I got back home a few hours ago after an incredible time at a Pastors Essentials training conference. I wanted to recount a few of the highlights while they are fresh on my mind.

Last year, Todd Gray asked if I wanted to attend a conference that would help hone some specific pastoral skills and I said, “Yes!” He then sent my name to Lifeway. The nineteen other senior pastors that attended this 3-day training opportunity with me had also been recommended by someone with contacts at Lifeway.

Four months ago on November 15, I received 4 books. Included was a letter saying that to prepare for the seminar, I needed to read each book and be familiar with its content. Receiving those books was extremely exciting to me for at least two reasons:

1) I had just received four FREE books! It was like Christmas a month early!

2) I had originally questioned how intentional and beneficial this seminar would be … until I got the books with instructions to read them before showing up. It felt like a Doctor of Ministry course. It was going to be intentional and intensive and I LOVED it!

As I read the books and continued to receive correspondence over the next few months, it became clear that this seminar was about how to make disciples. Yet, it wasn’t going to be superficial. Twenty senior pastors were going to go deep into the subject defining exactly what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, how to make Jesus-followers in a church context, what leadership skills are necessary to achieve those goals and so much more.

Dan Garland teaching about discipleship

A couple of days ago, on Monday, I showed up just before 1 PM at the Lifeway Plaza in Nashville. We were met by Dan Garland who was the one (I think) who “birthed” the Pastors Essentials seminars. He is the Director of Pastoral Ministries and Church Consulting at Lifeway with more than 22 years of Senior Pastor experience. It was quickly apparent that his heart was for pastors and to help them improve in the area of leadership and making Jesus-followers. I realized that I was in for a fun ride!


We had another speaker that afternoon (Mark Dance) and we finished around 5 PM. After that, we were loaded up in a couple of vans and taken to The Loveless Cafe for supper. It was incredibly delicious! It also provided a great time for the members of our group to get to know each other. (It was incredibly generous of Lifeway to cover our hotel costs and take care of all of our meals. It was essentially an all-expenses-paid event.)

Allan Taylor teaching on Sunday School and leadership

The next morning (Tuesday), we were back in the room for our second day of training at 8 AM. Dan Garland started us off and then Allan Taylor took over. Allan is the director over the Sunday School department at Lifeway (I think I’m right on this). I prepared for what I thought would be a boring, hour-long talk. Boy, was I wrong! Allan provided a lecture that lasted for well over a hour. From what I could tell, it looked like everyone wished that he could have kept going. He provided some incredible information, provided insightful and personal illustrations, and made us wish he was on staff with us.


We grabbed some food in the Lifeway Cafe and came back to the lecture room to eat. During lunch, Doug Akers provided some great insights on how to gather and interpret data on a church and the community in which it resides. Originally, I thought this might be a boring segment, too. But, once again, I was wrong. Doug made the numbers come alive as we saw how to learn from them so that we could be prepared to make better leadership decisions.

Then, we embarked on a four hour segment that felt like we were trying to drink water out of a fire hydrant. Some Lifeway leaders led in lectures on strategies to disciple children, youth, and adults. We were also made aware of a multitude of resources that we could utilize to help people grow as Jesus-followers and disciple-makers.

Went with 4 books (that they gave me) and came
back with more! Pastoring is essentially a call to study.

One of the benefits of attending a training seminar at our denomination’s publishing company is the fact that we were given a box full of books. As the seminars progressed, more and more books and resource material were placed on our tables to take home and enjoy. It was like Christmas in March!


At 4:45 PM, the lectures finished for the day. As I looked around the room, all of us looked brain-dead. It was good stuff but we were overwhelmed. But, the day wasn’t over. We hopped back into the vans again and were whisked off to The Spaghetti Factory about a half mile away in downtown Nashville. Once again, it was a great time to enjoy some delicious food and the company of the men who had the same calling upon their life as I did.

Eric Geiger teaching on leadership

On our final morning together (Wednesday), we showed up to the lecture room at 8 AM. After Dan spent a few moments with us, he turned it over to Eric Geiger who spoke to us for about an hour. He is one of the Vice Presidents of Lifeway, wrote three of the four books we were required to read before showing up to this seminar, and gave an incredible lecture on leadership. As he spoke, it became obvious that much of what he was saying had been included in his book “Designed to Lead.” I plan to re-read that book.


Philip Cooper giving a presentation as
our time together came to an end

We concluded our time together with a leadership strategy project and presentation. It was fun to finish up our time together in this way.

The guy standing in the picture to the right is Philip Cooper. When I saw him on Monday, I thought he looked familiar. But, I couldn’t place where I had seen him. As we talked during supper, I discovered that he had attended Mid-America Seminary in Memphis when I did and had graduated the year before I married Kim. It was great reliving some memories from our time at that seminary 20 years ago and what God has done since then.

To conclude, I am incredibly grateful to Lifeway for making this trip possible for pastors. Some guys would have never been able to financial swing it (or justify it) if Lifeway charged what this conference was worth. It is incredibly generous of the leadership in Lifeway to make training trips like this possible.

My pride at being a Southern Baptist only increased as a result of this trip. While we’ve got our squabbles and disagreements, we’ve also got an incredible organization that is doing a wonderful job. As I visited NAMB headquarters last year in Alpharetta, Georgia and then as I visited Lifeway this year, I am amazed at how much our denomination does for the Kingdom. May God continue to bless us as we honor Him and seek to spread the fame of His name.

Here’s the Pastors Essentials team with Dan Garland in the center (brown jacket)