What I Learned at Orange Conference 2015: It’s Just a Phase.

This past week I was able to have the opportunity to go to the Orange conference in Atlanta, Georgia. The conference was all about next gen ministry and empowering leaders with new ideas and tools to help them be effective in every area of next gen. The theme for this year was, “it’s just a phase, so don’t miss it.” The theme encompassed the idea that each area of next gen ministry, pre-school through high school, think differently and can be easy to miss. The focus of the week was to share how each ministry functions and stages. The stage of pre-school is to embrace ideas, tell the kids how God made them and he loves them. Then we have the elementary stage, which is the engage part, where we begin to answer questions and help kids learn what it means to have the relationship with Christ. The middle school stage is the affirm part, where we speak into the students showing them that they have a higher purpose for their life. Finally, the high school stage is the mobilize phase, where we equip students to move out and prepare them for their future journey. Each phase is important and each phase can be easy to miss. So don’t miss it!

The conference was very empowering for me and my journey into next gen ministry. My passion is directly tied to all areas in next gen ministry because I believe they will change the world. I want every kid and student to know that they are made in the image of God and what that means for their life. Each phase faces danger, and we need to be aware of the struggles they face. As a leader for high school and elementary, I need to be aware of the real struggles they face, because I face the same struggles. I need to be bold and brave to go first, so I can empower them to do great things. The conference was incredible not only for my ministry, but in my walk with Christ as well. I’d like to share a few points that stuck with me, and communicate some of the wisdom I received from great leaders.

God uses broken hearted leaders.

This idea hit home as the past few months have been very hard for me and those close to me, I have dealt with loss and heartache like never before, and I need to listen to that. Andy Stanley spoke about how when Nehemiah’s heart broke for the people, he listened, and paid attention to it. As a leader, we should pay attention to what breaks our heart because it is part of our divine design. My heart breaks when the next generation loses sight of what they were made for, I will pay attention and do all that I can to disciple them into the people they were made to be. We need to act on what breaks our hearts because we have no idea what is hanging in the balance if we don’t embrace the burden God has placed on our hearts.

We need to be ready for the unexpected changes in our lives.

In one of my breakout sessions, I was able to hear from Carey Nieuwhof about preparing ourselves before we get blindsided in our lives and ministry. He focused on four issues that can cause our ministry to become stagnant and eventually fail. Cynicism, burnout, irrelevance, and ineffectiveness, these four issues can crumble everything we work towards. It’s easy for leaders to become cynical when you project past failures onto new situations, it prevents moments that can bring life to someone. We need to embrace curiosity and get rid of the cynicism. Burnout comes over time and we need to avoid the dangers of self-medicating that come from it, we need to embrace self-care. Irrelevance is a danger that the church as a whole faces, because we need to embrace change. Churches that don’t embrace change become museums for another era. Finally, the one that stuck out to me the most is the danger of ineffectiveness. Ineffectiveness comes from when we begin to love the method more than we love the mission. Carey Nieuwhof said, “Your competency will only take you as far as your character has been developed.” This quote is such a revealing idea that we all need to take hold of. Our skill is nothing unless we continually seek reinvention and renewal of our spirit in Christ.

Failure is part of our spiritual journey.

I want to leave you with this final thought from my time at the Orange conference. Somehow the church has fallen into the trap that opening up about our failure is taboo in church culture. This issue directly affects the next generation, and is the reason why students leave the faith. They are afraid to expose their own weakness because they have been told that a Christ follower never struggles. This is a lie. We need to teach them that failure is part of the spiritual journey, and in order to do this, we must be open with them. We need to be more intentional about admitting our own weakness. As we do this, we open up a line of communication and can help students find healing in the power of Christ.

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I am so thankful for the opportunity I was able to have by winning a ticket and being able to experience the Orange conference. It was so empowering to hear from great leaders and visionaries share about the importance of next gen ministry. I learned a lot and was able to have fun at the same time. I loved being able to go with friends and family who serve in the next gen ministries of Daystar Church and see their passion for elementary and pre-school ministries. I can’t wait to see how God will use me to impact the next generation. Thanks for reading.

-Joshua Thomas

Bonus: I got to meet Reggie Joiner and take a selfie with him, which was pretty nuts.

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