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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For Our Neighbors

It’s here! Christmas time is among us (Though for many of you it began as soon as your Jack-o-lantern went out). I really love this season, not simply for all the cold air and the smell of cinnamon that seemingly is everywhere (how does that even happen?). I love it because it’s a season of caring, at least for me it always has been. Christmas has never been a specific day for me. My family was in Wisconsin so we would celebrate several Christmas days, but what I learned is that Christmas is so much more than the day (or about a creepy man who reverse robs you), it was about giving back. Reaching out and being intentional with others. I really love giving gifts, not big expensive and crazy things, simply things that are meaningful. Last year though, my mom executed this perfectly. She gave my dad, sister, my brother-in-law, Danielle, and myself gifts that really spoke to me. They weren’t insane or wild, simply intentional gifts that poured into us. That got me thinking about this Christmas season, and what I want to do this month. I want to talk about intentionality. I want to talk about being purposeful with the people around us, because we are called to love our neighbors.

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Say Yes to the Next Generation

This past week I had the awesome opportunity to go to Camp Kidjam as a leader for my church. I love camp. There really is nothing quite like it. Being out of your home in a new place with a group of kids and being able to share the love of Jesus with them. Going into camp I was really praying for my group of four, fourth and fifth grade boys that I would be leading a small group with over the days of being there. I always want to be intentional with the relationships I am in, so I was excited for what God was going to teach and show them. What I hadn’t fully realized was that God wanted to teach and show me some things about him and about my calling into full time ministry. Funny how that can happen isn’t it? We get so engrossed in other people that we forget about what we ourselves can learn. I was so focused on what they would learn, but God wanted to teach me as well. In our leader devotionals, the first day spoke to the fact that God has something for us not just for the kids you were leading. God showed me something very important, something that each of us can apply in our lives.

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Fearfully and Wonderfully Created

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

Psalm 139:14

About a year ago I had this revelation. I was scrolling through my Instagram feed and saw a t-shirt. It was the daughter of someone that I follow and her shirt said, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” That stuck with me so much, because it means so much. The caption was something sweet about his daughter and helping her know she was made in the image of God. Cut to a few days later when I went to the Orange conference (a Next gen ministry conference), and they started talking about how vital the role of pastors and small group leaders play in the lives of the next generation. They said they do this by helping the next generation see that they are made in the image of God. Not a coincidence. Over and over since then God has been placing this on my heart, and if you’ve read my blog consistently, you know that I really like to push this fact. The reason I push it is because living into that title shifts your perspective. It allows you to move from thinking that you were some accident by science, but that you were created, fearfully and wonderfully, with a higher purpose for your life.

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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.

Two people sitting on a car during sunset

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