So I am heading to the National Youth Workers Conference today in Nashville! I absolutely love conferences. They are a great time to get away, be around one of my tribes and explore my vocation in deeper ways. When I first started in youth ministry I would often come back from conferences, excited, wide eyed, exhausted and sometimes frustrated. Over the past 15 years in youth ministry I have developed some practices that allow me to get the most out of my conference experience, here are a few of them!
Do Not Go To Everything
Seriously, don’t. If you do you will be completely exhausted and will end up missing out on some really good stuff because you are so tired and overwhelmed with the amount of awesome stuff you are receiving. Pace yourself, these things are marathons not sprints.
Don’t Celebrity Stalk
These conferences are great because you are in direct access to some of the best minds in youth ministry. You get to hear them teach, ask questions and sometimes spend some time with them one on one. I do caution you to make sure to not spend all of your session time going to the big name sessions. Sometimes I will go through and highlight the topics that interest me first then look at who is doing them. Now I know if it is anything from Sticky Table to Sticky Bun it is probably going to be Kara Powell or Chap Clark but most of the time this technique will yield a more balanced less celebrity heavy agenda.
Take a Nap
It is simple as that. Go to your room at some point and take a 90 minute nap. It is good, it refreshes you and if you are like me you do not get to do it very often. *Note: Notice I said take a (meaning singular) nap. Don’t sleep the conference away, this is not responsible and is being a poor steward of the money your church is investing in you.
Meet some folks. Have lunch with someone you don’t know. Spend a late night having a conversation with someone about ministry. Take advantage of the denominational and organizational free lunches and breakfasts. There are a ton of people who live in the same sort of youth ministry world as you, there are a wealth of friendships and connections out there that are just waiting to be made.
Do Some Planning
These conferences are hubs of creativity. It is amazing what people like Mark Matlock and his team do to, not only put on an amazing conference, but to do it with such creativity and excellence. Let yourself be immersed in this creative process and let that process flow through you. These conferences are places where I do a lot of brainstorming and planning. I do it, not because I have the free time, but because I am surrounded by inspiration and creativity.
Go To Something You Are Not Interested In
Lastly make sure to choose at least one session that is completely uninteresting or even opposite of what you think. I go to these, not to argue or complain, but to expose myself to opinions that are foreign or in contradiction to my own. When I go to these, I always promise myself that I will not be the guy who argues, I will be the guy that sits and learns. This is good, it exposes us and helps us understand other parts of the youth ministry world that are different than our own, which ultimately makes us better.
Now go and have a great Conference, if you see me come say hey and introduce yourself, I would love to meet you!
Photo by Gavin Richardson