What I Learned Visiting LifeWay


A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of spending 2 days at LifeWay. I was invited, along with 20 other pastors, to attend the Pastor’s Alpha; a conference on transformation discipleship within the local church. We were assigned three books to read in preparation of the conference – Building Below The Waterline (Gordon MacDonald), Transformational Discipleship (Eric Geiger, Michael Kelly, and Philip Nation), and Creature Of The Word (Matt Chandler, Eric Geiger, and Josh Patterson). We heard from some of LifeWay’s heavy hitters including Claude King, Ed Stetzer, Todd Atkins, Micah Fries and Eric Geiger (there were many more great speakers but you may have heard of these guys before). The experience was phenomenal and I am grateful to have had this opportunity.

After having some time to process through the material, post conference, I thought I would share 10 takeaways:

1. As Southern Baptists, we have some of the greatest minds in the evangelical world on our team. I was blown away by Claude King (co-author of Experiencing God), Ed Stetzer and Eric Geiger. These men, along with many others in the SBC life, are absolutely brilliant and I’m glad they are on our side. We should thank the Lord that the SBC publishing arm is in capable hands.

2. Spending time with other pastors is refreshing and challenging. I had a blast meeting with other pastors and talking about making disciples. Too often pastors isolate themselves and lack meaningful relationships with other pastors. There are a number of reasons why this is the case (fear, rivalry, ego, etc.) but I have found that meeting with other godly pastors is a great benefit to my ministry.

3. Pastors must “build below the waterline.” The phrase “build below the waterline came from George MacDonald’s book and emphasizes the need for pastors to spend time and attention on what others do not see in their lives (their personal practice of the spiritual disciplines, sinful patterns, time management, etc.). What is in our heart will eventually come to the surface in our lives. As pastors, we must consistently cultivate our hearts with the gospel of Jesus Christ – we need to build below the waterline.

4. Churches need a clear discipleship process and it must be communicated consistently. This was probably the most impactful idea I took away from this conference – our church needs a clear discipleship process and it must be communicated clearly and consistently. I will be spending some time with our elders over the next number of weeks to hone in on what this process is and how we can center everything we do, every ministry, on this discipleship process. Many of our church members have no idea how to be disciples because we have muddied the waters through programs and bible studies galore!

5. LifeWay has some great discipleship material. I have never been a huge fan of the “discipleship” material put out by most publishing houses. Rarely does it have an overall goal or purpose and often it is hastily produced, stamped by a “big-name” Christian author or pastor and put on the shelves. While at LifeWay, we were introduced to the available curriculum as well as the purpose for which it was produced. I would venture to say that the vast majority of material LifeWay produces for small group discipleship is top-notch stuff! They are less concerned with producing quick sells and more interested in quality material that fits within an overarching vision. We left the conference with a ton of resources and I have no doubt we will use many of them at our church in the near future.

6. Pastors need to get away and assess where the church is and what needs to change. I have always heard, “You can’t see the forest for the trees,” and my trip to LifeWay made this phrase even more real in my life and ministry. Serving in the trenches of ministry can blind you to what is truly going on in your ministry. Things may be going really well or really poorly but it is difficult to get an accurate picture until you get away and reflect. This time away was refreshing and also challenging. I was able to take a look at the big picture as I was guided by many of the godly men who spoke. This was needed and I know it will be needed again.

7. All churches have difficulties. There are no perfect churches. I repeat, THERE ARE NO PERFECT CHURCHES! And the reason why is simple – there are no perfect people and people (believers) make up the church. I think this is one of the biggest struggles for people involved in the local church, including pastors. We all want to see God do something and yet we deal with issues of sin in the body of Christ. Every church has difficulties and struggles. The issue is not whether we will have difficulties but how we respond to the difficulties as they arise.

8. Pastors need to continue to learn. During my time at LifeWay, I was introduced to new books, ideas, and information. This was great for me as a pastor. I need to continue to learn and grow personally and as a pastor. I struggled in 2013 to get into a groove of learning. I did not read like I wanted to and I did not attend any conferences. Both of these failures are my fault but nonetheless, I need to make certain that I am learning and growing. Spending several days at LifeWay helped to reinforce this great need in my life and ministry.

9. We need to develop other leaders in our churches. As we worked through our church discipleship plans and the Transformational Discipleship material, one thing kept coming up – we need to develop more leaders in our churches. Often, pastors have the idea that they must do everything in the church. This usually means that the most important things do not get done. Each pastor in our group expressed the desire to train more leaders, whether for pastoral care (hospital visits), small groups, or other ministries in the church. We need to reproduce ourselves if we expect to make maximum impact in our churches.

10. Always carry a tire plug kit and air compressor. Nope, this has nothing to do with the conference or making disciples (at least that I know of). After leaving the conference, I stopped for gas right outside of Nashville. While filling up, I noticed that one of my tires looked low. Sure enough, I had a nail in my tire. Praise the Lord – I had a tire plug kit in my toolbox and an air compressor. 15 minutes later I was back on the road heading home. That sure beats having to spend an hour or two at the tire shop!

I am tremendously grateful for Dan Darling, Beth Watson, and the entire LifeWay team that made an investment in me!