Top 10 ways to get the most out of the Orange Conference #OC17

Top 10 ways to get the most out of the Orange Conference  #OC17

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 :)

This week we are the Orange Conference.  Here are the top 10 ways to get the most out of your conference experience.

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The myth of life long student ministry

It seems like just yesterday that I was sitting in a hotel room at a Youth Specialties conference with my colleagues in ministry.  There were at least four of us staying in the Motel 6 down the road just to save money.  We didn’t mind sharing the room because we could not believe that we had gotten jobs as youth workers.  We were being paid to love on students and help them love Jesus.  All four of us had recently graduated from college, were friends from camp, and relishing the opportunity to take our place as the next generation of youth workers. The urban legend that shaped our views of success was the one about longevity.

We had all heard the statistic about the average tenure of a youth worker was 18 months, and most of had experienced that number to be a reality in our lives.  But this statistic would not define us.  We were in youth ministry for the long haul, not just 18 months, not even 3-5 years, were were going to be youth workers FOR LIFE!!

17 years later, I am the last of my four friends who is still doing vocational youth ministry.  And of the dozens of peers who are of similar age that I have had the pleasure of calling colleagues in youth ministry, I alone remain.

It seems like every young youth worker I talk with has a similar perspective to the one I had years ago.  And the truth is, that like my circle of friends, only a small percentage of them will continue on in student ministry into their 30’s, less into their 40’s, and none into their 50’s.

While this is the truth, this is not a sad truth.  I have no special honor for being the last of my friends who is still in youth ministry.  It is simply the way it is.  While it is ok for young men and women to speak boldly about things they do not quite understand, it is the implications of this false view that ends up limiting them in the long run.

Speaking boldly is part of the fun of ministry.  We love pontificating with our peeps, and really, anyone who will listen, about whatever the subject is.  We speak with great passion and conviction.  This should not be squashed, for passion and conviction are some of the important stones in a ministry foundation.  But sometimes this passion and conviction replaces wisdom and discernment and often proves to be a liability in the long run.

If youth ministry for life is your mantra, then my fear is that being open to all that God might have for your future gets put in jeopardy.  Calling is always seasonal.  Our lives unfold before us like a well written Choose Your Own Adventure book.  And because of this, the specifics of what sort of ministry we are called to do will always be in flux.

Today, in this time and place, you are called to youth ministry.  Praise God for being a faithful servant to your students.  But as you grow and develop, as life throws you curve ball after curve ball, as you discern your gifts and strengths, as you grow less and less patient with junior highers during a lock-in, it becomes apparent that God seems to often closes some doors, and opens wide others.  When that day comes, the one where God calls you away from youth ministry, you should be fully prepared for whatever that next thing is.

If we have not cultivated a view of life after youth ministry, unfortunately, we will find our options incredibly limited.  However,when we see our entire life as called into ministry, in the most general sense, then we will always be on the look out for ways to grow and develop.  For we are not called to one specific task in ministry, we are called to be servants of Christ, wherever and whatever that may be.  And if that is our calling, then we must be good stewards of all of our resources.

SO WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE:

If we have not cultivated a view of life after youth ministry, unfortunately, we will find our options incredibly limited.  However,when we see our entire life as called into ministry, in the most general sense, then we will always be on the look out for ways to grow and develop.  For we are not called to one specific task in ministry, we are called to be servants of Christ, wherever and whatever that may be.  And if that is our calling, then we must be good stewards of all of our resources.

As we all continue to strive to be faithful to our call into ministry,let us work hard to develop personally, scholastically, and professionally.

Personally:

Who you are when you are in your 20’s is different from the person you are in your 30’s, 40’s, etc.  Walk into church and look at some of those old people.  They were wild and got into trouble, they were responsible and made difficult decisions, both personally and professionally.  They have experienced all sorts of pain and heartbreak that we can not even begin to understand.  They are a clear reminder that we will be old soon enough.  Our life will not always look as it does.  And because of that we need to be people who are life long learners.

Many of us are from contexts where testimonies almost always look back to the time of our initial salvation.  While this is a glorious day, we must make sure that we are people who are continually leaning in to the Holy Spirit and have a testimony that is current.  Jesus is always inviting us into closer relationships and deeper intimacy.  He longs to heal our brokenness and set us on the path of life.

Part of this growth comes from trying new things, exploring new passions, developing hidden talents.  If everything remains constant we will miss out on al the colorful things that God has in store for us.  Showing up ready to explore all that God has for us keeps us fresh and growing.  The day we think we have it all figured out, our word begins to get exponentially smaller.

Scholastically:

Many youth workers despise school.  They love to learn and to read and to grow in knowledge, but see school as a needless burden.  School is expensive.  Classes are irrelevant.  Who really cares if you know Greek or Hebrew anyway?

But the truth is school is very important.  Education is the single most important part of your resume.  Maybe not today, and maybe not in this particular context.  But when a group of people who don’t know you, evaluate your resume, your scholastic history is the first score on the pro and cons list that will ultimately determine if you have a shot at an interview.

Because most young youth workers can not imagine a life outside of youth ministry, school seems like a big waste of time.  But it is an awful tragedy when your youth ministry days come to an end, and the options that are available to you are few and far between because you lack the education.  Pursuing education keeps all of your options open.

The truth is there is never a good time to go to school.  There are always seemingly higher callings than jumping through hoops for the man.  But this view is short sighted.  If you don’t have your bachelor’s, then get to work and start taking night classes, whatever it takes but get it done.  In our world today, a bachelor’s degree is the starting point.

While a bachelor’s degree is the starting point, a master’s degree is the deeded degree for anyone who is called into ministry leadership.  Whether it is right or wrong, it is the way it is.  Instead of being bitter about it or thinking you don’t need it because you are happy where you are, remember that you are called into ministry and this season you are doing one thing, but who knows what season is around the corner.

Because we have not idea what the future holds, we should always make decisions that keep as many doors open as possible.  And this is especially true in picking master’s programs.  There are so many master’s programs out there now and many youth workers pick the path of least resistance.  When we are called to youth ministry, the choice seems easy, master of arts degree in leadership or christian formation.

While this is a great degree, I would encourage people at the beginning of their master’s journey to consider their life long call.

If their is any chance that their call might include long term service to the institutional church, then I would strongly recommend a master’s of divinity.  Again, whether right or wrong, this is the bench mark degree for pastoral leadership.  Whatever decision you make regarding school, the lens for examining our options needs to be our entire life long calling, not this short season.

Professionally:

Finally we must be developing professionally.  There are so many amazing resources available to us.  We must be wise to not settle and rely on our current skill set.  Our skills can alway be improved upon.  We live in a time where there are countless resources available to us, and we would be fools to not take advantage of this reality.

We must be reading books, attending seminars, meeting in cohorts, asking questions, seeking answers, continually evaluating ourselves and others.  Striving for excellence is a noble goal.  Many of us trick ourselves into thinking that we don’t care about worldly success and that terms like “excellence” are unspiritual markers.

It is a disservice to the Kingdom of God if we are satisfied with who we are and what we currently bring to the table.  As amazing as our current state s, we can always grow, always be stretched, and always become more effective.  In a world that is continually changing, and the task of youth ministry becoming exponentially complex, we must make our best effort to stay ahead of the curve.

Even the most amazing and gifted youth workers are that way because they have put in countless hours honing their skills.  All the natural ability in the world becomes dated in just a few short years.  But when we approach ever book, every article, every conference, every speaker with a teachable heart, we allow ourselves to grow and develop in new and fresh ways.

At the end of the day . . .

The sad truth is that there will be a day in the near future when your days as youth worker will come to a close.  And when that day comes, my prayer for you and for me is that we will have continued to develop into all that God has for us.

We will have a growing and current walk with Jesus.  A walk where we can hear his voice and a character that will be faithful in his calling.

We will have a growing scholastic resume.  As Jesus calls us into new forms of ministry, we want to be able to have as many doors open as possible.

We will continue to sharpen our skills and abilities as well as increase the number of tools we have at our disposal by developing professionally.  When we sharpen our old skills and develop new ones we have so many more ways to be effective in our current ministry context and in whatever context we find ourselves down the road.

Youth ministry for life is a myth.  We must be careful that this myth doesn’t unintentionally stunt our growth.  There are countless years of life and ministry ahead of us.  We must not sell ourselves short and limit all that God might have for us.  We are called to serve in this current context with all of who we are.  And as we serve we strive to continue to grow and develop to be even more effective now and be prepared for whatever amazing adventures are beyond the horizon.

May God truly bless us who are faithfully serving as youth workers, and may we give grace and blessing to our friends who God has equipped and prepared for a new adventure.  And may all of us strive to be life long learners who are ready for and prepared for every good work!

(This is a crazy long blog post, I know.  I am traveling this week and wanted to pass on an oldie but a goodie.  Thank you mom for being the only one to read this far!)

 

Top 10 ways to get the most out of #NYWC

youth specialtiesCan 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!

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10 ways to survive reentry from the Orange Conference: #OC17

Orange is over, you have checked out of your hotel, and it is now time to head back home. For the past several days you have had the amazing opportunity to be free from leadership responsibilities, drama, and obligations. You have been able to wonder around as you please, sleep in, visit with friends, and stay up too late. You have been encouraged and sharpened spiritually and vocationally. And it is now time to wrap it up and reengage life, real life, the life to which you were really called to live. If we are not careful, it is easy to come in at the wrong angle and disintegrate as we reenter. It takes intentional effort to maximize all that God has done in you this week and to make sure the seed lands in fertile soil. Here are 10 simple ways to survive reentry:

1) Remember, this was just a break, not real life: Whenever we have some sort of spiritual high, the knee-jerk reaction is to build a tabernacle and want to say there a while longer. The picture we get again and again in scripture is that we get moments of clarity on the mountain, but our call is in the valley. Our homes and churches are the place we are called. This time away is not our real life, it is simply a break. It is time to get back to it.

2) The grass is not greener somewhere else: It seems like every speaker and every new friend you make comes from a context where ministry is amazing and God is alive and at work. We all put our best foot forward. It usually isn't until a few months after we get married that we let it all hang out. Until that point we all share the best of our context. If you really thought about it, you could tell some story about how God is moving in your context that would blow someone away. Every context has great stories of God's goodness, and every context has difficult bosses, fickle students, and limited budgets. No matter where you go, you are still there. Ask God to continue to refine you, so you can be all he desires in your context.

3) Brainstorm a list of where God is already at work in your context: If we don't intentionally reflect on this, we easily forget all the ways God has been faithful and become bitter because our context isn't as great as all the people's at the conference. A long list of places God has shown up will go a long way to soothe a bitter heart. I bet you will be surprised and encouraged.

4) Don't verbally process with your supervisor: I am sure you had several epiphany regarding the programming and philosophy of your context. It never goes well when you come back guns blazing and tear apart all the work and ideas your supervisor has been pouring their life into for the past few years. What you were given at the conference was an idealized, best case scenario. Be inspired and work it out, even come up with a plan. But don't verbally process with your supervisor. This ends up being hurtful and divisive.

5) Try and implement one new idea: There were so many great ideas that you had at the conference. However, because you have so many, most of them fade away and never get implemented or even thought about. Instead of storing up a million ideas for when things get perfect, pick one or two of them that are ready to go within your current model and context and do it. The minor tweaks and improvements will be well received and the small wins build confidence and good will toward the larger ideas that you desire to implement down the road.

6) Take 3 hours this week and sort through all you learned: There were more than just little fixes you thought about and wrestled through while you were away. In just a matter of days all of this will become a fleeting memory. To take full advantage of all that was revealed to you on the mountain, make sure you take some significant time this week to reflect on and wrestle with all that you learned. If you have some big moves to make, this is the time to come up with a plan to implement it. If you are not intentional, your week will get away from you, and the next week, and soon an entire year will go by with you never even dreaming about where you could go, let alone developing a plan, let alone put one into play.

7) Don't make any sudden movements: Often after a retreat it feels like God has something new for you personally or for the church. It is now clear that you should leave your job, or implement a brand new ministry philosophy. That is great. While it may be true and it may even be God's will, do not do it suddenly. Churches are made up of people and people don't like change. We need to be eased into it. So don't be hasty. God's will will be the same in a month or two. If you have dramatic changes afoot, be slow and steady.

8: Be a good listener to your friends and family: While you have been away learning, growing, and being encouraged, there have been people in your life back home that have been living their own lives full of joys and sorrow. Before you open up the fire hose on them, close your mouth and listen to them, to their stories, to all that has been going on while you were gone. This group of people are the core of your real life, therefore we should treat them as such and honor and value the real lives they have been living in our absence.

9) Take a nap this week in your office or car: I don't know about you, but after a retreat, I am exhausted. I know I didn't do any real work, but for whatever reason all the conversations, sessions, seminars, late nights and early mornings wear me down. I have found that my life back home has zero empathy for needing rest after a convention. So, zip your lip about being tired. Get your work and family obligations done, then take a nap in your office. Or pull into a parking lot and take a nap. You need the rest, but it is better that it is done in secret. :)

10) Thank your staff and volunteers who have held down the fort: Most of us had program happen while we were away. This did not happen on its own. We have great staff, paid and volunteer how stepped up in huge ways this week to give us space to be at a conference. We can not take that for granted. Make sure you pick up some gift cards, buy some pedicures, and say thank you to the people who went above and beyond for our benefit.

I hope you had a great time at your conference and that God did show up in a new and fresh way. I pray that you would be encouraged and empowered by your time on the mountain, and as you begin to reengage, you would bring back a heart overflowing with grace and mercy. Let us die to the bitterness and angst at the disappointments of how things are back home. Instead, may we return home with fresh eyes that are full of life and hope. May your plans be his plans, and may all of this be for the glory of God.