After attending Polishing the Pulpit for the past three years and a few times before 2015, I felt the need to share a few thoughts on Polishing the Pulpit and offer few suggestions for those looking to attend in the coming years.
The Polishing the Pulpit Workshop is an annual event among the churches of Christ in Sevierville, TN. This last year there were over 4,700 individuals attending this workshop. The workshop is a refresher for many preachers, elders, deacons and members across the brotherhood. The sessions are given by speakers, both well-known and not so well-known, ranging from current challenges in the church to the basics of the Bible.
This year’s Polishing the Pulpit Workshop was held on August 18 – 24, 2017
A Few Notes: (1) The pictures in the article below are taking from the Polishing the Pulpit Guidebook handed out to registered attendees. (2) From this point forward, Polishing the Pulpit will be known as PTP.
Brief Background of PTP
From the Polishing the Pulpit website:
Polishing the Pulpit began with three friends getting together to brainstorm sermon ideas. We soon invited other friends and someone said, “This is great! We should tell others.”
We did and invited a speaker to discuss sermon preparation and give sample sermons. Interest increased; more speakers were invited. We moved to a hotel conference area. We dreamed big. “Let’s invite the best speakers in the brotherhood and see who we can get.” They came. 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. We added tracks for them. PTP moved to a larger 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 the Spiritual Renewal Weekend, as well as tracks for members, teens, and children. Attendance passed 4,100.
I have had the privilege of attending PTP several times; first in Chattanooga, then Birmingham and several times in Sevierville. In my short period of time, I have witnessed as the PTP workshop has grown and expanded their reach and their program.
My first experience with PTP was in Chattanooga, TN. At the time, PTP was smaller than it is now, but the material was just as well put together. Before the Chattanooga PTP, I had only heard of the workshop by word of mouth. After attending PTP in Chattanooga, I felt it was an excellent workshop for every member of the church, especially preachers.
My second experience was in Birmingham, Alabama and I could tell the workshop had grown in a variety of ways. The numbers of attendees had definitely grown and the classes had expanded to a larger schedule. In Birmingham, the workshop was well attended and I remember a variety of the lessons I heard during that year.
For the past three years, I have attended PTP in Sevierville, TN. I have never publicly reviewed PTP until this point.
My 2017 Experience
Let me begin by encouraging you to take this review for what it is worth — my review of PTP 2017.
Allow me also to set the background for my visit to PTP 2017. I had been on the road for over 1,800 miles before arriving at PTP. I was a little tired, but I was ready to be refreshed and encouraged.
Now, saying that, also understand I do quite a bit of “hiding” at PTP. I normally sit in the back of the room; many times at a table and I keep to myself. I am not trying to be elusive, but I want to take a break from the normal day and spend my time gaining as many insights as possible.
There are many people I see at PTP that I have known from years past and sometimes we talk but most of the time we walk by each other. It is not that I do not want to speak, it is my desire to use this week as a moment to gain knowledge, relax and enjoy a little quietness.
With all that said, I bet next year I will found.
Funny personal story – Last year (2016) during one of the last session, I was sitting in the back of the room in my normal seat and noticed someone staring at me. I kept to myself, opened my small tablet and write something on Twitter. When I did I turned around to see the individual looking at me. He smiled and said, “You’re the Preacher’s Pen guy, aren’t you?”
I laughed and said I was that guy. He said he had been trying to figure out where I was because he noticed the pictures I had posted on Twitter all week. It is great to be quiet sometimes. Anyway, if you decided to follow me on Twitter too you can follow the Preacher’s Pen here or my personal Twitter here.
Anyway, here are some quick thoughts on PTP 2017.
For the past several years, the workshop has been held at the Sevierville Convention Center in Sevierville, TN. This provides an excellent location due to the size of the facilities and its location in the Sevierville/Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area.
The Convention center is in Sevierville and provides quick access to the western side of Pigeon Forge for the restaurants and area attractions. Also, there are plenty of hotels near the convention center if you decide not to stay at the one attached to the Convention Center.
With close to 5,000 people to fit into a convention space, the facilities at Sevierville are excellent. While not picture perfect, the convention center provides the ability for a large room for a full gathering as well as smaller rooms and a large vendor display area with additional class rooms attached.
The Sevierville Church of Christ building is also used for some “off-campus” space.
A map of the facilities found in the book is included below so you can see the layout.
The area provides some nice restaurants due to the overwhelming tourist attraction the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area has become over the past decade. You will be able to find national chain restaurants as well as smaller local resturants. The area has grown tremendously and provides for a nice vacation spot as well as a great place to have PTP.
You are able to attend sessions in the beauty of the Smokey Mountains and then go see the area if you would like. There are many attractions and sights around the area for you to enjoy. I know several families who have made a vacation/PTP trip. They combined some relaxing times with class times and made it a great weekend for their family.
While the area is a great place to have a workshop like PTP, so is the time of the year. During the third week in August, many schools are already back in session or they are starting very soon. As a result, many people do not like to travel because of the time of year, which makes the area a little sparse of the tourism that so commonly occurs.
I will say there is a place to eat in the conference center, but I have never eaten there. I know several who did and they said the food was good. I have had a few cups of coffee there and was pleased.
The schedule for PTP is huge. I am sure the logistics of finding speakers, then room for speakers while trying to anticipate the audience which might be present is an overwhelming task. The schedule is very detailed as it offers classes for all ages, all categories and many different topics.
The schedule is built for someone to gain as much as they want from the workshop. There are attendees who go to every session from early morning until late in the evening. There is a section for youth that has activities taking them late into the evening as well.
The classes begin at 7:00 am and continue until 9:45 pm. You can attend any class you would like, but you still need to find a time to grab a quick bite to eat as you go from class to class. (Note: Only women can attend the Women’s Classes.)
As you can see from a few pictures below, the schedule is packed. You can pick and choose to sessions and line up the various categories you would like to follow.
This is a page from the PTP Workshop booklet. This is a sample of part of the classes from Monday. At the time this article is being posted, the 2017 PTPT Workshop Schedule is still available online at https://polishingthepulpit.com/event/
Each lesson at PTP falls into a specific category. (See photo above) Having the classes arranged by category or tract, allows you to follow the different parts of the discussion.
Here are the class tract divisions as listed in the 2017 PTP Workshop Booklet:
One thing I have consistently enjoyed with PTP, is the topics for the classes. There are many topics that I would never have thought would be in a workshop, but they make a big difference. Who would have thought of having a class on “Church Building Security” a few years ago? There were a few classes dealing with the current social climate (ex. Transgenderism) that were well attended and provide relevant material.
The registration cost for PTP was $225 for 2017. As the workshop has grown, the costs have risen to meet the workshop costs. I tend not to think of this as a cost, but as support.
I do not mind paying a fee for registration if the material and workshop provide me with motivation, ideas and a readiness to apply what I have learned. However, when it comes to PTP, I am hearing good men who have dedicated their lives to preaching and teaching the Gospel of Christ. In doing so, they are not paid, but they are supported for what they are doing.
Further, I imagine a workshop of this magnitude undertakes more effort than many of realize due to its expanding size. The costs of renting the facility would be huge because the entire space is rented during this time. The transportation of materials, equipment, and other necessary items is beyond my imagination.
So, when I support Polishing the Pulpit, I am supporting a good work which enables others to spread the gospel of Christ.
Note: You do not have to go for the entire week. There is a lower cost/support option for those who want to be part of the beginning weekend called the Spiritual Renewal Weekend.
Ideas to Save for PTP:
- Stop drinking soft drinks and save the money you would have spent in a jar and use it for PTP 2018.
- Sell books – How many books do you have laying around that you never read, will not read and do not plan to read? I know you are not supposed to sell books (as a rule), but this can help to save funds.
- Plan now. Use a budget and save money now for PTP in 2018. DO not let it sneak up on you.
How to Keep Costs Down
This year, I kept the costs of attending the workshop to a minimum. I did this in two ways; first with the hotel and second with food.
I found a room at the Clarion Inn a few miles from the Sevierville Convention Center for $59 a night. This helped to keep the cost of the room down to a minimum. If you want to defray the costs even more, then you can find someone to split a room. In fact, next year, I think I am going to rent a cabin and invite a few people to split the costs.
Regarding food, I have heard of a few people who got together at someone’s cabin and had a “potluck” meal. Everyone picked up something, or cooked something (if they could) and brought it to one location. This is a great idea not just to keep costs down, but to spend time fellowshipping with one another.
The second way I was able to keep costs at a minimum was to eat in the room. The room I stayed in had a microwave and a refrigerator; that is all I really need. I bought some groceries before I left home and carried them in a cooler. When I arrived at the hotel, I put everything in the refrigerator for the week.
(WARNING: adjust the temp on the fridge and keep an eye on it. Who knew you could freeze lettuce solid?)
I went to a local grocery store, Kroger, and bought frozen pre-cooked chicken I could warm up each time I had a salad. Each day for lunch, I drove back to the hotel and warmed up the chicken and ate a grilled (microwaved grilled) chicken salad. I was able to sit and relax while I checked email or watched a little television while eating. Not only did this save money, but I lost weight on the trip! Double-Bonus!
Additional Ways to Keep Costs Down:
- Room with a group and split the costs. Several preachers could room together in a large cabin and split the costs evenly. They could also split the cost of food and lower costs further.
- Search using a travel site and also look at a site like AirBnB.
- Use this as an opportunity to drink lots of water. I took a case of water and loaded up the hotel fridge and carried one with me all the time. After walking from session to session all day, you will get your steps in.
A Few of My Secrets to PTP
Having attended PTP for a few years straight, I have learned a few secrets that I will share with you. One thing I like about attending workshops is how to derive the maximum amount of value with minimal effort. (Yes, call me lazy at times. However, it works)
Technology can be your friend at Polishing the Pulpit; if used appropriately. Here are a few ways you can gain some insights at Polishing the Pulpit…
(1) Download the PTP app. The app not only provides you with a schedule, but many of the speakers provide notes and information you can have available with a click or two. You can also review the sessions on the app. The app also has notifications to remind you of various events and changes during Polishing the Pulpit. It is a must have.
(2) Thumb Drive – “It’s what everyone really wants.” After the last lecture on Thursday, a thumb drive containing 90% of the lessons, along with some bonus material (singing, etc.) is given to each person attendee. This thumb drive is a valuable resource for several reasons: (1) You can listen to lectures all year long, (2) You can listen to the lectures you missed, (3) You have an audio library of more than 500 audios.
(3) Planning – If you want to get the best value, plan your week. I typically look through the app, not the book schedule, and add the lectures I want to here to my schedule. I will load up my schedule with every lesson I want to hear; even if some of them are at the same time. When I do this, I will then go back and find the ones I REALLY want to hear. Since I know I will get a thumb drive, it makes this process a little easier.
(4) Hotel Location – There are many hotels in the Sevierville/Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area but not all of them are the best. When booking your room, you can find low rates, but be sure they are not too far away from the Convention Center. It is a burden to have a room all the way across Pigeon Forge because you will be fighting traffic throughout the day. The traffic around dinner time can be a small nightmare if you are not ready. I have found that staying close to the convention center is worth the cost.
(4b) Saying the above, I have never stayed at the hotel by the convention center. I usually find a cheaper rate elsewhere and drive to the convention center. There are several hotels nearby with great rates. A short drive is not much if you are saving some money.
(5) Restaurants – Finding a place to eat in the area is always a dilemma due to a lot of places and the busyness of each one. I have found a few off the beaten path places from using the TripAdvisor app that are excellent. Most of the places I have found around the area had great food at excellent prices.
(6) Technology – The Convention Center has Wi-Fi that you are able to log into, but do not expect it to be blazing fast. The reason: every one of my brethren seems to be on it at any given time. Instead, I use the hotspot on my cell phone. It seems that most companies allow you to use your phone as a hotspot. Check with your phone carrier before taking my advice. I have found using my hotspot is much faster than the Wi-Fi.
What to do after PTP?
After attending a workshop like PTP, you come home with many ideas, thoughts, concerns, a few pages of notes, a thumb drive full of hundreds of audios and a need for a nap.
This is going to be where the rubber meets the road. How will you take all of the information you learned and use it for the glory of God?
This can be a challenging task.
Here are a few suggestions that I have begun to utilize:
(1) The first thing I do after arriving home is to take a break from PTP. Granted, I learned much, but I need to take time and look at the other areas of my life to reorient myself back into the normal swing of things. I am typically away from my family so I end up coming home, taking a short nap and relaxing with them for the evening. Over the next few days, I find myself taking it easy as I prepare for the lesson I will present on Sunday.
(2) Review your notes. Personally, I take notes in almost every session and I like to go back and review those to see what I can rework into the ministry I am providing. This will take a few days, but I develop a list of what items to work on first. During this, I also see notes about re-listening to the sessions I found most impressive.
(3) Review the lectures you missed. In my case, there were a few lectures I wanted to hear, but they occurred at the same time of another one I wanted to hear. For those that I did not attend, but they were high on my list, I go back and listen to those first.
(4) Keep your booklet and create a “listen to list.” I feel that Jeff Archey mentioned this one night of PTP, but you can create a list of lectures to listen to as you drive to work, travel or just around the house. Use your booklet as your guide.
(5) Set a reminder list. Make a list, or set alarms on your phone to go back and review your notes and a few of your favorite lessons from time to time.
(6) Develop your own lessons. You can use the topics of the PTP lessons and the audio to begin to develop your own lessons for a Bible class, a sermon or personal study. Remember, do not plagiarize and if you use a lesson information to cite the source.
Additional things to consider:
- Load the audio files on your computer. Thumb drives are easy to lose.
- Write a review of PTP in your journal to reflect on later.
- Write those you meet and begin to develop the relationship you have through Christ.
- Write and thank the staff of PTP and let them know the experience you had throughout the week.
- Encourage others to attend with you the next year.
Some Overall Pros and Cons of PTP
- Large Workshop offering many different options (many classes, many speakers)
- A workshop with proven, lasting value (many attendees returning year after year)
- A Thumb drive (you know that is what everyone wants)
- Location (lots to do in the area)
- Cost/Support (a $225 registration might be too high for some)
- Time of year is hard on some with school starting.
- Location may be a far drive for some
PTP 2017 was not only a week of instruction, lectures, and fellowship, but it was a week to spend with some of God’s family with a bunch of ideas intertwined. Throughout the sessions, I was able to write down a variety of information to look up later and to start seeing how those ideas will be able to work in my ministry.
The sessions, as every year I have been, were always exceeded expectations. I look forward to the sessions and hearing how others deliver a message from the Word of God.
I was able to meet several people for the first time outside of social media, as well as renew some friendships with others I have not seen in several years. It is amazing how interlaced we are because of the blessings of God.
I am planning, Lord willing, to attend PTP 2018 on August 17- 23, 2018. I look forward to being with great speakers, great teachers and most of all, my brethren throughout the world for a few days in August.
Until then, see you later.
Just my thoughts,