A Shift Away from Soul-Winning?

In a recent article in the Christian Chronicle, Truitt Adair and John Reese said that the reason their respective organizations won?t be participating in the workshop this year is because of a “shift away from a soul-winning emphasis.” (Update: Read John Reese’s apology here) When the Chronicle asked me to respond to Adair?s comment, I said that I was happy to let the workshop program speak for itself. At the time, I was thinking that anyone who took a look at the program would see that such assertions are as baseless as the Texas Panhandle is mountainless. But I?ve heard enough now to conclude that some folks are reading the Chronicle and assuming that Adair and Reese are accurate in their assessment.

I respectfully contend that they are not.

Just take a look at these class titles, all of which I believe are connected to the theme of soul-winning/evangelism:

Bridging the Gap: From Attractional to Missional
It?s All About Souls
Becoming a Missional Church
Stewarding a God-Conceived Mission
Engaging the American Mission Field: The Power of Emerging Churches
Hope for the Flowers (Church Planting)
The WWYC Story–Creating Hip-Deep Christ Community in a Youth Camp Knee-Deep in Sin
Can you Hear Me Now – A God of 2nd Chances and 2nd Glances
Bridging the Gap: From Spectators to Ministers
Not Just Evangelism…But, Disciplers
Missions and Transformation: Why our Churches Have it Backwards
Missional Church Planting
The Emerging Church of Christ: Both/And
Jesus Evangelism – Inviting People on a Journey Beyond Themselves
Bridging the Gap: From Prospects to Persons
From Conversation to Conversion
Discipling–Another Look
Contagious Holiness
Stewarding a God-Formed Vision
Church Planting: God’s Surprising Movement in the 21st Century
God is at Work: Business People on the Mission Field
From Churches that Send to Churches that are Sent: Why Sending Others Isn?t Enough
Jesus: He Calls Us Through Courageous Doctrine
Jesus: He Calls Us To Courageous Living

How can ANYONE say that this year?s workshop doesn?t have a soul-winning/evangelistic emphasis?

I?ve only listed the class titles that are overtly related to soul-winning/evangelism or those classes that I know are going to include something about it based upon a conversation I?ve had with the teacher. (If you?re teaching a class at the workshop that somehow pertains to soul-winning and your class title isn?t listed above, please let me know and I?ll add it.)

Surely no one can conclude from this year?s theme–For the Good of the World, To the Glory of God-that the workshop has departed from a soul-winning/evangelistic emphasis. Are we, by asking the keynote speakers to base their messages on portions of Paul?s letter to the Ephesians, communicating that soul-winning is no longer a priority?

There will actually be very few classes pertaining to the Church of Christ/Christian Church unity effort. I?m not asking the tag-team keynote speakers to speak about the reunion. I?m asking them to demonstrate unity by sharing the same stage together. True, Max Lucado and Bob Russell will be speaking on “Maintaining Unity” on Friday night, but that is only because that?s what Paul is talking about in Ephesians 4. Was Paul shifting away from a soul-winning emphasis by making unity such an issue in his letter?

I bristle at the notion that “unity” is somehow distinct from soul-winning/evangelism.

A couple of passages come to mind:

John 13:34-35 (NIV)
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 17:20-23 (NIV)
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Could it be that demonstrating unity helps give credibility to the Message we so desperately want our neighbors to embrace so that their souls–not to mention their hearts and minds and bodies and families and neighborhoods and countries and planet–can be saved?


  1. Boy, I don’t get it either. Is there some question over the terminology and its meaning? It seems like the overall theme of the workshop is to engage the culture for the purpose of having an eternal impact upon it. What are they calling “soul-winning?” How is it different from what’s on the agenda?

  2. You go, bro!

    That was just an easier excuse than to say, “we didn’t participate ’cause we’re against unifying the body of Christ” (which, as you point out has GREAT evangelistic power e.g., John 17!).

    Keep doing the right thing. You’ll reap a harvest if you don’t give up.

  3. Thanks for your comments. Is it possible to put this on the Tulsa Workshop website?

  4. Becky—Great idea. It’s done.

  5. My initial take (not accounting for the Christian Church controversies) is that this is a language issue. I read your list, Wade, and the classes are using emergent language that probably doesn’t make sense to some of the Soul-Winning veterans. For instance: “Becoming a Missional Church” would be translated into “Becoming a Mission-Minded Church.” Of course this isn’t a perfect translation and some of the nuances of “missional” are lost… but many don’t know what “missional” is to begin with. Maybe you should print two programs with distinct languages: Program Version 1 Missional/Journey/Discipleship, Program Version 2 Mission-Minded/Battle/Evangelism. I’m only partly kidding.

  6. I read the Christian Chronicle articles and I could only believe that the comments made about the Tulsa workshop shifting away from soul-winning were made through a theological template that allows soul-winning to be defined in such a narrow way that being even micorscopically inclusive (with Christian Churches) falls outside that template, and therefore is necessarily not souls winning.

    This year’s workshop exposes the sickness in our fellowship as manifest in the recoiling at unity with Christian Church brothers and sisters.

    It’s kind of strange that Marivin Phillips declared Christian Church people brothers and sisters once upon a time at the “That They May All Be One” Tulsa Workshop. This year’s workshop is merely putting that declaration into practice.

    Your efforts to make contributions to a deeper ecclesiology are landmark for our fellowship.

  7. Amen Wade!

    Winning souls is more than preaching the same tired sermons on our flavor of worship assemblies.

  8. Excellent points Wade – well done. All the CC really did this month was elevate my blood pressure – just being brutally honest. Fajita’s comments are also on mark. It is so easy to go on the offensive against baseless stuff like this – so I won’t – even though I really want to.

  9. Wade – I’d like to read your response to Chris’s questions above.

    After reading the article in the Christian Chronicle and personally witnessing the “grave concerns and dire predictions” made by previous ISWW staff because of this years perceived shift away from a soul-winning emphasis, I too am left wondering what the term “soul-winning” implies in regards to the Tulsa ISWW ? I have been part of previous ISWW planning teams and have attended ISWW debriefings. Sometimes I have been left with the distinct impression that “soul-winning” is almost a numbers game: how many baptisms can we attribute to the workshop.

    I had this same concern after attending several years of the CofC version of Youthwave ? It appeared to me that it?s emphasis was mostly about getting the “lost” into the baptismal – not about calling a person into a personal relationship with Christ, or with other Christ followers.

    If the term “soul-winning” is a synonym for “gettin em baptized” or “instructing baptized followers of Christ how to engage a lost soul in a 5-step process to salvation”, then I can see where the opposition feels that this years ISWW is straying from what it may have been traditionally viewed as.

    If “soul-winning” means equipping/training a Christ follower to strengthen their own relationship with God so that He can use them in many and varied ways to call others into falling in love with His son and having a relationship with Him through His son, then I can’t see how anyone could be disappointed with this years program, classes, or keynote speakers.

    I appreciate the way you have allowed the Holy Spirit to use you to create a balanced ISWW program that not only emphasizes saving souls, but saving person?s heart, mind, body, and family as well.

  10. I spent many years at Sunset, and now get the honor of being present in Tulsa – and love being a part of workshop. I have my heart invested in both places – because Jesus works in both, despite the flaws associated with the flesh present in each.
    I post this only because it may be of some interest to know that Truitt felt his comments were taken out of context, and posted the full interview on Sunset’s website. The full article may not address some of the issues at the heart of this conflict, but it at least shows that there less intent to be divisive than the first quote led me to believe.
    Many different convictions, opinions, timetables and struggles exist in the heart of genuine believers regarding this pursuit of unity that Christ called us to, even as all this discussion reveals. And that, in itself, emphasizes the importance of what Garnett is calling us to with the theme this year, which is obviously needed in all directions. Praise God that we can know with Him all things really are possible!

  11. Well said Wade. I’ll add that my class entitled, “What Every Youth Ministry Needs (From It’s Leaders)” will emphasize how important it is for youth workers to serve not only as Discipling Teachers but also as Evangelistic Missionaries to the current culture.

  12. Greg England says:

    Wade: I don’t know you personally … sat in a couple of your classes at last year’s Zoe conference in Nashville and was impressed. Sort of stumbled upon your blog page this morning. I preach for the Long Beach church in California and wanted to just encourage you (along with these other encouragers). Remember Jn.9 when the blind man was healed and was brought before the Pharisees, along with the man’s parents. The Pharisees not only threatened others with fear tactics, they themselves were afraid of losing their authority as Pharisees. I think some of the people in our fellowship who take certain positions do so out of fear of losing the “authority” they perceive themselves to have among their peers. Keep up the good work, brother!

  13. Wow, I am blown away by your super post Wade…….and the VERY insightful comments that follow. Very rich and deep material indeed.
    I think the words of Gamaliel fit in this discussion….”For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

    My prediciton is that the institutional-minded folks will find themselves “fighting against God”. We know who always wins that battle.

    Thanks for being on the front lines, my brother!

  14. Diversity Guy–I’m deleting your comments because you are not playing by the rules. I’d love to contact you by email and have a discussion about this, but I can’t . . .

  15. Wade,

    I am very excited about your program this year at the workshop. I don’t understand at all why any Christian organization would issue a letter to alumni and contact list from previous workshops stating anything about whether or not they are going to be there or not. If they want to decide not to go – then fine, let them not go. But to issue a letter while continuing to state they love their brothers even when they disagree with them? Is that really love? I have been with a vendor before at Tulsa. And I hope to be a vendor with my own company in the next year or so when my son gets a little older. But if I chose not to come back out of a personal struggle with the program, I would not be issuing some sort of letter telling my client base why they wouldn’t see me there this year.

    I guess I just question what they were trying to accomplish – their real motives. Coming from at least one organization in which I received a similar letter regarding another event to boycott in the Texas desert, I just really struggle with the motives behind such actions and such statements. I don’t think CC in this case – from the transcript – is to totally blame; I think they were trying to investigate the letter and its intent. It’s just sad though. Both the issuing of such a letter and then giving it further publicity in CC incites disunity. Then, it puts people like you in a difficult situation – do you defend yourself? Correct an untruth? Or just let it lie? Tough choice. Someone somewhere has to make the decision that enough is enough and give the devil no more room to continue to lay his foundation of disunity. You are right, though. Your program certainly speaks for itself.

    I think the “negative publicity” will impact attendance at the Tulsa ISWW – I think attendance will go up. Isn’t that normally what happens? I guess I’m a rebel; if I read or receive some sort of instruction not to participate in something from a few select organizations, I would be the first one to show up! I find that when I investigate such things for myself, I normally find that things are not as previously stated.

  16. The message of unity is what the Lord spoke of in many passages. The Pharisees looked different at the end of their mission than when they began the mission. They ended up crucifying Christ, the Promise. I feel so much utter hatred for others in the idea of unifying I hope the Church of Christ remembers just what our mission is. Not our way but thy way be done. Pray to the Spirit and then act like Christ, love others. Change is not the ugly word you think, pray and the Spirit will bring you understanding.

  17. Sam Middlebrook says:

    I’ve known you as a fellow pick-up basketballer, as a co-worker and fellow minister, and as a friend for the last ten years.

    Today, reading your post, let me tell you that I am proud of you, Wade, for what you are doing with your life and for the profound impact that God is having through you in your “brotherhood” of churches.

    I’m praying that God uses the upcoming workshop to transform churches, shake-up preconceptions, and most importantly, to revolutionize lives of individuals so that they may win souls as theirs continue to be won.

  18. My understanding is that one of the primary principles of the Restoration Movement was the unity of all believers — so that the great commission could be accomplished. I think that was one of Alexander Campbell’s passions. I am personally proud to be on the program this year.

    By the way, in my classes (“The Myth of the Family-Friendly Church”) I’ll explore the idea that parents ought to take the lead in bringing their children to faith. Does that count?

  19. I was baptized at nine years old. I am now fifty.

    And there are still times when I have to confess that my soul isn’t completely won.

  20. Reading Heather’s kind post above, I wanted to read Mr. Adair’s complete interview [1]. There is certainly more to it than the CC cites.

    My wife made the sad observation that the CC seems to be fueling the fire by asking for responses to this and that, and probably giving more attention to the lack of attendence by different groups than it deserves.

    It’s just *so* important for me to be loving and kind in all the discussions we have with *all* our bros, even those who firmly believe we shouldn’t fellowship with believers that don’t believe exactly like they do. It’s tough though.

    I’m convinced that when the layers are peeled away, the real reason for not attending is as Mr. Adair states in the interview:

    “How we understand Biblical authority is the root challenge. If our hermeneutic is anything not expressly forbidden is authorized then the door is opened to not only instrumental music but a myriad of other extra-biblical developments far less acceptable to even those among us who now accept the instrument.”

    Sadly, by not attending, ‘unity’ behind the defense of the ‘authorization only if there’s a command, example, or necessary inference’ hermeneutic appears to have a higher priority than unity based on the simple criteria in Jesus’ prayer in John 17 — belief in Him.

    Btw, I’ve just discovered Milton Jones’ short book, “The Other Side of the Keyboard”[2], and it is a great read/study about his examination of this cofC hermeneutic.

    I’m very appreciative of men like Milton, and especially Marvin Phillips, Victor Knowles, and many others that have been laying the foundation for unity efforts like this for years.

    (Sorry for this long boring comment, kudos to the one or two of you that actually finish reading it.)

    [1] http://www.sibi.cc/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=94&Itemid=188
    [2] http://www.collegepress.com/index.php?pageid=19&action=shopping.product.view&productid=1460&categoryid=113

  21. Thank you for that. Restoring the incarnational Christ and rebuilding it, nurturing it to health is all about soul winning. For when we manifest Christ on this earth, then the world will see Christ as did Paul, the lepers, the prostitutes, the tax collectors and the disciples. When we are unified, when we are prepared and when we are living as Christ lived (Christ didn’t spend 100% of his time on evangelism/outreach) then we can make a difference in the world and glorify Christ’s name.

    I guess it’s not that important to winning soul’s for people to be able to be apart of the Real Jesus. We didn’t want to deal with that 60 years ago, so we just made up a “make believe Jesus.”

    Too bad it hurts when you tell people the truth that the Jesus we wanna be (the Church of Christ) is just not the real Jesus…

  22. I am curious to hear whether some of our more outspoken, ultra-conservative brothers will be in attendance to stand up and disrupt/interrupt any of the programs.

    I am praying to God that they come, but listen and learn something and walk away “soul won”.

  23. Me and my friends are going to try to bring at least 100 people to the workshop this year! I can’t wait to see what God will do there. Thanks for what your doing Wade. – Ky

  24. I am glad this discussion is out. We need to have it in our own city as well as our brotherhood. We can choose to remain in our comfort zone, as many of our members have, or we can believe in Jesus vision to “go into all the world, and make disciples of nations”. And this does not mean just to get them in the baptistry and get people “wet”. Conversion happens spontaneously at times, and also happens over time for others. Lives can be changed here on earth and we can prepare for heaven for eternity. I think many miss the “bigger mission”. The methods look different from generation to generation. However, Satan remains alive, people are hurting, and they need Jesus in whatever way is relevant to them. Keep pushing for thoughtful transistion. I also ask other christians to pray for our church during this time instead of “throwing stones”.

  25. I went to the workshop.I had to walk out and me and my wife wany be back. Saving souls is what we do. When you add insturment music(even throght speakers) now we have a problem. Wish someone whould show me in the new tstament where we can do that. If Chrisrian churches are so true, Then why don’t they have the name church of Christ on them?


  1. […] Good words from Wade Hodges, this year’s director of the Tulsa Workshop, in response to some criticism that’s been raised about this year’s program. I’m looking forward to doing a keynote and joining my amigo Randy Harris in a class called “Totally Outrageous Stories for a Troubled World.” […]

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