Archives For Discerning your call

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.

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A huge gift for parents

February 10, 2014 — 2 Comments

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It is really interesting how youth workers seem to have a love / hate, ok, maybe a hate / hate relationship with parents.

This last week I was at a national gathering with youth workers and in a break out session with 35 colleagues, I asked them to share their biggest frustration in ministry.  No, joke, in unison, the all said parents!It was interesting as it was sad.  For whatever reason, the tenor of student ministry professionals is that we are God’s agent for the spiritual development of students.  We are awesome.  We are experts at adolescent development and faith formation.  (At least, that is what we tell ourselves.)  We spend our entire existence dreaming up programs and meeting with students so that they will come to love Jesus.  But then our hearts get crushed as our students don’t show up to the parties we throw because we are getting such little support from parents.

I mean, COME ON!  Is soccer really more important!!

Then there are the family first peeps who think that professional student ministry is an anathema!

According to part of the bible, the nuclear family has the sole responsibility for the faith formation of their children.  All of the weight that we think we carry as youth workers, is carried exponentially by the family first crowd because their very own child’s walk with Jesus is dependent on their attempt at being whole, balanced, theologically sound, and the perfect representation of the their heavenly father.  All kidding aside, setting yourself up as the person who is ultimately responsible for your child’s faith development is an incredible burden to carry.

What if there was a third way? Continue Reading…

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There has been some discussion lately among some of my youth ministry friends about the future of our profession. There seems to be another round of shots fired across the bow at youth ministry and the professionals that lead these ministries. Sticky Faith, Family Based Ministries, and people with axes to grind continue to lay the decaying faith of adolescents and young adults squarely at the feet of us professionals and the failed models we are propping up.

Fellow professional youth workers have no fear, our jobs are here to stay!! We have an amazing calling and part of an amazing legacy, and I am convinced that for the foreseeable future, churches will continue to do everything in their power to make sure their staffs include a paid youth worker. Here’s why:

1) If a church is going to attract young families, they need to prove that they will care for the entire spiritual development of their kids.

For better or worse, a church that has a paid youth worker, signifies to the entire church family that they care about families. While children’s ministry is incredibly important, many parents will tolerate poor children’s ministry if they know that as their children grow into teens, there will be a place for them to continue to work it out at the church. Think of all the families that restart the church hopping process when their kids reach 4th and 5th grade. All of the sudden, that great church plant, or dynamic young preacher doesn’t seem to cut it when their own kids’ faith is on the line. A paid youth worker communicates care for this significant felt need.

2) It is a model that has positively impacted those who are now at the age to make decisions regarding staffing and budgets in churches.

It is an unavoidable truth that people invest and do the things that are meaningful to them. Think of how you choose what to do for your youth ministry program. Chances are most of what you do is based on the things that God used in significant ways in your own life when you were in student ministry. Youth ministry has now been around long enough that the power players at most churches remember the Hay Day of youth ministry and the significant role that ministry played in their faith development. They want their church to provide solid ministry for their own kids and their view of a thriving church includes a thriving student ministry. Most thriving student ministries are headed up by a paid point person.

3) Students continue to need a place for fellowship and learning that is separate from their parents and makes space for their unique developmental needs.

For all the talk about family ministry and integration, the fundamental task of adolescence is still individuation and separation from their family’s faith. Students need a place separate from their parents where they can ask the hard questions, push back, run away, and still be seen and loved by the church at large. Student ministry provides a unique haven in this adolescent development where students can work out their faith separate from their mom while still being connected to the church. It is really brilliant if you think about it.

4) The traditional model of youth minister, run by a professional, continues to be the most effective model at helping students develop personal faith and providing significant water marks in their lives.

I know it is so cool to be pissed at the church and youth ministry for all the kids who walk away from faith. But stop and think about all the kids who have ever come through your ministry and reflect on the ways that God has grabbed ahold of. We need to actually stop and celebrate the great things that God is doing in them and through them now. This isn’t something to gloss over. A vast majority of those in leadership now in the Church with a capital C are people who were leaders in their student ministries. Praise God for the gutter to glory stories of those people who find Jesus all by themselves later in life. But when you start to ask around, those people are the exception. Youth ministry is the tool that God has and is continuing to use to clarify people’s call into His family, and into ministry.

5) Name one church who has all the resources they need who would intentionally staff their church without a professional to run the student ministry.

For reals, name one. I know finances are hectic and churches have to be creative. But not hiring because of financial hard times is not the same as not doing youth ministry because of conviction. And the churches who are relying on faithful volunteers, whom I am honored to count as my colleagues, would pay those volunteers or someone else if they happened to win the Mega Millions Jackpot this last week.

A caveat:

While I do firmly believe that churches will continue to pay for people to work with students, they will no longer pay people who do shoddy work. Financial hardship is a reality in many of our contexts and every dollar matters. If our church leaders are going to be good stewards of their resources then they will only be paying people who will work hard and do a good job.

Gone are the days where youth workers are simply paid to goof off with students, play video games, eat pizza, and have a few informal bible studies at their house. If someone is being paid to run a youth ministry, then they will be expected to run a youth ministry. This includes program, administration, duties assigned by pastor, and then video game extravaganzas, all within a tight budget.

The good news is that our profession is here to stay! The bad news is that we will continue to be expected to work harder and be more effective than our predecessors. Friends, it is gut check time!

Are you still called to do ministry in this environment and with these expectations? Do you still love students, but may be losing steam on the professional aspect of it? Is it time to maybe need to call it quits? Or do you simply think I am full of crap and protecting my own paycheck? :)

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As we gear up for a new year and new semester of ministry, it is easy to get caught up in urgent tasks and miss the mark on what we are actually called to do as youth workers.  Now, don’t get me wrong, tasks like the details that go into a successful and engaging youth group, planning events, buying supplies and setting up fun games, the study and preparation for your talks, receipts, and contact work, are all important, but these tasks are only the action steps that must be informed by the four key tasks of student ministry.  If you do these four tasks well then you will be a rock star for the kingdom of God and for your church!

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The million dollar question seems to be something like, “How do we keep students committed to Jesus into adulthood?” This is one of the main questions I have been wrestling with during my tenure as a youth pastor.  And depending on the season, I end up somewhere swinging between it all being on Jesus or all being on me.  It is true that Jesus is the author and perfector of our faith and as shepherds we are called by god to build up or students in their faith.  At the end of the day, it is both.  I plant, you water, I plant, you water, and God causes there to be growth and life.  This is a mysterious partnership.

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This fall I kicked off my 17th year as a youth worker. One might expect that by this point in my career I would have it all dialed in. For the basic logistics, program, and structure (which hasn’t fundamentally changed, ever) it was a flawless launch. But for anyone who has done student ministry for more than a year, these logistics and structures are not the easy or hard part of this job, it is simply the field in which we play.

The people who I have, and currently do, look up to in student ministry have managed to keep the easy things easy, and treat the difficult things with the weight in which they deserve. So, the trick to thriving is simply to enjoy the easy part, and work hard at the hard part.

THE EASIEST JOB ON THE PLANET: LOVING STUDENTS

Did you know that the only real job for the youth worker is to simply love students. That is the beginning, middle, and end of our job. Everything we do has this at its core. Every thing we do is motivated by this reality. Most youth workers got into this gig because they love students and want them to love Jesus. Those who stick around and thrive have made the jump from generic “students,” to the more specific, Maggie, Sarah, Tristian, JJ, Nilsen, Spencer, Jessica, Katurah, Hannah, Bix, Haley, Kimmie, Shelby, and Kyleigh. (Insert your small group here)

Generically loving students makes you the hero of the grand drama of student ministry. Worried parents, annoying students, close minded senior pastors, are all glitches to your center stage focus of ministry. But when your love becomes specific, then you are no longer the center of the play. You are simply one of the many actors in the particular student’s drama, they are the star, not you, not me.

The easiest part of our job is to actually see the students God has entrusted to your ministry. See them, love them where they are at, and love them right into the kingdom of God!

THE HARDEST JOB ON THE PLANET: STANDING IN THE GAP!

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A while ago Josh Evans listed out the 10 must have books for student ministry.  They are great books and sparked some great discussion.  As youth workers we should be learners and a consumer of many books.  The books that Josh recommends should be consumed, reflected on, and implemented.

I am blessed to be in a context with youth workers who are some really great thinkers and avid readers.  We used Josh Evans’ blog as a jumping off point and came up with round two of books that we think should be read by every youth worker!

As we considered our context, which is about as post-Christian as it gets, we chose books that sharpened us, inspired us, equipped us, challenged us, and helped us understand the world in which we are doing ministry better.  These are not in any particular order and we hope you buy them all today!

not much just chillinNot Much, Just Chillin: The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers 

 

 

 

 

hurt-2-0-inside-world-todays-teenagers-chap-clark-paperback-cover-artHurt 2.0: Inside The World of Today’s Teenagers

 

 

 

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Top 10 Ways to Turn Your Pastor into the Biggest Advocate of Student Ministry:

The truth is that very few senior pastors are passionate about student ministry. If they were, they would be student ministry pastors. God has given them a heart and calling to shepherd the entire church, in which student ministry is only a part. If you want them to become a big fan and advocate for student ministry, then it begins with having them become big fan of you. Here are 10 practical ways to build heart strands with your pastor and helps them become a fan of you and student ministry.

 

10: Remember, They are the boss!

9: Don’t be a liability.

8: Professionalism is key.

7: Clean your office.

6: Love their kids.

5: Don’t forget to love them too.

4: Be teachable.

3: Document everything!

2: Keep your ego in check.

1: DO A GOOD JOB!

Ok, there is the complete list. Like all things, it is much easier to understand then to do, but when our actions match these values we will be the smell of perfume to our pastor, a blessing to our church, and you will be surprised by the amount of support your area of ministry will get. Get after it!

 

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Remember life before Mission Statements?

I remember back to the good ‘ol days, before mission statements, vision statements, measurable goals, strategic plans, and purpose driven everything. In those days life was simple, Chubby Bunny, DC Talk, the 4 Laws, and Pizza ruled the day. And somehow by God’s grace, churches grew, people came to know and love Jesus, and some of those people even felt called by God to go into ministry.

As corporate language has invaded the church there has been a sharpening of focus for churches and for ministry. This corporate language is not the point of this blog, and I apologize if you went into anaphylactic shock because of it. Yes, I agree the church isn’t corporate and we hate all things corporate (except Apple). But every church I have been to and every youth worker I talk to says that they want their church and their ministry to grow. And while they assure me that growth means spiritual growth, we all know what we mean, numerical growth. And the people who have been leading the charge are those who have taken the best of the corporate world and used them in the church.

A list of mission statements:

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I NEED HELP IN MY YOUTH MINISTRY!

I am continually surprised by how many of my colleagues find themselves in this boat. Every now and then a brand new face shows up to our local youth worker cluster. This person usually is a pretty warm and happy person, it is obvious that they love students and that they love Jesus! And this is evident because a church saw the same thing in them and put them in charge of the student ministry. Most of these wide eyed, rookies are part time and long to be faithful servants.

Then, almost without fail two months will go buy and they show up at our local network gathering disillusioned, rudderless, and overwhelmed. If this is you, or you know someone in your network who’s story seems close to this one, have no fear!

Youth ministry is actually the best and easiest job on the planet!

The passion and excitement you had at first to love kids and to help them love Jesus is still the name of the game. Their is just some infrastructure that is vital to your success and for some reason no one ever tells you about it. So you end up spinning your wheels with little success or joy and plenty of unhappy people giving you advice. With that being said, let me share with you the 5 basic pillars for a sound infrastructure so you can put those in place, work the system, and get back to the thing you were called to do! LOVE KIDS AND HELP THEM LOVE JESUS!

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Student ministry is a demanding job, and it seems the longer I do it, the bigger the demands become. Starting out, I couldn’t believe I could actually get paid to spend time with students, take them out to lunch, play video games and help them experience the love and grace of God. As I settled into the job of being a youth worker this simple beginning expanded exponentially.

When you take the simple task of loving students and helping them explore their faith, and combine it with the all the extra expectations, emotional mood swings, scared or ticked-off parents, crises, graduation, incoming 6th graders, managing your supervisor, changing programs, and personal growth and transition, it’s a miracle that youth workers stick around for even 15 months.

As I reflect on my 17 years of vocational student ministry, I have come to realize that in all I do and have done, two very basic rhythms have allowed me to continue for the long haul.

1) Continue to work out my own faith with fear and trembling. It is easy to slip into a maintenance mode in our faith. Because we spend most of our time with students who are significantly younger than us, it can take a while before we realize that we too have the faith of a sophomore in high school. The truth is, our faith must be our own faith, and the ministry we do must be an overflowing of the work Jesus is doing in our own hearts. (I know this is a no-brainer, but this head knowledge must become heart knowledge if we are going to be all that God longs for us to be.)

We must not settle in our understanding of scripture or in our personal process of sanctification. We are unfinished masterpieces, and to accomplish the good work Jesus has for us to do, we must consistently submit to the hammer and chisel of the Father. What better gift can we give our students than an example of adult faith that is just as much in refinement as their is? And 2 . . .

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#bestjobever

June 21, 2013 — Leave a comment

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Today we are wrapping up our mission trip with a little bit of rest and relaxation. After spending the first part of the week giving a 110%, our students deserve a much needed break.

Every time I take students on a trip like this, and truthfully just about every time I get to spend time with my students, I am taken back by what a blessed man I am. Truthfully, I have the best job in the world. And this trip is the best parts of my job all wrapped up and condensed into one week.

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One of the things I enjoy the most in this season of ministry is getting together with fellow youth workers and wrestling with what it means to be a youth worker, how to live into this calling, and how to get after it so that students may come to know and follow Jesus.

I have found that just about all the conversations wrapped up in, and around the topic of student ministry are life giving and soul filling.  So, any time I can get in a room with colleagues, I know I am going to leave charged up and ready to go!  Sometimes this itch gets scratched at large conferences, sometimes in smaller local network gatherings.  And sometimes, an event comes along that is just right!  Not too big so you get lost in the crowd, and not too small that the conversation gets dominated by that one “challenging” personality. :)  The Open Conference is that space that is just right!

The Youth Cartel has come up with a brilliant model to get youth workers into these conversations.  Instead of hearing from a few famous speakers from contexts very different from our own speak for 45 minutes at a time, wouldn’t it be great to hear from a number of speakers from our own context give their best 10 minute talk about their unique passion in ministry?  That is what the Open model is in a nutshell.

The Open model is genius and the people at the Cartel explain what it is much better than I can.  To get a better picture of what and why Opens happen, check out the Open Bay Area site!  This post is simply to wet your appetite :)

Would you consider participating in the conversation?

On November 16, 2013 we will be gathering youth workers and volunteers from all over the greater San Francisco Bay Area for a day training, equipping, inspiration, and fun!  We will be hosting an Open and are looking for people to fill the presenting spots.  We are looking for people who understand the unique context of ministry in the Bay Area and / or have something really compelling to share.  There will be two tracks, a volunteer training and a youth worker track.  So if you have something for either or both of these tracks, simply click on the “become a speaker” link and start the process.

We will be accepting proposals until July 15.

Would you consider having Open Bay Area be part of your fall calendar?

Whether you are a presenter or not, I hope that if you live in Northern California, you would consider being a part of this event.  The organizing team which has some really sharp people on it will be there, Adam McLane, from the  Youth Cartel, will be there, and hopefully you and your team will be there!

If we are going to be all that God has for us to be in ministry, then we need to each other’s voices and ideas.  And what better way to do that than with fellow youth workers who are all trying to crack the nut of doing effective ministry in the increasingly post-Christian context of the San Francisco Bay Area.

If I have any chance of keeping my head in the game for the next decade, then I need you!  I need your friendship, I need your voice, and I need your ideas!  

The Open Bay Area is on the books for November 16, 2013.  Would you consider submitting your A material for a shot to present to your peers your best stuff for volunteers and youth workers who do ministry in the Bay Area?    Would you consider bringing your team and joining us, no matter who the line up is for some mutual edification?

SAVE THE DATE!

SUBMIT THOSE PROPOSALS!!

Peace!

 

What is the top of the youth ministry world? When will you have arrived? Is it about the number of students in your ministry? Is it about working at a particular church? Is it when you get to travel and speak? Is it when you get to speak at main stage for Youth Specialties?

Every career has a ladder, and student ministry is no different.

Let’s just take high school education as example. The basic corporate ladder goes something like this; substitute teacher, teacher’s aid, class room teacher, head of department, assistant principle, principle. Then if you have sights higher than that particular high school, assistant superintendent, and finally super indent.

But this isn’t the top of the ladder. From superintendent, there is an entirely different ladder to climb ending with, who knows, the governorship or even the president of the united states.

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Normally I wouldn’t post a sermon I have preached on my blog. In fact there are a ton of reasons not to. I get that I a not the most compelling speaker, I am slightly below average in looks, and in this case I was a bit nervous because of the topic so I spoke a little bit too fast. I also get that you are a fabulous preacher and I am opening up myself to be seen as less than in your eyes.

But these are silly and vain reasons and I am all about the spiritual growth to combat these childish tendencies. Plus, the more I have been reflecting on this passage of in 1 Timothy, my church context, and my friends in ministry whom I would love to speak up for, I thought I would give it a whirl.

The relationship between the church and the pastor is a mysterious one at best. It always starts with such high hopes and expectations, and often devolves into disenchantment, bitterness, and pain. But if the church does these 2 things well, I think we as pastors will thrive a bit more.

Spoiler alert: one of those points is paying us well. I mean really well :)

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Don’t church plant.

October 8, 2012 — 11 Comments

I know you are awesome.  In fact everyone at church confirms this to be true.  At this point is becoming a conviction that by limiting your gifts to the realms of student ministry would be a crime.  Numbers don’t lie and your ministry has exploded under your leadership and you are ready to proclaim the word to the masses!  But before you jump ship in order to follow “God’s Call” to become the next church planter mega success, let me share a few words of caution . . .

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Your amazing ministry was actually built by somebody else.

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A couple of weeks ago we had our monthly Manly Mecca meeting.  This is a new approach to our guys’ ministry that was inspired by a show on MTV actually.  After we sat around and did our monthly check in, share our deepest darkest and be honest about every guys’ struggle, and try not to pay the jar, we headed out for a little project.

We take our fall kick off very seriously.  I think a solid youth ministry has purposeful events, and the kick off sets the tone for the year and direction for our entire ministry.  To make our first youth group special, I thought it would be fun to highlight the guys in our ministry and make a Carly Rae video.  I know they have been around all summer and are old news, but that is how I roll, about 6 months behind the curve.

I think it is important to embrace the music that is the sound track of our students lives and use them to have a Dance Party, or simply to use it to solidify great youth ministry memories.  And that is what we did.  This video is the result of some really hard work by one of my students, and in a way totally highlights some of my biggest passions and values.

With all the chaos and work that goes into getting the school year up and going and pulling off our fall kick off, I am tired.  So I apologize for the shoddy post.  But it is Friday, and it is time for some rest.  I hope and pray that you have a great weekend and get some good old fashioned rest this weekend as well.  In fact not resting is breaking one of the 10 commandments.  How cool is that, taking a nap is what you are called to do this weekend.

We’ll all get back after it on Monday. So until then . . .

Blessings!

A new rhythm for summer

June 12, 2012 — 4 Comments

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This week marks the end of our formal student ministry calendar. From here on out we switch gears to our summer rhythm, full of pool parties, bbqs, and exciting trips. For me, a change in season marks an opportunity for reflection, evaluation, and course correction.

I have spent the last few weeks wrestling with what God has for me personally. This is a fun and needed change from being single-minded in my pursuite of student ministry. While I do think I have a good plan for those guys for the summer and upcoming year, I do need to make some important course corrections for near, and possibly the not so near future, in my personal life.

Maybe we should follow our dreams:

The story of Joseph in scripture is a powerful story for me. I believe that God has put a unique dream in each of our hearts, and as we grow and mature in the Lord, God clarifies that dream. Not all of us have dreams of our family bowing down to us, but we do all have glimpses of the full and whole person that we were created to be.

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least of these

As my ministry grows and shrinks and and I grow and shrink, I have found myself wrestling with this challenging question.  ”Do I pour my life into leaders, or into the least of these?”  

I totally get the strategy and potential multiplication that happens when you take the cream of the crop and invest into them.  The potential pay off is huge.  They become spiritual leaders among their friends, at their schools, in their companies, and even follow a call into ministry.  Many of us youth pastors were “leader” kids that were given some extra love and attention by our youth pastor and helped shape a larger view of ourselves and ministry and that is why we are doing what we are doing.

Leader kids are the best.

They are all in.  They are normal.  They have social kids and it feels good when they like us.  And while I am a product of some extra love and have seen the fruit of that in some of my leader kids, I wonder if the strategy of ministry to leaders trains our hearts, our leaders, and our ministries to miss the very heart of the ministry of Jesus Christ.

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In less then a week, I am heading to the A.T.L. to spend time at one of the greatest ministry conferences out there. I am going to the annual Orange Conference. In case you have never heard of it, you should spend some time on their webiste.

Our church has gone Orange a little over a year ago and we are already seeing some amazing fruit. First and foremost from the philosophy, and then through their engaging, relevant, biblical, and fun curriculum. I am excited to take my children’s ministry team with me and be encouraged, inspired, and equipped for another year of ministry!

There is great line up of speakers and seminars. And like everything done with Orange it will be an excellent conference. But what I am looking forward to the most is spending time with my team dreaming about ministry, connecting with my colleagues in ministry, and staying out late dominating the youth ministry dodgeball tournament.

I have the honor and privilege of not just attending, but of being on the blogging / social media team for the conference. Thankfully I have learned a little bit about both so I can actually contribute this year :) What that means is that myself and a handful of other great bloggers will be sharing their experiences, their notes, their impressions, and whatever else comes to mind with their friends who may not have the opportunity to attend this year.

Here is the list of my fellow orange bloggers. Reading their posts will help you feel like you are actually there in the arena with 5000 of your closest friends, in the dirty south, eating Chick Filet, hanging out with Andy Standly and Kara Powel. Ok, it probably won’t do any of those things. But you will be encouraged and get the most important nuggets handed to you on a silver platter with all the fixin’s. (That is like 3 southern references in one paragraph, not bad!)

Time to get my Crunk on! (in a hip/hop sort of way)