I've been in Youth Ministry since 1997 as a volunteer, part-time youth worker, intern, Young Life Leader, FCA Huddle Leader, and full-time youth worker. For my three ten years of youth ministry I did training with Young Life and FCA and you can see many of those influences and teachings in the format of my youth ministry. I also went to small trainings and seminars put on by the United Methodist Church in my district and the North Georgia Conference. My undergraduate degree was Pre-Law in Political Science with a minor in Sociology at the University of South Carolina. In my mind the small outside training was good enough for me to take on the work of youth ministry. I would monthly get flyers and brochures from Youth Specialties and Simply Youth about their conferences, but saw the cost of $300+ and not to mention the cost of travel, hotel, and food to be too much for "continuing education" for my full-time job in youth ministry. I always looked at my budget and personal reimbursement accounts and just didn't see how I could fit it in. Every church I worked at never really saw them as important and felt that the small seminars and training the United Methodist Church was enough...mostly because they were either free or at most $25 and only a few minutes from the church.
In the spring of 2008, I was in the middle of my first semester of graduate school at Pfeiffer University and Wesley Seminary when it was time to register for the Fall Semester. I was advised to take Catalyst and Youth Specialties Nation Youth Workers Conference for the fall since my emphasis in my Masters of Christian Education was Youth Ministry. The courses comprised of me going to these conferences, taking notes, going to seminars, writing a paper on my experience, and having a follow-up with my course advisor to receive one hour of credit for each. I had several classmates and other Youth workers that I knew that told me how great it would be. But I had no clue!
So the fall came, I had my hotel reservations for Catalyst and talked with my friend Jason in Nashville to stay at his apartment for NWYC. I had my continuing education account set up to pay for everything and was off for a new adventure. It was amazing to see so many familiar faces of friends in ministry at both Conferences. Catalyst blew me away with the intensity of the format, the worship, and the speakers. It was an awesome experience. Little did I know that was only the beginning as I prepared to go to NYWC. My friend Jason had been many times, so he was my tour guide. I was a Exhibitor Floor Rookie. I was blown away by all the resources, camps, and everything about youth ministry in Exhibit Hall. Before the first session I had signed up for almost everything to win things and get information. But the coolest part was all the FREE STUFF! I had 3 bags of free resources, t-shirts, brochures, and candy! I had to take a trip back to my truck before the first general session to drop it all off. Then I went to the General sessions and was blown away about the excitement, the worship, and the speakers. My only thought was, "Why have I missed out on this for all these years." It was a time of renewal, a time of learning, a time to just be me with thousands of other youth workers who went through the same stress, problems, the joys, and everything that is youth ministry in the church.
I learned so much, I made many new friends, I really started to use twitter for the first time, I got tons of resources, I got free stuff to give out for games at my youth group, but I was renewed. The main point in my papers for my class was that no matter where I am at in ministry, going to at least one conference was going to be a priority for me.
Last year I was unable to go to Catalyst due to my daughter being born and will unable to attend this year due to other commitments. But I was able to go to NYWC in Atlanta and I brought someone new. I brought my former youth Mark, who is now in his fourth year of youth ministry and stayed at his place. It was so awesome to see how he reacted when we checked in and to see him as he went through Exhibit hall was so awesome. But the best part was once again reconnecting with old friends in youth ministry by having meals, having coffee, walking through exhibit hall together, going to seminars, and staying for late night concerts. I also really enjoyed coming back and talking with Mark every night about what we experienced that day. I also tried taking time to meet with a consultant, who has become a great friend. Lars Rood and I were twitter friends before NYWC, but it was mostly just me retweeting his blog. But he was a great resource that I never knew existed. I also had the chance to meet with Adam McLane for breakfast on the last day and like Lars, I only knew him before on twitter. Since then I've had some cool tweets back and forth with him and others that I met. Mark and I also met Matt McCage, who Mark tried to get Doug Field's cell phone from (funny side story...Matty gave Mark the Taco Bell number close to Saddleback!). Matty has become another good friend who I call on occasion, tweet, and Facebook with and it would have never happened with any of these great guys if I didn't go.
Youth Conferences are more than just a conference, they are now an important part of my youth ministry. I now look forward to them and make them a priority in my ministry and life. They are the first thing I put on my yearly schedule and my budget. They are about relationships, a renewal, an agape love from God, worship, and so much more. So during the next couple days as NYWC is going on in San Diego this week and you see the #nywc and Catalyst next week in Atlanta and you see #CAT10 on many tweets, pray for these guys and girls. And if you haven't planned on going to Nashville this year then try to work it out or sign up for Simply Youth Conference in Chicago in March or the Orange Conference in the April. Make it a priority. Take time for renewal. Take time for yourself. Take time to learn for your students. Take your adult volunteers. Take another youth worker. Take your Senior Pastor. Just don't make the mistake I did for so long and make excuses.