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Christian Union

Croston ’81 Is a National Director for Lifeway Resources 

By Catherine Elvy, Staff Writer

 

PartneringwPastorsUniversity of Pennsylvania alumnus is using his dynamic ministerial skills to help pastors thrive as they meet the needs of African-American congregants.

Mark Croston ’81 serves as national director for Black and Western Church Partnerships of LifeWay Christian Resources. The Tennessee-based organization ranks among the world’s top Christian resource providers, though it recently announced plans to shift from brick and mortar stores to online operations. LifeWay, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, continues to stock major retailers with inspirational materials.'

In 2013, Croston left a lengthy pastoral career to join the LifeWay team, where he heads efforts to support and resource African-American churches.  

 LifeWay’s Black Church Life division offers a variety of training, conferences, and study materials. In addition to supporting African-American pastors, Croston also serves churches in the western portion of the United States. Given his duties, the father of four and grandfather of two is on the road about 120 days per year.

 

Many pastors welcome strategies for growing their congregations, and they want resources and information on trends shaping the lives of parishioners, especially among the younger generations. “They want to know what’s happening in the world of faith,” he said.  

“Pastors are hungry for new ideas and tools to help them to be successful at pushing people to become deeper disciples of Jesus Christ.”

As such, Croston spends hours perusing data generated by LifeWay’s research division to glean information and concepts to help pastors to engage with teens and young adults better.Croston is the editor of LifeWay’s YOU curriculum, which focuses on offering biblical training to urban and multicultural believers, and the author of Big Results: Sunday School & Black Church Life.

Previously, the Philadelphia native served as a senior pastor at East End Baptist Church in Virginia’s Hampton Roads region. After sensing a strong spiritual calling to LifeWay, Croston left his beloved church of 26 years and relocated to Tennessee. Such a move was bittersweet as the congregation was readily pursuing a building project for its growing body of 900-plus members.

At LifeWay, Croston helps African-American churches assess their goals and determine how the organization can help meet their needs, especially in terms of discipleship materials and church supplies. LifeWay, which dates back to 1891, originally operated as the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Croston holds a doctor of ministry degree from Virginia Union University with a concentration in Christian education in the African-American church. In 2012, he was president of both the Baptist General Association of Virginia and the Virginia Baptist State Convention Inc., which describes itself as Virginia’s oldest African-American Baptist organization.

Though Croston misses the deep friendships he formed at East End Baptist, he finds fulfillment in supporting pastors. African-American churches have long served as the backbone of their communities and as veritable wellsprings of inspiration, healing, and restoration to churchgoers. 

Croston’s position at LifeWay also allows him to enjoy abundant speaking and teaching opportunities. His career has taken him to nearly 40 countries for preaching and missions endeavors.

Interestingly enough, the computer science engineering major felt called to ministry during a campus revival at Penn, where he served as president of the University of Pennsylvania Gospel Choir. The group was a forerunner to New Spirit of Penn Gospel Choir (facebook.com/newspiritofpenn). Croston went on to work as a systems engineer for IBM until 1984 when he began graduate studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky.

An annual highlight for Croston is overseeing LifeWay’s Black Church Leadership and Family Conference, described as the largest gathering of African Americans in the Southern Baptist Convention. This year’s event, slated for July 22 to 26 at Ridgecrest Conference Center in Western North Carolina, will mark the twenty-sixth such conference for LifeWay.    
 

The 2019 theme will center upon ministry to all generations. More than 300 churches regularly attend, bringing 1,000-plus participants. During the conference, Croston will try to build upon a cultural tradition of devotion to Scriptures.

Indeed, a recent survey showed that African Americans have higher levels of engagement with the Bible than the general U.S. population, according to the American Bible Society’s 2018 State of the Bible.

As such, Croston hopes to expand upon a community legacy of biblical faithfulness. “Part of that lineage is passing stories down and holding onto the stories by reading them, over and over again,” he said.

More importantly, Croston is committed to pointing people of all backgrounds to the good news of the Gospel message. “His blood was shed, and we are saved by grace,” Croston said.