The Power of an Idea by Allen Webster
Excerpted from the June 2016 issue, this article by Allen Webster chronicles the beginning and progression of Polishing the Pulpit, as well as describing the benefits it holds for every Christian.
In 1994, three preachers got together in Tiplersville, Miss., to brainstorm sermon ideas. Little did we know what God would do with that meeting in the next quarter century.
The next year, we invited a few more friends … and then others … and then still more. Eventually someone said, “This is great! We should let all preachers know about it.”
We publicized the meeting, calling it “Polishing the Pulpit,” and invited speakers to discuss sermon preparation, to give advice and to share sermon outlines. At first, the gatherings were small – approximately 50 preachers recharging their batteries. As interest increased, we invited more speakers, and PTP moved into a hotel conference area.
We dreamed big. “Let’s invite the best speakers in the brotherhood and see who we can get.” Wendell Winkler, Johnny Ramsey, Tom Holland, V.P. Black and many others came in those early days. Wives wanted in, so we added women’s classes. While these great speakers were assembled in one place, we decided to offer classes for elders. They loved it. People began coming from all over the country. Youth workers and deacons became interested, so we added tracks for them.
PTP moved to a large event center in the Smoky Mountains. Attendance approached 1,000. Christians from other nations began coming.
“Why don’t you have classes for regular members?” we were asked. So we added Spiritual Renewal Weekend, as well as tracks for church members, families, teens and children. Attendance passed 2,000, then 3,000.
That brings us to 2016. The largest PTP ever is in the works – 204 speakers, 13 concurrent sessions each hour, and nearly 700 separate topics spread over seven days. Expected attendance is 4,000. Most of the states of the Union will be represented, as well as a dozen or so nations.
Even though PTP has so many in attendance, it still retains its original goals and emphasis. PTP carefully maintains sound doctrine and conservative practice, while cultivating an atmosphere of love, unity, hope and zeal. Some say it is as close to heaven as they hope to get on earth.
Preachers still participate in sermon swaps and get great material handed down from legendary preachers. Small classes allow for personal interaction. But now PTP offers so much more.
• Elders sharpen their skills and get encouragement and advice through hands-on sessions by working through real world problems in small groups and then discussing their solutions with the larger group.
• Preachers looking for work and congregations looking for preachers pair up in a session designed for interviews.
• Members enjoy classes on Bible topics not usually covered in church services or even lectureships. Hourly textual and doctrinal classes get into the “meat” of the Word. These are taught by some of the most knowledgeable, convicted and talented preachers among us.
• Missionaries gather from across the U.S. and around the world for their annual “missionary rendezvous” held during PTP.
• Singles enjoy fellowship in sessions called, “Hangout: Singles, Games, Snacks, Conversation.”
• Bible class teachers get great tips, advice and visuals in teacher classes and chalking sessions.
• Churches get valuable legal advice from an Ivy League lawyer, security information from a state trooper, political and leadership advice from state senators, instruction from a decorated medical doctor, insights from a retired federal judge, and culture critiques from a law professor. Couples/individuals can sign up for free counseling from licensed counselors. All of these professionals are faithful members of the church.
• A scholar’s track includes classes on Greek, Hebrew, archaeology, geology and science. Many of these are taught by scientists and men with earned doctorates in some of America’s great universities.
• Those who want to further their education can work toward a certificate by attending PTP for five years and meeting additional requirements. We are developing a graduate program with more challenging goals.
Those who come say there is nothing like PTP. Everybody leaves feeling refreshed, recharged and renewed. Congregations that send members see a noticeable increase of enthusiasm and effectiveness in those who return “fired up” after a full week of fellowship, learning, growing and planning.
Many say the singing is absolutely the best they’ve ever participated in, and the teens’ singing sessions are standing-room only. One attendee noted, “The highlight last year was Sunday morning worship with over 2,700 in one location. At that moment, we were one of the largest gatherings of God’s children on earth. It was quite remarkable to worship God with that many people.”
Another unique thing about PTP is the full range of children’s and teenage classes. Ages 2-18 have classes all day for six consecutive days. The youth love it, and parents really enjoy being free to attend classes without holding a little one or hearing from a teen who would rather be somewhere else. “Families” is the fasting growing group at PTP, now involving about 500 children.
PTP constructs a life-size New Testament Village each year featuring a full-scale Herod’s temple, a marketplace, a first-century dwelling, a common area, city walls and a stable. It is an amazing step back in time. Children of all ages meet in this area daily for an immersive experience that thrills them and accelerates their Bible understanding.
Teens enjoy Bible classes during the day and gather for “Late Night PTP” singing each evening in the Atrium of the Events Center. They go into Pigeon Forge to enjoy go-carts, zip lines, carnival games, baseball and various other fun events throughout the week. But it is more about Bible knowledge and spiritual growth than having a good time. “Teens gave feedback they wanted ‘meat and not just fluff,’” said Jeff Archey, master of ceremonies. “So, in turn, textual Bible classes were increased along with such subjects as life-mapping, courting, media, Bible doctrines and sexuality based on God’s Word. Truly, we have a generation who knows their God.”
Polishing the Pulpit is part of the work of the Jacksonville Church of Christ in Alabama and under the oversight of their elders: Ralph Harman, Homer Smith and Robert Whiten. The directors are David Barker, Eddy Gilpin, Mark Howell and Allen Webster. For more information visit www.polishingthepulpit.com.
Allen Webster preaches for the Jacksonville, Ala., church of Christ. He can be contacted at Allen@housetohouse.com.
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