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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The New Year

This is always an exciting time for me. I get a chance to reflect on the good and the bad, but I get to move forward with a new vision of the year to come. A new year brings with it new chances to learn, new memories to make, and new adventures to undertake. This post may seem a bit different from my usual style, but I’m writing it this way to try and help you look at the year gone by and how you will take on the New Year that is to come. You see, this past year was filled with what seems like a roller coaster of emotions and experiences. It wasn’t easy, but then again, God never promised us easy lives. I saw friends pass away, friends that were like brothers to me, friends that showed me that I had value and loved me. I saw my brother-in-law (whom I call a brother) struggle with the dangers of addiction. I experienced the passing of my two grandmothers and the effect it had on my family. There was stress with college classes, responsibilities I have, feelings of doubt in my own talents, and watching other friends close to me suffer similar losses. But guess what? Even in all the hurt and pain, I found joy. I had a chance to remember the fun times I had with my two friends who had passed, I was able to reflect on how their lives shaped my own. My brother is now getting help for the addictions he battles, and God is truly working in and through him even in the midst of the pain. I saw my family grow close together in the loss and discover the value in time together. In the stress I learned so much in my classes on how to communicate, to make organizations function well, and present myself in a way that is respectful and wise. I learned that no one can take away what God has given me, because God designed me this way. My friends that were hurting, God let me be there for them, and I will always be there for them in the hurting. So much more happened as well, I met an incredible girl that I love spending time with; I’ve been able to see students in my small group step into their passions for poetry, music, and art; and I myself have discovered a desire to help others in their own walks of life. It was a hard year, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

Over the past three years or so, every New Year I decide to take a character trait and apply it for the New Year. This is something that is similar to the My One Word system, but because I like to be a rebel sometimes, I’ve morphed it into a trait I want to live into. It is a trait that I view life through, because I believe it will guide me and teach me to not only follow God in a deeper way, but to make myself better. In 2013, I chose to be a servant, one who looks at the needs of others and helps them in whatever way they can. In 2014, I chose to be a hero, one who sacrifices their own life and desires for that of a greater cause. And in 2015, I chose to be an adventurer, one who takes on new challenges and experiences, and thrives. Last year truly was filled with challenge and experiences that made me stronger, and in that I was able to gain the reward that God used to teach me. This year, I spent a while in my devotions and quiet times really praying over what I want to live into this year. The catch with claiming what trait you will live into in the year, is that most of the time, it becomes true. I experienced the way it feels to serve others, to sacrifice my own wants, and to be thrown into an adventure. I always love a challenge, because people will tell you it’s impossible to achieve, and then when you achieve it, those same people will look up to you. This year I chose something that encompasses what I want to do, something that I will use to help as many people as possible, and something that God wants of me.

This year, I choose to be a doctor.

Now before you jump to conclusions, I’m not going to start med school, nor do I plan on doing back alley creep surgeries. No need to worry about me becoming the guy from Re-Animator and making a zombie. What I mean by I choose to be a doctor, is I choose to encompass what a doctor does. A doctor is one who heals the sick, one who takes in the broken and brings them back from the brink of death. I don’t have the power to keep people from dying, or heal people from physical disease. What I can do is be there for the people who are hurting, the ones who face the chasm of despair, the ones who feel alone; I can be a doctor for them. This trait is a promise to myself. That no matter what happens, I will never be cruel or cowardly. I will never give up, nor will I ever give in. A doctor comforts those who are hurting, and seeks out the solutions for the ailment one faces. I want to be like a doctor, when I see my family hurt, when I experience the sting of death, or when those close to me feel alone; I want to be there for them, and I want to seek out the solution for their struggles. The best part is, I know the solution, and the solution is Jesus. Because Jesus is in me, I can do all things through him. I can be a voice of comfort, one that uses his words for life and never to tear anyone down, even in joking. I can use my gifts and abilities to reach people who are wandering and are lost. I can help those who are hurting, because I have experienced hurt. For a long time I felt like I was worthless, but with the voice of people speaking life around me, I was able to know my worth. I choose to be a doctor because I think more people need to know that they are worth it.

Big things are coming.

Along with my trait of being a doctor, this year I want to be intentional with everything I do. Some of my goals (basically a better word for resolutions, because whoever keeps those?) for the coming year are big. They are big because I have a big God. My first goal is to continue to make this blog more effective. That means making it a place where you can come and be fed from the word and have resources to grow in your own walk. This means sharing it with people (it really does help me) not for my own sake, I don’t want that, I want people to come because God is guiding me as I write and I want more people to have that. I have created a new tab thingy that has some essential books that have helped me in my walk, as well as the books that I read throughout this year so you can have recommendations from me. My second goal, and this is the big one, is to write a book. Yup, a book. I have been praying and God has shown me that this is something I can do, so this year I will be writing what is tentatively titled, “Coffee Shop Thoughts.” It will be going through the fruits of the spirit, and how to live a life of freedom through them. I’ve never written a book before, so why not start now! I will most likely use an ebook format through Amazon, and I can’t wait to figure all that out! My intent is for the book to be a simple devotional as well as be material used in a small group format. My plan is to have it done and produced by summer, and in the fall, have a small group based on it at Daystar Church. My third and final goal is to never lose sight of Jesus. No matter what happens, I want to focus on the one who even made it possible for me to do anything at all. Jesus is the one that brought me out of the depths and saved me, so I want to run and never stop running towards him.

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So what does this year look like for you? You’ve been able to see my heart over the past few paragraphs, but what does this year look like for you. Think about what you truly want out of this New Year, what character trait do you want to have that will grow you and push you to be all that you can be? If you feel like no one is in your corner on this one, know that I’m with you. I may know you, or I may never know you. What I do know is that you were made by an amazing artist and one who built the universe. God made you. So this year, set goals, find a trait that you will latch onto, and choose to have joy in all of it. I’ve learned that we are not guaranteed anything, so make the most of every minute you have been given.

Make memories, take on new adventures, and love life.

-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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The New Year

Well another year has passed, and what a great year it was. I have been so blessed over the past year, I have seen growth in my own life, the life of my church and the lives of those around me. It’s fun to look back at all the events that happened over the past year, some good some not so good, but all the events in my life allowed me to grow and discover more about myself and where I want to continue to go.

In 2013, I read an article that talked about instead of making a new year’s resolution, to focus on one word that you want to live out for that year. That year I chose the word of servant, a devoted or helpful follower or supporter. I tried to be a humble leader and one who listens to the wise council of those above myself. Then I continued the tradition into 2014, choosing the word of hero, defined as a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities. Keeping those qualities in mind helps me focus on the reasoning behind every action and being a better leader. And that brings me to this New Year, 2015, and the word I have chosen to focus on this year is, adventurer.

Adventurer is defined as someone who likes dangerous or exciting experiences: a person who looks for adventures. One of the focuses I want to have this year is to step out of my comfort zone more and take risks. Now these risks aren’t foolish things that I want to try, they are things like meeting more people, having a bigger influence to those I come into contact with, and to continue to practice my hobbies of drawing and writing. I want to be able to try new things and go to new places, do things that I might not otherwise think of doing. Pushing myself to new heights and always striving to get better.

That’s what I plan on doing for this New Year, push myself forward, always growing and trying to use what God has given me to make a difference. I think about my past and where I’ve come from and I know I will always want to keep striving for more. 2014 was filled with great experiences, from seeing my Vert guys grow into strong leader, being able to lead a small group of elementary kids, and being able to work in some amazing ministries. 2015 will continue these things and even more, I cannot wait to see what will come from this year and how I will grow and change!

It’s going to be another great year and I hope yours’ is pretty swell as well!

-Joshua Thomas