Can you believe it? It is finally here. That most amazing gift a church can ever give to their youth worker, a youth ministry conference!! Your bags are packed, your room is booked, and it is time to go and get some freebies. For one weekend we get to take off our mantle of responsibility and leadership, and become participants, students, and receivers. Whether it is Youth Specialties, Orange, Simply Youth Ministry, or I Still Do, a youth ministry conference is the one time a year that us youth workers get to actually go to camp, and not just put it on. And like camp, there are some things that we need to do to prepare ourselves so that we can have an amazing time and get the most out of our time away. Every year before we take students to camp or on mission trips we give them a little pep talk, so here is yours :) These are the top 10 ways to get the most out of your conference experience.
10: This is Our Camp: Our students love camp, they wait for it all year. Their parents fork over all this money and they get to go along for a wild ride. Everything is set up for them to have a great time. All that is left is for the camper to show up and enjoy all that God has for them. But instead of us doing all the work, we get to be participants. There will be great music, amazing speakers, and plenty to learn There will be tons of opportunities to grow in our faith, our competencies, and our connections. We are not in charge. So for once, let us soak up all the hard work that someone else has done and actually receive it all as a gift.
9: Take a Seminar You Don't Agree With: We all have our hobby horses. In fact my favorite thing is to hang out with people who agree with me and reinforce my amazing theology and model of ministry. And when I get bored with thinking that I am so great, I then think of opposing views and set them up as straw men, just to destroy them. But most of these other positions in theology and practice aren't straw men, they are points of view by passionate believers who are committed to their pursuits. Being challenged in your theology and practice will actually sharpen you and cause genuine growth. Because we are all at the same conference, chances are you already agree on the big stuff, so let the small stuff sharpen and refine you.
8: Stay Up Too Late: We have to be responsible in every area of our lives, especially in our jobs as youth worker. When we take students to camp we are the ones who monitor the rooms to make sure our students go to bed. Have you ever realized how much fun our students have after bed time. They stay up late, laughing, telling stories, and sharing their deepest darkest. The best stuff always happens after bed time. The same is true at a conference. Don't go to bed at 10:00. When everyone gets a second wind and heads out to a pub, grab your ID and get going. If a beer will get. you fired, just buy a Shirley Temple. Just don't go to bed. This is when it starts to get good.
7: Don't Go to Everything: Ever conference I have ever been to has way to many options. There are main stages, break out seminars, network meetings, discussion groups, etc. Our brains can only take so much input. Find the ones that are most interesting and helpful, go to those and ditch the rest. This conference is our one time a year to get recharged. If we cram our brains with too much information, we will get worn out before we even get home. Hit the beach, catch a game, take a nap, read a book, meet up with friends. Think of it as extended free time.
6: Find 3 Practical Take-A-Ways: There is so much to learn at a conference. Everyone has a good idea that will revolutionize your ministry. Remember, all of these people are trying to sell you something. You have a very specific context in which you do ministry. You know your students the best. Instead of getting swept up with some latest and greatest. Find 3 practical things you can add to your current ministry to tweak it and improve it. Once you have your three, stop. Quit going to seminars, take a break and relax. It is a total disservice if you leave conference ready to chuck what you have been doing for a brand new ministry model. Trust what God has called you to do, and strive to improve it with something practical.
5: Wrestle With One New Concept: You will be challenged to adopt all sorts of new ministry models, curriculum, and causes. While I think it is silly to chuck what you have been doing because of some great marketing, It is important to be open to new things that God has for you and your ministry. There is no way to do everything that is presented. Instead of giving it all equal weight, use some patience and discernment. Use the conference experience for God to begin or confirm a new work in you and in your ministry. Don't think that a half week conference is enough time for a new conviction, model, or cause to be planted, germinate, grow, and produce fruit. Usually just one of these growing metaphors can happen. So wrestle with one new concept and simply take it to just the next level.
4: Connect, Connect, Connect: We continually tell our students to choose friends who will spur them on to know Christ more fully. We too need to choose our friends and colleagues who will spur us on to deeper and better ministry. We need fellow sojourners to commiserate with, celebrate with, and to speak truth into our lives. Our pastor won't do it, parents, won't, our spouse won't, and for sure students won't. Fellow youth workers, who get students, the church, this crazy job are some of the greatest resources available to us. Use every opportunity available to connect. Denominational gatherings, women in ministry gatherings, urban gatherings, rural gatherings, whatever. If they offer free food even better. Make new friends, nurture old ones, just connect and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you through this unique community in this unique setting.
3: Meet Up With a Conference Pastor: It totally sucks that in order to be a ministry leader means that our entire lives have to be put together. We have to have victory over all our sin, have a plan for our ministry, we know how to handle every crazy situation, and we can not worry about silly, worldly things like finances. None of this is true. We need priests who we can bear our soul to and confess our sin to and, for at least a moment, be the broken people we really are, and not get fired for it. Conference pastors get to be our priests who will listen to us, pray for us, and offer grace and wisdom. It is so old trying to be the spiritual hero all the time. For one hour, give it up and share what is really going on in your life and in. your heart. Confess your sin and be healed.
2: Get Over Yourself: When you look at the roster of who is speaking and presenting, it is easy to be a little bit bitter and prideful. You are a gifted ministry leader and you have a ton to share and teach. What do these guys and gals know that you don't. You run a successful ministry and you are the one who is just as qualified to teach that seminar. The only problem is that you aren't. Instead of being bitter or prideful, try to learn something. If you want to teach so bad, then put a proposal together and get rejected a few times. Maybe one day you will get chosen to present only to be judged by your peers. The truth is there is always something to learn, so let's learn. When your turn comes to teach, then teach. But this year, let's be open to new ideas and fresh perspectives from gifted leaders in our field and average youth workers like you and me.
1: Be Expectant: At the end of the day, our attitude 100% shapes what we take a way from any conference experience Most of what makes camp so great is that students expect to meet God in fresh and bold ways. And sure enough, God shows up. The same is true for us. God has all sorts of work to do on our souls and in our ministries. When we actually open our eyes and get in a posture of receiving, the flood gates will open up. God wants nothing more than to encourage us in our faith and in our calling. Let us cut away the parts of our hearts that are hard, cold, judgmental, self-righteous, and rude, and ask God to give us his eyes, his ears, his heart as we lean into all that God has for us.
May God use every single thing while we are away to restore our weary souls. Every session, every speaker, every conversation to fill up our cups to overflowing so that we can go back to our ministry context and live fully into the woman or man that God called us to be. Let us soak up this mountain top experience so we can enter back into the valley with clear vision and purpose. And may all of it be to the glory of God. Blessings!