Orange Week: Out of Left Field
The thing I learned at Orange that I never saw coming
When I attended my first Orange Conference a few years ago, I had a lot of expectations.
At Orange, I expected to hear amazing large group teaching from Reggie Joiner and Andy Stanley. I knew that any breakouts led by Jim Wideman would leave me reading and re-reading my notes for days. I expected to experience an amazing time of worship through music that resonated with me.
(one of my favorite things about being at a conference w/ youth pastors is that nobody on stage is going to ask you to do hand motions to the songs you’re singing… I can’t overstate how much I don’t like music aimed at 4 year olds at a conference for ministry leaders. just sayin.)
However, I was given a gift at Orange that I never saw coming… and it’s changed the way I do ministry more than anything I’ve ever learned sitting in a chair – at Orange, I came for the strategy and I’ve stayed because of the friendships.
When I’m having a hard time in ministry, and don’t want to vent to someone in my local community, I know that I have a handful of people across the country that I can call, text or send a quick message to who will not only lift me up in prayer but will offer me advice as if what happens to me actually matters. I’ve been to other conferences, but there’s something about Orange that actually lends itself to forming and encouraging lasting friendships. When my wife had a miscarriage a little over a month ago, one of the first people that I sent a message out to was a friend I met at Orange 3 years ago. Because I knew that part of my friend’s story is that he and his wife have miscarried in the past, and he’s also in church leadership, I knew that he would have a sense of how to pray for my family.
That first year that I went to Orange, I had to find the money to travel and attend out of my personal bank account – I didn’t have a church budget line that was going to help me get out to Atlanta. I’m pretty sure that, if I would have told my wife that I wanted to spend our money to go make some friends who don’t live near us, she may have balked at the idea. But even now, looking back on that trip and relationships that now exist because of Orange, I think we’d both agree that it was worth every penny we spent. And, in all honesty, all the expectations I had about learning and growing in my faith and leadership skills were met – so, that’s always a bonus.
As I wrote in this post during the Orange Conference last year (Cheering for Each Other, Apr 28), I am struck at how having ministry friends outside of my own neighborhood greatly increases my sense of the Church-at-Large and the greater team that I’m a part of. Because I’ve grown close to guys like Dan Scott (danscottblog.com, large group communicator extraordinaire), Matt McKee (mattmckee.me, my go to guy for all things tech and large-scale-printing related) and others at the conference, I’ve grown in my ministry skill set as well as in my own spiritual life.
Each year, before the Orange Conference, I make a point to write down on a post-it that I stick onto my wallet for the trip. It says, “add 2 more.” My hope and prayer, at every Orange Conference (or Orange Tour stop) that I attend, is that I make 2 more friends who will support me in ministry and life over the next year. And, each year, God answers that prayer in greater ways than I could have ever imagined.
I never saw that coming.