A Gathering of Key Men

One of the best things about the Key Men Invitational was exploring the basics of walking with Christ and men in a fresh way.” So says Mike Martin, who joined me at this year’s Navigator Key Men Invitational (KMI) conference, held February 19–22 in Wichita Falls, Texas.

Mike and I were among 530 men who attended the event from around the area, across the nation, and even two nations. Most notable were the generations reflected, from teenagers to “gray hairs”—seasoned believers who are eager to pour their lives into generations of disciples in the spirit of Matthew 9:35–10:1, building up and sending out lifelong laborers in the harvest.

“In addition, I got to know Dean more deeply,” says Mike. Though Mike and I have spent a decade serving together in a good deal of hands-on ministry activities in the Rocky Mountain region in Colorado—including helping lead Navigator-sponsored Dangerous Man Days up and down the Front Range—the four-day KMI enabled us to go deeper with Christ and one another.

“We transparently shared our past experiences at an intimate level,” says Mike. “I expect this to enrich our relationship and ministry together in the future.”

The conference began in the early 1980s, and according to KMI director Peter Axup, its three key goals remain consistent:

Encouraging the heart and strengthening the hand of a disciplemaker of Jesus by fellowship with like-hearted men of God around the written Word of God

Helping a disciplemaker in the ministry that God has given him, by giving him a place to bring the man that he is helping to grow as a disciple of Jesus

Demonstrating how God wants to use each man as a disciplemaker by using regular working men as the instructors

Platform speakers included Jim Downing, the 101-and-a-half year old Pearl Harbor survivor affectionately known as “Navigator #6” because of his involvement in ministry since its earliest days. The men held onto every word as Jim talked about how the famed Navigator Wheel illustration came into being. He said that Navigator founder Dawson Trotman first sought to emphasize the basics of the Christian walk with a three-legged stool—the legs representing the Word, prayer, and witnessing. Yet “Daws” felt something was missing: “He saw a lot of sour-faced Christians who practiced all three,” Jim says. The Stool eventually gave way to The Wheel, with the Fellowship spoke ultimately completing the image.

Some 30 workshop options included “Bible Study Basics,” “The Who, What, Where, Why, and When of Scripture Memory,” “The Joy of Meditation on God’s Word,” and “Unleashing the Power of Your Small Group.”

A personal highlight was a session by Max Barnett titled “Helping People Gain a Vision for Disciplemaking.” I appreciated how this seasoned disciplemaker spoke about following the apostle Paul’s pattern of making disciples in the church (synagogue), in the marketplace, and wherever “spiritual people” like Lydia can be found (see Acts 16).

Small groups proved to be a highlight not only for Mike and me, but also for Charles Crutcher, a younger man who was a part of my group.

“I loved our small group, Dean!” Charles said in an email after the event. “I met you, Bruce, Brent, Noah and Scott [son and father], knowing that it wasn’t by accident. I believe God designed us to live interdependently as the church, and I know that’s what The Navigators strive for. What a blessing this really is!”

“I feel the Holy Spirit among Navigators,” Charles says of the KMI in general. “So many of the men I meet truly love God. It’s a great opportunity to charge my spiritual battery and connect with others where inspiration occurs and people’s testimonies inspire. I look forward to it all year.”

KMI began when a dozen men met in 1982 and discussed the possibility of a conference for disciplemakers and their “key men.” Each man agreed to bring his key man for a four-day conference the following February at Camp Chaparral near Wichita Falls. The 1983 conference consisted of two to three dozen participants. The conference later became known as the Key Men Invitational. Navigator John Crawford was the founder, and fellow Nav Rep Bob Potter joined him as the conference director in the mid-1980s.

Today, a planning team of half a dozen businessmen from Oklahoma and north Texas assists Peter—who serves with the Nav Neighbors ministry—and registrar Mike Thomas—of the Nav Encore ministry—in running the conference.

“From my perspective,” says Peter, “the simplest indicator of the spiritual health of the disciplemakers at KMI is that, on average, they each bring a new man to KMI every other year. This shows that the disciplemakers continue to abide in Christ, that He continues to bring forth fruit from their lives in the lives of other men, and that KMI continues to be useful for their own walks with God, as well as for helping the men they bring. We had men at KMI 2015 who have been making disciples of Jesus since 1983.”

Contact Dean or learn more about his work with Navigator Church Ministries on his Navigator staff page.


  1. Thank you for this great overview and introduction to KMI!
    If I may acknowledge one correction . That hand full of men , Bob Potter, Bob Siefert, John Crawford in 1980 was at a camp East of Denton Tx. After three years it had to be moved to larger facilities thus Camp Chapperal in Whichita Falls, I was privileged to be in the second KMI and have been coming with men I mentor each year since.

  2. Dean, will there be a key men’s conference this year? This is Hal Jensen from San Antonio.
    Encore team, Nav Staff since 1970.

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