Tonight I received the most amazing gift from God. Like most good gifts, it is one that is unexpected and undeserved. It was the gift of experiencing the first Main Stage at Orange with fresh eyes.
The sad truth is that I have reached a place in my life where my eyes are often weary and critical. My once optimism and idealism has taken a hit. And the result is that my posture towards events and institutions is often one of hostility. Now because I am a professional Christian I do a good job of hiding this reality with thoughtful insights and constructive criticisms, but the truth is that I often first see everything wrong, and only occasionally get to what might be right.
Like many of my friends here at Orange, I have really been looking forward to coming to Atlanta and enjoying a good conference. Who doesn't? Without even realizing it, I think I have become inoculated to the power of an event like Orange. Of course there will be quality worship, clever skits and videos, impressive lights and smoke machine, and well known speakers. So an amazing job is really a C in my book. Any mistake causes the grade to go down, and the only way to get above a C would by inviting me to speak at main stage.
But this year is different.
Instead of traveling alone to this event and spending all my time with my bitter youth pastor friends, I came with my children's ministry team. This group of women are some of the hardest working and most faithful team members I have ever had the privilege to serve with. They are all part time and have served our church faithfully for years and some for more than a decade.
This year we found a way for them to come to Orange and experience a conference where I knew they would be encouraged, equipped, and blessed. It turns out that there presence allowed me to share in their experience.
If you have ever taken a child to Disneyland, that is what today felt like at the Orange conference. As adults it is easy to dismiss all that goes into making Disneyland the happiest place on earth. But when children go there, they are overjoyed with every surprise that awaits them around every corner.
Instead of viewing the conference in my normal, ho-hum sort of way, I viewed every detail, every booth, every give-a-way, every taco truck through the fresh eyes of my staff. And by the time main stage started I was primed to encounter the entire evening a fresh. The result was "Game Changing!"
In case you have grown comfortable with the conference setting, I wanted to highlight some of the things that Orange did on main stage that was so impacting to me and to my team.
The opening skit of celebrating famous people singing parody songs for the different areas of ministry was not only clever, but was exactly what the doctor ordered to be encouraging to a group of people who work their butts off for their church with little to no recognition. Youth and children's workers don't do what they do for the glory or the money. They do it because they are called by God and faithful servants.
But what we all need is to be seen and to have what we do and the range of emotions that we experience as we do it be validated. And the Orange team delivered big time. By seeing us, validating us, speaking our love language, we are able to let our guard down and truly dig in to the rich meal that was served up.
If you have never been to a conference like this, it is overwhelming to have your call validated. I remember the first time I ever went to a large youth conference, I was blown away that the job that is the bottom run in status and influence in my church was lifted high and celebrated. This is what my children's staff got to experience tonight. Their hours and hours of preparation and implementation that often goes unseen was lifted up, celebrated, and their calling affirmed.
As we made our way through the liturgy of the evening, the Orange team and Reggie hit it out of the park in highlighting the need for diversity as we cling to the unity of the gospel. This gospel we cling to, that we have the privilege to experience ourselves and to share with others was made brand new by the Spirit of God this evening.
Because I was actually open and expectant for God to show up, he did. Amazing!
The question was posed in the middle of the service, "What game needs to change, and am I willing to do what it takes to be a game changer?" Tonight I was struck that the game that needs to change is to get back to my first love, my love of God and my love for students. The game of trying to find the next best thing is actually that I need to reintroduce love back into the equation.
For me, in my little context, the game changing thing God is calling me into is actually simple, but difficult for me. The call is to allow my heart to grow and to continue to give it away with out abandon. It is so easy to protect it from pain, but this new adventure is to give up control and protection of my heart and allow myself to be hurt and crushed by our students, so that I can also experience the joy and celebration if and when Christ grabs a hold of their hearts.
My action plan is simply: I will pour my guts into the students that God has entrusted to me and to our church, and I will seek out and find those students who are lost so that I can pour my guts into them.
We can not do what we are called to do without getting messy. Giving our hearts away to our students and walking through this season of life with them is messy. But it is in this mess where we can encounter the presence of God and be transformed by his Spirit. And until our student figure it out for themselves, I am going to re-commit myself to carrying their mat to Jesus until by faith they get up and walk!
I am thankful for my children's ministry team and for their commitment to Christ and his church. And I am thankful that God used their fresh eyes to give me fresh eyes, so that I could be expectant for God to show up, and celebrate that fact that he did!
And that was just day 1. Look out!
May I never get jaded with the gospel or the privilege to share it