Invited to serve on a design team for a national conference two years ago made me downright giddy. Two years in the planning offered the chance to leave my bubble of ‘practically everyone like me’ and engage in a creative forum with incredibly gifted people who may not look like me, work like me, process like me, talk like me, filter like me, see like me, speak like me, schedule like me, are the same age as me. The one commonality? We all love and teach Jesus. A beautifully creative and accessible community that would challenge me…yep, I was ‘all in.’
Holding conversations with others ‘not like me’ teaches me to listen, to compromise, and to give in gracefully when a ‘win’ is defined as keeping the conversation going. Naturally drawn to hear the stories of folks, I am fascinated at the words and expressions of all of God’s people. But don’t we all linger where we are most comfortable? Collaborate only where it’s easy and frustration is limited? Share our ideas where we are most likely affirmed? Stay in the safe lane? Run from contention and differing processes?
The last two years of face-to-face meetings, monthly conference calls, and an enormous number of emails resulted in a national conference where folks new to Christian education were empowered, where experienced folks shared ideas, and where surprises abounded. I was responsible for championing the vendor and networking fair on the second day as well as the conference response stations on the last day. Ideas and partnerships with those in my own local children’s ministry networking group and KidMin Ninja mentoring group in attendance made for closer relationships and lots of laughter as together we set up, cleaned up, pulled up, worked up, lit up all three events.
The vendor fair was one afternoon with a variety of local talent and non-profits set alongside seminaries, authors, and denominational agencies. The greatest thing our denomination has to a national celebrity is a guy who stars in three minute discipleship training videos that cover everything ‘church’ from the colors of the church year to the church sacristy: Chuck Knows Church. We expected to have him for 15-20 minutes of photo ops. He stayed 56 minutes. That’s how long it took for the line to go down. He was in full character and was definitely among ‘his people.’ Think twenty somethings with Justin Timberlake. That’s the energy of Chuck among United Methodist Christian educators. The next hour Flo Paris of the musical group Rain For Roots performed three beautiful songs with her daughters. The next hour we shared in a chef’s delight of afternoon appetizers. Yummy!
The networking fair gave conference participants ‘table time’ with folks who are the best at what they do for 15-30 minutes. Not a workshop, nothing formal, very organic conversation. We offered a schedule of times and locations (three were happening at the same block of time). Some of the networks who gathered included: Developing VBS themes with a VBS publisher; Creating space for young adults in your context; Youth ministry confirmation ideas; and learning how to blog or to go to the next level in blogging. We even skyped-in a networking leader who spoke of Connecting Worship and Christian Formation for All Ages. Networking and table life takes many forms, amen? A constant coming and going of people, up and down a staircase, in the same three rooms, for close to four hours, who wished to gather and share info on a whole array of topics and conversations. Access!
This season is over, but several new seasons are beginning. I am such a better person, a better collaborator, and a better team member for this experience. For my natural bent to being a chatterbox, I got plenty of practice to ask more questions and make less statements. I met online, by phone, and then in-person, amazing resource leaders in the field of Christian education who I would never have otherwise had access to. Conversations and collaboration made me think and caused me to laugh my head off. Are you intentional about following Jesus professionally where it may not be so….you?
“Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble…because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” 1 Peter 3:8-9