why i quit going to youth ministry conferences and why i'm back
Student ministry conferences come in all shapes and sizes, from big national events to state, area, and even city-wide meetings. In my early days as a youth pastor I went to a bunch of conferences because I wanted to be an effective youth minister.
But after about ten years or so, I simply quit going to these training events. Here’s why I got burned out. And what led me to return to youth conferences.
When I first started attending conferences, I gained student ministry knowledge and discovered many valuable resources. But as time went by, I discovered I was leaving these conferences feeling defeated and overwhelmed. I was the youth pastor to group of students on the smaller end of the group size spectrum. And sitting in gatherings where the large church youth pastor described his youth ministry was both good and bad for me.
On the good side I was challenged to move our group to bigger and better things. But when some of those big group philosophies didn’t work in my small church, the wind would leave my sails. I’d inevitably feel inadequate. Soon it seemed like most of conferences pushed a perspective (even if it wasn’t intentional) of the big church youth group.
So to avoid my negative feelings I just quit going to these events.
Now I will quickly claim ownership to the fact that the “conference burnout” was my own doing. The idea that I had to do everything that was touted at these training events was ridiculous. And ultimately I was responsible for my feelings. So, after some years off I returned to the conference scene.
What’s different about my attitude toward youth ministry conferences today? Well, I’ve made a few changes in expectations that may help you the next time you go to a student ministry conference or training event.
- Every church is unique and different. What works at one church won’t work at others. You know your youth group, your church, and your town. Trust God to lead you as to what you need to change or modify to better minister to students. BE YOU NOT SOMEONE ELSE!
- Attend a conference with specific goals in mind. I go looking for one Bible study resource, one helpful small group tip, one fun activity, and so on. Find those things then relax and enjoy the rest of the conference.
- When you find speakers and trainers you can relate to, remember their names for future reference. My ministry was greatly changed many years ago by sitting in conferences with a former youth minister from a large church in Nashville. She was a youth minister at a big church, but she spoke in a way that let me know she cared about youth ministry, period. As I would encounter her name on various conference brochures and web sites, I made sure to attend her workshops.
- Spend time networking. Get to know fellow youth ministers, speakers, praise bands, and vendors. The relationships you build at conferences can go a long way in helping deepen your spiritual walk as well as protect your mental well-being.
Student ministry conferences are awesome events. But their impact will depend largely on your expectations. As long as you go looking for a few simple things that can help you minster more effectively to students, you’ll have a great experience.