CRUSHING your "conference" zone

When it comes to your professional development in ministry, what are your consumerist default tendencies (let’s be real okay;) for selecting a conference or convention? Are you looking for a quick programmatic fix, vision, direction, or maybe even the lesson for this week? (Okay, okay not too real. Sheesh.)

Your focus might be more about great speakers, passionate worship, or simply just to get away. All valid. Introspective types might search for some cultural or inter-generational insights. For instance, do you know what follows Gen Z? Alpha.

Whatever your motivation to get out of town for personal development in ministry, here are a few things to think about to escape your comfort dome and get into your “conference” zone…

It starts with this question: When is the last time you did something on purpose so you would intentionally be out of your comfort zone?

Not because someone else made you or you were forced to by circumstances but because you chose to be out of your comfort zone to stimulate personal development? For me, it was leading a workshop on children’s ministry at a children’s ministry retreat-conference called SPARK.

Okay, so I guess I was asked to do this, but I could have declined the opportunity. For this veteran youth worker speaking instructively about children's ministry is way, WAY outside my comfort zone and super intimidating! And so worth the stretching and growing I had to manifest to prep and present. I’ve always been told to write and share what you know: Your story. I’ve been the parent of three elementary kids and currently teach/small group lead with my local church in 5/6th grade. I can speak to that from a volunteer perspective! I actually have A LOT to say. Maybe too much? Haha.

Participating in national ministry conferences can be that kind of experience for us as participants. By 2007, as a younger youth pastor, I had been to a few of Youth Specialities’ National Youth Worker Conferences (NYWC) which had been super encouraging and formative for me. But I wanted to try something new. I discovered that YS was hosting an NYWC in Vancouver, British Columbia that year and I seized the opportunity.

In the words of NF...WHY?

  1. Community: Conferences are a great opportunity to meet with old friends that live far away and make new friends from all over! I had a good friend from Toronto (Stuart Williams, now pastoring in Calgary) that was going and we had been looking for a retreat/conference opportunity to do together. YS provided a great venue for us.

  2. Resource: Stuart had previously recommended a book called The Shaping of Things to Come that had awoken my curiosity about navigating post-Christendom western culture. This book, crafted by the experiences of Australian and South African missiologists, expanded my perspective on being the church by light-years. I was guessing at this Canadian youth worker convention I would not only find youth ministry resources galore but workshops on Canadian youth ministry practices that would also inspire new and innovative possibilities for me and our local ministry.

  3. Culture: I wondered how youth workers in Canada, who were farther down the post-Christendom road than we are in the US, were navigating ministry and cultural challenges. Their experiences may forecast the future of the North American church.

  4. Perspective: I knew there would be a smaller attendance and therefore a greater chance of meeting more people and having genuine connections with participants who think, live, and faith in Christ from a different vantage point. (And there was that one excursion with Mark Yaconelli to the Blue Moose bar in downtown Vancouver;)

Community with close friends. Resources with practical and missiological applications. Tangential if not outright cross-cultural influences. Expansion of personal philosophical understanding of self, others, Christ, ministry, being the church, and the demographic we pastor and lead. 

Those are all worthy reasons to crush your “conference” zone and get to a convention or retreat of some type this Fall, Winter, or Spring before next summer rolls around. Who knows? There may even be a budget for you to peruse such wild and crazy frivolities! No kidding. If there isn’t a budget, start writing that proposal and don’t give up. Your efforts may or may not pay off for you, but at the very least, you’ll pave the way for someone beyond or alongside you to have the opportunity. Prophetic, right? 

Because International will be hosting a booth at the NYWC in Tampa, FL. Will you be there? Here’s a list of other conferences we plan on attending/participating in/or exhibiting at this year:

  • SPARK  Vicksburg, MI Oct 10-12, 2019

  • SPARK  El Paso, TX Oct 31-Nov 2, 2019

  • NYWC Tampa, FL Nov 21-24, 2019 

  • Follow Cincinnati, OH Dec 28-30, 2019

  • CPC Orlando, FL Jan 14-16, 2020 

  • SPARK Marion, IN March 5-7, 2020

  • Orange Atlanta, GA April 29-May 1, 2020

In the comments below please let us know which conference you are going to this year or would like to go to and why you are going. What benefit do you seek from the experience?

One last reason to make the effort (just in case you needed it;) to get to a conference or convention this year is for your own well-being. Not the kind that you have to plan all the logistics for other peoples’ kids. The kind that benefits you. Remember that whole love God with all you are and your neighbor as yourSELF??? Yeah.

5. Refresh: You need it. Jesus did it. Proceed.

Here are a few more specific suggestions on leveraging a ministry conference or convention for being refreshed that I have found helpful over the years:

  1. Get your money’s worth. This may mean going to a lot or only a few things. Consider the schedule a suggestion. Not an edict.

  2. Pace yourself. Be kind to yourself and act like it when it comes to a realistic pace. You were likely exhausted when you left for the conference. Do you want to feel the same when you return? Chill.

  3. Don’t go to everything. Pick the things you want to attend. Skip sessions with good or new friends for conversations. Take a nap! Rec-reate. Take advantage of the surroundings where the conference is hosted.

  4. Glean: Plan on getting one or two small things out of the workshops and sessions. Don’t force yourself to learn and absorb. Just let it happen. 

  5. Be Present: Pre-communicate that you will not be communicating about or responding to issues related to your vocation while at the conference/convention. This ruins your time away and fosters a system of unhealthy co-dependence and enablement. If you are so necessary that no one can do it without you then there are much broader issues at play. Escape the whirlwind for a few days. Kansas can survive the tornado without you. 

So get out there. CRUSH your “conference” zone and equip yourself for success in ministry and holistic wellness in life and vocation! This is not just about you. You will inspire someone else to make bold moves as they go and do likewise…

Kenny Wade
Church Suite Manager