When I heard that this would be the end of the Tulsa Soul Winning Workshop, I was somewhat shocked.
While I understand that workshops, conferences, events, and seminars have a life cycle, it is still, to me, the death of a good friend.
The workshop had been held for over 41 years and brought not only inspiration, but unity to the churches of Christ. Having spent many years living and doing ministry in the Midwest, attending this workshop was something we looked forward to. My first experience was in 1986 when, as a youth minister, our church leaders took a group, including youth, to this massive event. The workshop was held at the Tulsa Expo Center and I can remember the gigantic building full of booths, multiple stages for preaching, and even the larger auditoriums where we attended other main events. I remember sleeping in a large expo building on cots, under heat lamps, with some of the boys in my youth group. We showered in the livestock barns and stayed up late talking about what we wanted to do when we returned home to build the youth group. I remember caravans of buses to Casa Bonita where we had all you can eat Mexican food and people sang church songs while waiting in line. I remember hearing some of the most impactful preaching concerning reaching lost people, building youth groups, strengthening bus ministries (that were always barely hanging on), and dealing with sin in our lives and hearts. As a young man and minister, some of the most impactful lessons in my life were given at that workshop. I heard Richard Rogers, Marvin Philips, Jeff Walling, Terry Rush, Jeff Walling, Willie Franklin, Max Lucado, Rubel Shelly, Jim McGuiggan, and many others. Often my friends from Sunset School of Preaching would talk over lunch about Cline Payden’s famous “Movements That Begin in Caves and Die in Cathedrals.” I even remember hearing Kip McKean from what was known as The Boston Movement being asked to speak—even though it was considered a controversial move.
It was a major influence on my life and ministry.
When Lori and I married, we traveled that March to the workshop as a couple; and no we did not sleep or shower in the places I had with the youth. For years we traveled with the next church where I preached. As we introduced those elders and members to the workshop, we continued the tradition of caravanning to Tulsa, buying tapes of the talks to share, eating at Casa Bonita, and returning with plans to reach out to people who needed Jesus.
The interesting thing about Tulsa—most of the things we learned there worked when we took them home.
As I moved to Oregon I was unable to attend as frequently. I would occasionally make the trip to work a ministry booth or, as had been my hopes, was able to speak during one of the many sessions.
Now, I am saddened to hear of the death of a good friend. This friend helped me more than many and offered me not only inspiration, but practical advice on how to help people come to know Christ, go to church, and grow in ministry as leaders. I reflect on the years of wisdom I learned at the TSWW and realize, even now, I continue to practice some of the things I heard and learned as a young man.
What we learned worked because we heard it from men and women who were practitioners.
Now, things are different. Most of the conferences I attend deal in the academic realm and offer insights into scriptures, texts, and contexts. Occasionally I have attended larger church plant conferences such as Exponential, which offer stories but somewhat different than TSWW. Yet, mostly I attend, speak, and organize seminars that deal with a deeper look into the Sacred Texts.
I am not being critical—these are very important and I am blessed by attending or being involved in them.
Yet when I return home I am enlightened. However the TSSW provided me not only with wisdom, but practical tools to reach people in my community.
In some way, I feel as if I am sharing my thoughts about a loved friend at a funeral. As I save this file and think about reading it I find myself a little numb.
Some funerals we attend we leave numb, confused, and maybe asking why. TSWW was young, vibrant, yet we all saw declining numbers. I guess I could admit I didn’t visit my friend in the declining years—yet that is what miles do to a relationship. I may ask if I should have done more to connect, but the reality is that our country is witnessing a larger number of people leaving faith communities. Even worse, we are witnessing a larger number of people watch it happen. Soul Winning is no longer trendy (if it ever was) and maybe a little Politically Incorrect.
As I leave the funeral some will say, “Don’t worry—God has a plan…” or “All things work together…”
I don’t believe any of it.
Others might suggest, “We will be fine…” or “It will all work out in the end…”
I’m just numb. Numb because I wonder if we can ever replace this with something that reaches people, and passionately offers us the tools to share our faith and baptize people. It is something disciples can do (John 4:1).
I don’t know what the future holds but I’m thankful I was able to visit TSWW and even participate. God has impacted my life through this friend.
We will move on—but it will not be the same.