all risk when attending the event.

COVID-19 CONSIDERATIONS: I understand that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused potential dangers incidental to my participation in this Program, and that I may unknowingly be exposed to an individual who is carrying the virus. In light of this pandemic, I knowingly, willingly, and voluntarily agree to assume the risk of contracting the virus, and to hold CDM and the facility harmless from any exposure I may have to the virus while participating in the Program. I further agree that, if I am diagnosed with the virus or exhibit any symptoms associated with the virus within the 14-day period prior to the Program, I voluntarily will not participate in the Program.