Tulsa Workshop: Melancholy Memories

Part of a crowd some time at Tulsa Workshop

I have to admit to being a bit melancholy. Today I got a notice in my email from a calendar entry. It’s time to go to Tulsa for the Tulsa Workshop. Only, the workshop is no more. Anyone who knows me well knows I live for this yearly family reunion and revival all rolled into one. I don’t blame the leaders for letting it go… the vital signs have been headed downward for a while now. But it’s hard not to miss this. And the truth is that there isn’t anything in the Spring within driving distance that can replace it.

There’s a temptation to kind of slosh through a lot of old memories at this point but I’ll spare you. I’ve written about the International Soul Winning Workshop  so many times (see some links below).

John Robert on a snowy day at Tulsa Workshop.

So many of my Tulsa memories are blended with memories of my family making the trek to Tulsa. Maggy, Nicole and John Robert and some of his friends would often go to the workshop. Can you imagine that John Robert  had no problem missing most of the week of school to go? He didn’t mind at all. And we didn’t either. We placed a high value on his education, but the spiritual experience of the workshop was of great value to us and to him. Even so, there’s a long list of names I associate with the workshop. Not just the speakers, but the friends that we would only see once a year. That was especially valuable in the days before Facebook! Do you remember those days? Barely.

I’d just like to say thanks to everyone who helped make Tulsa Workshop the wonderful experience it was. Under the fire of critics and armchair quarterbacks, these men and women made sure it all happened. At the helm for so many years Marvin Phillips and Terry Rush led the way. I was in awe of them and I still am. We worshiped with such joy under the leadership of many, but none more than Jerome Williams and later Shane Coffman and those that sang with them. It felt healthy to see the older coaches step aside and see Wade Hodges and Shane Coffman and Jason Thornton assume the roles leading the workshop. I know each of them would recognize an army of volunteers and helpers but those were the faces we saw.

On those stages I heard some of the most amazing preaching I’ve ever heard. I would be wrong to try to list them – but I can’t help a little. In addition to Marvin and Terry are such memories. The night Stanley Shipp preached with such passion. Jimmy Allen made such a powerful speech under the influence of one of his well known headaches that he was interrupted several times … and some were unhappy with some things he said, but he said them with full assurance! I heard Richard Rogers’ last presentation at Tulsa. He died before the next workshop came around. Mid McKnight – oh I’m so glad I had a chance to hear him. Jeff Walling, how did he do that every-single-year? Jim McGuiggan said one of the most memorable things I’ve ever heard on a stage in the pavilion. Don DeWelt – thank God Marvin had the courage to tear down that wall and bring that brother (along with other Christian Church brothers like Bob Russell) to Tulsa. I still have a lot of tapes and maybe one day I’ll figure out how to put them to .mp3 so others can hear them.

Well now I’ve just started rambling with Tulsa memories so I’m going to close that down before this post gets out of hand. Yes, I’m a bit melancholy that I won’t be gathering with friends old and new and hearing the gospel with them … but I’m happy too. There are a lot of smiles and much warmth in the memories flooding my mind right now.

As I mentioned above here are some links to a few other posts where I talked about Tulsa Workshop on this blog in past years. Thanks for reading. Feel free to share your Tulsa memories in the comments if so moved.  JD

International Soul Winning Workshop – March 4, 2008

Sharing a Few Video Moments from Tulsa Workshop – March 29, 2008

Thursday in Tulsa – March 23, 2007

Friday at Tulsa – March 24, 2007

Tulsa and the Trajectory of My Faith Journey – April 8, 2014



Tulsa Reflections


Attending Tulsa Workshop over the past thirty years has been an exceptionally wonderful experience. I’ve often wished I could get our whole church to attend because of the amazing amount of inspiration and information that takes place there. As a young minister attending the workshop I always thought that it would be a high point to be asked to participate in the presentations. Having been asked several times now, it really is one of the great blessings I have enjoyed.

There are so many thoughts as I consider the great experience at Tulsa this week that I’m sure I cannot name them all. But here are a few brief reflections.

Marvin Phillips was unable to be present because of health. It was the 40th Tulsa Workshop and I know he would have liked to have been there. Marvin Phillips and Terry Rush are the iconic figures associated with the workshop. My prayers are with Marvin and his family as his health struggles grow.

Meeting several people who I only knew via Facebook. Since Facebook took over our lives I have ‘met’ so many ‘friends’ and in print they seem to be such delightful people. It was a joy to connect with them in person and realize that you feel you already know one another. The ‘family reunion‘ ambiance of the workshop is such an inviting factor. There are some friends I only see once a year. I just wouldn’t miss it if I could help it!

Reuniting with Katrina Heroes. Among those I get to visit with are people who came to our rescue after Katrina. This year that was especially memorable as I visited with Canadian friends Charlie and Linda Whitfield. They came in a camper and spent several weeks helping out … and as we noted, it was ten years ago this month. Our conversation took right up where it left off. Chatting with Seth Simmons and others who came to help us was just a joy.

The speakers were top shelf, both challenging and informative. The classes and presentations I attended were excellent. It would be hard to say which one was best – because they all captured my attention and drew me to the Word. I’m glad they record these so I can listen later and gain even more from the lessons given.

These are my people. I know there are other great conferences out there with lots of blue lights, smoke machines, loud bands and well known evangelical speakers. Fair enough. But these are my people. When I hear them speak, I understand their framework. Even if I disagree with a point, I know they love the Church of Christ. When someone from outside our ‘tribe’ is invited to speak they have done so with great respect and I appreciated hearing a different perspective. I sometimes attend conferences outside of our fellowship, but when I do I realize that our folks do not come in second when it comes to presenting message and content.

There is one thing I do not like about Tulsa Workshop. Each year the crowd appears to grow a little smaller. The advent of the internet has given us the capability to hear these speakers on a weekly basis if we choose. There might be a thousand varied reasons why people do not come to Tulsa in the numbers that they used to, but it still makes me sad. There is no experience like sitting in the pavilion and lifting your voice with thousands of others in praise to God. The atmosphere is electric. It really energizes the spirit! If you have not been to Tulsa… or it’s been a while … I invite you to put it on your calendar.

For four decades now Tulsa Workshop has provided the talking points for our brotherhood. The workshop has made people mad and made people celebrate. I’ve probably felt both over the years! But one thing the workshop has taught me is that my brothers and sisters might not all think exactly alike on every issue, but they all love King Jesus and will join together to worship Him! I hope you’ll plan to attend next year’s Tulsa Workshop, March 23-26. The Theme is From Darkness to Light: Stones Rolled Away. Can’t wait!

Order your CDs and DVDs and MP3s HERE.

For more about Tulsa Workshop from it’s participants, check out (and ‘like’) the Facebook Page and Twitter Feed.

Note: The Tulsa Workshop faced a significant deficit this year. God will provide … and perhaps He will move you to help? If so, go to Tulsa Workshop website (HERE) and click DONATE. Thanks for joining me in helping keep Tulsa Workshop a great experience for generations to come.  JD

Small Groups and Exasperated Leaders


Small Groups: A Refreshing Approach for Exasperated Leaders is the title for a presentation at the Tulsa Workshop, Saturday March 21 at 2:00. Audio will be added soon. Many of the ideas expressed here came from a survey conducted in February 2015 of small group leaders across the country. Some specific survey results are listed at the end of this post. Also I asked for book suggestions for small group leaders and those are listed at the end of this post as well.  ~JD


If you are discouraged with your small group ministry, remember:

*There are no perfect small groups.

*There is no one way to do small groups.

*There is no guarantee that this is going to engulf your church in a perfect storm of fellowship and evangelism.

*Everybody in your church will not embrace small groups.

*The breakthrough you’re hoping for is both spectacular and short-lived.

Other than that, small groups are awesome!

Why Do Small Groups Exasperate Leaders?

According to those who took my survey, a majority of respondents are exasperated because group members do not attend consistently. Other areas of frustration are the number of non-participants in the church and the lack of evangelistic effort within the groups. Other sources of frustration given were:

*Senior Leadership that does not promote or encourage groups

*Leadership that attempts to micromanage groups

*It’s hard to find Substitute leaders

*Childcare is a difficult problem to solve

*Best scheduling for participation

*Unwillingness of group members to birth new groups

*Finding willing hosts

All small groups will face some of those problems. 

– One Dozen Ways to Overcome Exasperation In Small Group Ministry –

1. Prayer, meditation, and time in the Word. It’s hard to lead a group into spiritual life if we do not have it ourselves. In her book Soul-Shaping Small Groups, Kim Engelmann suggests that this should be the major component of our group meetings.

Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert in this with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints. ~Ephesians 6:18

2. Spend Time With Other Ministry Leaders. There is value to talking with another, more experienced leader.

Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another. ~Proverbs 27:17

3. Realize that God has the people here that need to be here.  This is God’s ministry to those in need, not mine. This gives me time to give extra attention to those who need it. Don’t be addicted to the success story, be addicted to the ministry story.

The household of Stephanas … “have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints…” ~1 Corinthians 16:15 (KJV)

4. Talk with the group about consistency – it’s possible that they haven’t really considered how important each one of them is. To hear from someone who is is a friend about how important the meetings are can make an impact.

And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near. ~ Hebrews 10:24-25

5. Explore Social Connections.  If you have opportunity, spend some time with group members one on one. The basis of small group ministry is relationships – and the connections we have are very powerful. Loving one another is key.

Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved. ~ Acts 2:46-47

6. Persevere!  All ministry efforts require a moderate (and sometimes extreme) amount of perseverance.

…We rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. ~Romans 5:3-4

7. Take a Break. The Sabbath Principle is often not practiced by Small Group Leaders. It’s hard to find someone to take your place. A break could take different forms: A break from the meeting one night a month.  A break from the usual setting – meet somewhere different. Ideally you should be able to be a regular Small Group member for a season.

Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. ~Matthew 11:28-29

8. Consider the Needs Being Met.  What you are doing is vitally important – more so to some individuals. What spiritual maturity has been enhanced because of your work? In what ways has the group grown in effectiveness and strength under your leadership. Your small group provides a place for those who may feel like ‘outsiders’.

And we exhort you, brothers: warn those who are irresponsible, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyone. ~1 Thessalonians 5:14

9. Self-Care.  If you burn out in your ministry efforts, more people will be hurt than helped. Resist the temptation to do too much. Exercise, take care of yourself, let the group go for a bit if you need to. Refresh and Feed yourself … in order to encourage others.

10. Move beyond the group into everyday life.  Service projects, mission trips, attending conferences together. Break up the routine.

11. Remember that the seeds you are planting today God will produce fruit for many years to come.  Sometimes it takes years to see the result. Over time the impact of your group will be immeasurable.

12. Realize that it’s OK to be frustrated. Do you know WHY you are frustrated? The group has purpose and needs, and those do not come easy. The group is not about you, it’s about helping each other follow Christ more closely.

Conclusion:  Remember that Jesus’ small group was probably just as frustrating!

– Survey Results –

Small Group Leaders from Across the U.S. took a survey in February 2015. Survey Results:

84 Small Group Leaders Took Survey.  40% have been leading a group less than 4 years. 60% over 4 years.

What is the Typical Content of Your Group Studies?

* 29% Books designed for Small Groups

*30% The Bible

*27% Sermon-Based Groups

What is the Number One Frustration You Have as a Small Group Leader?

39% Group Members that Do not attend consistently

18% The number of non-participants in church

17% Lack of evangelistic effort in group

Priority of Prayer in Group Meetings?

*30% Very High – prayer takes a significant portion of meeting

*49% Medium – pray together a few times during meeting, mentioning specific needs

*15% Low – not a major component of meetings

This is a combination of two similar questions: When you encounter frustration about your group, can you briefly name one or two things that refocus your energies? / What would you say to small group leaders who are tired and frustrated with their duties? There were 59 Responses, these are the top three:

27 said: Take a break – sometimes we do things for a season. Maybe even ask someone to take the lead one night a month. / enjoy being a group member for a season. / No group should be dependent on just one leader. / Smaller churches often struggle with this./ do less so someone else can step up / Recruit others to lead.

25 said: Prayer / meditation / time in the Word / ask God if he has really called you to this ministry? / pray for each member by name

15 said:  Talking with another, more experienced leader. / discussing with co-leaders. / Encouragement from other leaders. Doing things on my self-care plan. / let’s struggle together and encourage one another. / spend time with someone who can mentor you in this area.

These and other responses were used throughout this presentation.

– Book Recommendations – 

One more question: If you could pick one book about small groups to give to all group leaders, what would it be? Here are some of the suggestions that related to small group ministry, with some additional selections as well:




Thanks for reading and especially if you gave me the honor of spending time in my session. I am grateful. JD

Tulsa and the Trajectory of My Faith Journey


Listening to Douglas Young talk about his faith journey at Tulsa Workshop really touched my heart.  I could really identify as he told his story about being a self-righteous young man ready to take on anyone in the brotherhood who disagreed with him.  It so happened that the person in his sights was Jim Woodroof.  Jim’s gracious response became a turning point that really didn’t take hold for a few years.  I could tell you the story, but it’s Doug’s story to tell.  I hope you will buy his message and listen to it a few times. I plan to do so. But Doug’s testimony was one that had me thinking back in time to my own faith journey – and the central role that the Tulsa Workshop played (back then it was known as the International Soul Winning Workshop, which I like better – even though everyone just called it ‘Tulsa Workshop’).

It’s been a long time ago but I believe my first trip to the Tulsa Workshop would have been in 1986. I believe I rode out to the Workshop with my friend Gary Henderson. I didn’t know what to expect, but  it  certainly was an exciting experience.

But that doesn’t mean I liked it a lot. I was, at first, uncomfortable with all that hand clapping. Then there were the loud amens, singing groups, and the variety of speakers there that I recognized as being some of those questionable brothers I’d been reading about in Contending For The Faith.

I wasn’t the only one that was uncomfortable. I remember one night during a rousing worship led by Jerome Williams or maybe it was Booker … with lots of clapping and hand raising and a brother from Mississippi with whom I was acquainted was quite vexed in the hallway of the Pavilion wringing his hands and saying, “I can’t believe they call THAT worship!”. Well, I know you might be smiling but some of us grew up quite conservative! I wish I had kept the programs over the years to know who was preaching that year.

I continued to go each year because of the irresistible combination of spending the time with friends, great connections made in all the booths with tables full of books, coming home with a notebook full of ideas, and quite enjoying that singing with thousands of Christians.

Personalities also drew me there. When Marvin Phillips hit the stage I had never seen or heard anything like it.  I thought we might need seat belts on those chairs! Terry Rush, Richard Rogers, Jim McGuiggan, Jeff Walling … these men (and others) became my preaching heroes. True, I had beloved mentors that I loved back home. But out in mid-America I was seeing a new spirit. I bought tapes and listened to them over and over. Long before there were podcasts there were cassette tape subscriptions.

I wasn’t alone. The energetic evangelistic emphasis had ministers young and old going home … and sometimes inadvertently causing trouble. We started to hear sermons at Workshop like, “How to Build a Fire Without Burning the House Down!

Reuel Lemmons was a treasure. But in my early years of going to Tulsa Workshop I remember accidentally going to one of his classes. As soon as I realized he was teaching, I got up and left. I remember saying, “You can never tell what’s going to come out of him next.” How I wish I had a more humble heart in my younger years and could have listened to this visionary brother. Years later he would edit Image Magazine and I would begin to appreciate him more.

I believe it was in 1990 when I had my own Jim Woodroof moment as I bought and read The Church in Transition. I didn’t like it when I first read it. But I kept coming back to it. I began to have my eyes and heart opened a bit more. This is why I was so riveted to hear of Doug Young’s experience with Jim … I had also been exposed to some new understandings of grace from this dear brother!

I married in 1987 and often my wife, and later my children, went to Tulsa with me. And it was a dream of mine to be able to participate as a teacher on the program. That dream became a reality … twice … and each time at the hands of a disaster. The first, was after Katrina destroyed our town in Pascagoula, MS. On a Wednesday night at Memorial Drive Church of Christ Terry Rush asked me to speak. At the last minute I asked him if my son, John Robert,  could lead a song. It was risky for them, but I knew he would do a great job. He led Lord Reign In Me from underneath a mop of long hair.  It was a special moment for him, and for me. That night I testified to the power of unity with Christians of various faith families in our recovery efforts. A young couple were in the audience that night … they came to meet me … and ended up moving to Pascagoula to do recovery work for a long time. The next time I was invited to speak at the Workshop was after John Robert died, and I talked about grief recovery.

So, significant life events are etched into my memory in connection with the Tulsa Workshop. The workshop has changed over the years. I go home with notes, but most of them are Bible study notes, not the practical church growth ‘hey try this at home‘ type notes. The crowd isn’t quite as large as it was in the day, but it’s still plenty big.  When I first started going individuals led the singing, then professional singing groups, now praise teams from across the country (and in Tulsa). But the basic subtext is the same. Get a lot of Christians together, preach the Word, stretch our faith, fellowship, eat, pray, sing, and talk until you can’t go any longer, then head home.

Thanks, Doug, for reminding me that there are many influences that assist us on our journey from self-assured dogmatism into the freedom of grace and truth. Tulsa Workshop has had a large influence in my own life and faith for many years. That experience joins several others … significant people and experiences through which God has molded me into the person I am today. I’m sure I would be much farther along if I had only yielded more of myself to Him. For whatever good there is in me, God gets all the credit.  As for the rest of me, grace and mercy emerge.

Thanks for reading, JD

Tulsa Workshop Notes 2

Tulsa Workshop Wednesday Night Begining

Tulsa Workshop Wednesday Night Beginning

A previous post on some notes taken at Tulsa Workshop can be found HERE.

Les Ferguson, Jr. had three presentations on the subject of overcoming doubt. They were all excellent. Here are some notes from his first one.

*Faith and doubt are two sides of the same coin.

*some circumstances make it hard to believe, hard to answer basic questions.

*The pews of our churches are filled with people awaiting unknowns from God.

*Doubt can lead us to a better relationship with God.

*Hebrews 11 has the great stories of faith … did any of these people ever struggle with doubt? In Genesis 15 Abraham, Father of the Faithful, questioned God.

*Doubt is a normal reaction to the events of life.

(Les also let it be known that he is looking for a church to work with as a preacher. If you would be interested in talking to this outstanding man of God, contact him via his blog HERE.)


Keith Roberts had a class on the Cost of an Authentic Prayer Life. He emphasized that the efforts to be consistent and growing in prayer do have costs associated with them. He emphasized the intercessions of God that are continuously going on. He talked about how Jesus intercedes for us, demonstrating that we are known by Him. He also mentioned the Holy Spirit interceding for us with groans that words cannot express. Even in heaven there are the prayers of the saints being offered up (Revelation 5:8 ff, 6:9 ff, 8:1-3).  He concluded that we can approach God with freedom and confidence, knowing that all of heaven is interested in our prayers.

(Keith has an outstanding Prayer Seminar that he has conducted across the country. His book Why God Waits For You to Pray is inspirational! In addition, he conducts the annual Prayer Enrichment Workshop in Calhoun, LA which is always a blessing.)

You can order these and other messages from Tulsa Workshop HERE.

I hope these couple of posts give you an idea of the kind of great classes and sessions are available at Tulsa Workshop! Make your plans now to attend next year, March 18-21 when the theme will be ‘Aflame‘!

Thanks for reading,


Tulsa Workshop Notes 1

Tulsa Workshop for 2014 is now history. I am certain that I have no clue the enormous task it is to put on such an event for so many people. Giant standing ovations for Shane Coffman and the team at Memorial who made it all happen!

It would be hard to communicate all the great things my wife and I heard last week, but I decided to share a few notes I took from some classes.   You can search Twitter for all the Tulsa tweets by going HERE and searching for #tulsaw.  You can also order CDs and DVDs of Tulsa presentations HERE.

Chet McDoniel’s opening message was about as inspirational as it gets folks! A few highlights:

*God adopted us. It takes a special kind of love to adopt. It is a choice to be made.

*I don’t believe God caused me to be born without arms …

*Before you ever knew what your past was going to be, God loved you. God puts to ether the best team possible to be the hands and feet of Jesus … and you were chosen for that team.

*God intends to use your weakness to glorify Him.

*The world does not need anyone to sit on a high perch and tell them who gets in to see Jesus and who doesn’t. They need access to Jesus.

*God wants us to help other people know He wants them too.

Friday Night’s Crowd Ready to Hear the Duck Commander, Phil Robertson.


Greg Taylor interviewed  Sharon Hersh and it was a really powerful session. Her new book The Last Addiction is definitely on my ‘to read’ list. Here are some thoughts from that session.

*How can you be a Christian and love Jesus and still struggle with addiction? (a question some ask who do not understand addictions)

*Whatever is central to our lives is our god. … The most prevalent addiction in America today: video games.

*To change an addiction is like turning a river … and thus the dismal statistics of real change.

*There is something in me that needs to be rescued – we are in need of a Savior.

*What empowers us is our surrender to the Holy Spirit…. Human will acting in accordance with Divine will enables us to overcome.

*On Hiding: God misses us when we are involved in addictive behavior … our greatest struggle is to not hide or let anyone see the real me. All sorts of sin grows in the dark.

*In addiction we are saying “I want to be God…I want my world to be what I want it to be.”

*Change seldom comes through a spectacular moment.

I have some more notes to share with you in another post.

My friend Paula Harrington also shared some Tulsa Workshop thoughts from a variety of people. I think you’ll enjoy her post HERE.

Thanks for reading,