Over the years, I’ve been to several different youth ministry conferences. The very first one that I went to was in 2003, it was CIY’s National Youth Leaders Convention and it was great. It was there that I realized I was not doing what God wanted me to be doing. I realized that I had been running from His call on my life for years, and after that conference, I began looking for a college where I could earn a degree and go into ministry full time. Two highlights of that conference were spending the week with my wife and seeing Chris Tomlin lead worship every night, he had recently put out his “Not to Us” cd; it was all new to me. Sadly, this conference is no longer happening.
Macro to Micro
When I got to Eastview in 2005, I began looking for a conference to attend. In 2006, 2007, and 2008, I attended Willow Creek’s “Shift” conference. As a new youth minister, the first two years of this conference gave me just what I needed, youth ministry ideas, structure and philosophy from the 30,000 foot view. By the third year, everything seemed flat, my church was not Willow Creek and I found myself and our ministry in a totally different place. What I needed was some “in the trenches” help. And that’s when I decided to try out Group’s “National Youth Ministry Conference” (to become “Simply Youth Ministry Conference”). In 2009 I went to Columbus Ohio, unsure of what I’d find, but hoping for something different.
Not only did I get into the Horseshoe, but I found something that had been missing. 3 things, actually.
- Relationship: SYMC is built on relationship. I found myself talking to anyone and everyone. From regular youth ministers like myself to main stage speakers. What’s more, every person that I spoke with actually appeared to care about me, what I was saying, and what I was asking.
- Relatability: Everyone that I talked to, again from other youth ministers to the “names”…they all seemed to know youth ministry. Why? Because they all do it. I read their blogs and listen to their stories about the relationships that they have, not only with one another, but with students. I could tell that they actually cared about what was going on. Every session that I was a part of, every classroom, workshop and affinity group that I walked out of…I left with a tangible, “I can do that.” I never felt like I was being sold a brand or a method of ministry. There was no “one size/method/program fits all” feeling. From main session speakers, workshops and training sessions to connection groups, I got to know people.
- Inclusion: I’m actually a part of something. Not only are the good people at SYMC my co-laborers in Christ, but they are my friends. Through emails, super-secret Facebook groups, even text-messages, I know these folks and they know me. As a part of SYMC’s “Inside Track Team” (which, they let ANYONE in, btw), I actually got to go to Colorado in October along with 70+ other ITT members and plan next year’s conference. Are you kidding me? I haven’t written a book, don’t produce a weekly podcast or anything like that. I’m a chump youth minister among chump youth ministers. But. They value me and every other youth minister out there. I am a part of something, a bigger plan, and it is God’s plan.
- They put us up. We got to Colorado, and they paid for everything else. Transportation to/from Denver, hotel and food. What’s more, people from Group who lived less than an hour away, chose to stay in the hotel with us. Why? They value relationship.
- They remembered me. Monday night, we went over to Kami Gilmour’s house for dinner (about 100 people). We rode in a limo, and Doug Fields rode with us. (This is not about hero worship). In the limo, Doug talked to us like we were his friends. He remembered a brief conversation that Hannah and I had with him at SYMC in Chicago, and asked about it. I talked to the CFO of Group that night about Group and he asked about what we were doing. They are relatable.
- They let me in. My planning group included Rick Lawrence, Group Magazine’s editor. He asked questions, we talked and conferred, and he actually wrote down the ideas of a bunch of chump youth ministers. What’s more, each group did this. They value inclusion.