What I Learned at Orange Conference 2019: It’s Personal

This past week, dear Danielle and I drove down to Atlanta, Georgia. For Christmas, we had been gifted tickets by my parents. The Orange Conference is an incredible event. Over eight thousand people were in attendance, all with the heartbeat for reaching the next generation. There is something so refreshing being around people that think the same way as you, knowing that the future belongs to the youth and that we have a call to raise them up to be leaders. The speakers were incredible, hearing from those in ministry, secular world, and from a vast array of professions; all pouring out powerful information. There was a ton of information, all great, but a lot of it. Everything we learned and heard boiled down to one central idea.

It’s personal.

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So Worth Loving

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

Genesis 1:27

This past month I’ve been doing this little series about self-worth. I’ve been writing because for so long I hated who I was, that I never fit in right. I wasn’t an A student, I wasn’t very good at sports, and I had a love for stories. I didn’t feel like I fit in, I felt worthless, I felt like I had no purpose in life. I was being attacked by the enemy and I was living like he had won. The truth is, our enemy has been defeated by a creator that says you are so worth loving. In the moments where I felt worthless, I had the creator of the universe telling me that I was created in his image. This same God created each of us in his image, and because of that, we have victory over the lies of the enemy. We are unique creations. We were not created to fit into the mold of the world. I say this to give hope to the kids that felt like me, to the ones who love being nerdy, write poetry over playing on the field, and love learning about the world around them. Maybe you feel like an outsider. Maybe you have a passion for people, that you love to write stories with worlds filled with infinite possibilities, or that you have a desire to make music that rings in the ears of so many. I believe in this world because I believe we have a God that made us all unique individuals with purpose. Maybe you love running on the field and feel at peace when you play, maybe you have the heart to heal others and invent new ways to help those that are sick, and maybe you love to dance and express your heart for the world. No matter what you desire and love doing, you have been created by a God that says you are so worth loving.

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What I Learned at Orange Conference 2016: Monday is Coming

This past week I had the opportunity for the second time to go to the Orange Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. The conference is a next generation conference, designed to equip and empower next gen leaders for their ministry. It gave tools and new ideas that could be incorporated into ministry, and I loved it. It was such a refreshing week to be able to feel empowered about my passion for reaching the next generation and equipping next gen leaders to be the best they can be. The theme of the conference was, “Monday is Coming,” which was all about how we need to be intentional about the way we partner with kids and students throughout the week. So often we can get caught up in what we do Sunday, making sure everything is just right and that we have the best experience, we forget that the students have an entire week without us. We should shift our thinking to the idea that Sunday is pre-Monday. The first speaker of the night was Jon Acuff, and awesome speaker and writer that I look up to, and he made the point that people visit on Sunday, but they live in Monday. The church as a whole often fails at this idea, we get so caught up with programs and systems we forget that these people are only here for a short time in the morning, but they have an entire week filled with life, and life gets hard. It’s easy to forget that people have lives outside of what we see on Sunday, we experience death, failure, and heartache; we experience Monday. Everyone faces these trials and pain, especially kids and students. I know that they experience it, because I experienced it. I am so thankful for my home church of Daystar, because the leaders there know how important the week is. The thing I love about it is that it’s a place where the leaders care what happens in the lives of the people, I can about the lives of the students in my small group. Sunday is a good thing, but the value of walking with someone through their Monday can change their life forever.

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Raising Up and Empowering Leaders

The other day I was reading through Lead Small Culture, and there was a section that basically jumped off the page to me. The quote said, “If you believe the scope of your influence is determined by the success of your leaders it should motivate you to empower the leader so they can lead.” Such a powerful statement about our responsibility we all have as leaders, raising up another to have them lead. After this I began reading in Timothy, which is a book of the bible where this idea is shown again. 1 Timothy 6:11 says, “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.” The book was a letter written by Paul to his apprentice Timothy, who was essentially being given responsibility to lead the church that Paul could not go to. This relationship is a beautiful picture of how we are to do the same in our own lives, raise up leaders of the next generation so that when we step down, they can take the mantel of responsibility. Now you might be thinking like me and saying I’m too young to raise someone else up because I’m being filled by others. Think through this I came to the conclusion that that’s exactly why we should pour into others! Young, old, extraverted, or introverted, we all can do this. I’d like to share a few of the reasons why we should and its’ value that I think is the reason we should empower others.

We have been called to it.

The great commission was to make disciples of all nations, that means lead others to Christ and empower them to lead. If you eat a good restaurant, most likely you would tell everyone you know to try it. So why don’t we do that with our faith? We have something that blesses us like no other, we need to share it! That’s the first step, and after as you spend time and see their potential, empower them to lead. Everyone has potential, no matter how young or old, they have been made in the image of God. They were made to do great things. That’s why we have been called to raise leaders, so that there can be a continuous cycle of creating leaders to create more leaders. As you empower leaders, it will spread like a virus (in a good way) to those they empower and so on. You have been called to raise leaders.

We won’t last forever.

This is the weird one, but trust me, it’s the truth. At some point in our lives, we will not be as influential as we once were. It’s a hard truth, but it’s also not saying you will be irrelevant, you will still matter. Our ability to influence the majority on the other hand, will start to dwindle. Raising leaders of the next generation will tap into that influence, they are more in touch with the current majority and will have fresh ideas for the church and just general leadership. You will still be influential to those leaders, but you will step out of the spotlight and make room for the next generation of leaders, all while helping them do what you know they can do. When do you begin to fall away from the high level of influence to the majority? I don’t know, I am currently twenty years old, I am a young leader who is still growing himself. I don’t have all the answers, but I believe God has given me discernment to see what will happen to myself as a leader, which is why I am mentoring students and I believe they will become great leaders as I move away from the spotlight. Don’t wait to raise leaders when you feel like you are losing influence, start today.

We will help build the kingdom.

This is the last and most important reason, raising leaders will build and strengthen the kingdom of God. This is so important leading back to the great commission that Jesus called us to, we need to build the kingdom by raising up leaders and mobilizing them into their lives to share the word. That’s the mission we all have, to share with others how Crist has moved and shaped our own lives. As a small group leader in both elementary and high school next gen ministries, I love helping students take the next step in their faith. Whether that means beginning a relationship for the first time, getting involved with serving, or even just learning how much God loves them, all of it drives me to be the best I can be and help them in any way. You can help the people around you take the next step that God has set out for them. It will take courage and wisdom of Christ’s word to do it, and you will see the effect it will have.

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I hope this encourages you to look at those around you that you have the ability to influence and empower. Some first steps to doing this would be leading a small group or mentoring someone that you think has potential to do something great. They don’t have to be students either, that’s the ministry that I have been called to. For you it could be your children, a new co-worker, or a friend from church that looks up to you. Remember that we have been called by God to make disciples of all nations, I am thankful for the people that believe in me and mentor my walk in leadership, people like my dad or Seth Tanner. Even the people who guided me in the past like my middle school pastor Marshal Johnson or my eighth grade small group leader Mikey D, all of these people led or are leading me in my walk into leadership and ministry that my heart yearns for. It was simple things and the fact that they go out of their way to speak life into me. That is why we need to empower others, because they will change the world, and they will change it because they are made in the image of God.

-Joshua Thomas

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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