gathering and learning: thoughts from a conference junkie

I was counting them up the other day, and I’ve had the phenomenal opportunity to attend something like thirty-nine college ministers’ training events since 2001!  As a result, I’ve gotten to learn quite a bit about what can make a successful training conference within our field. So I love any chance I get to help organizers put events together (whether I’m attending or not).

Not all of you will have the chance to create a forum, but more of you might than you think. Remember, college ministers should be learners. So even if it’s just gathering some of your local or regional colleagues for a lunch or a weekend, spending time learning together matters. A lot.

In no particular order, here are some thoughts on campus ministry training:

Have experts, not just good speakers. Sure, if you’re putting together a big conference, you might want some speakers who will encourage and exhort powerfully, even if they don’t really know our field. But make sure you mix in plenty of college-ministry-specific wisdom, too. You’re not just going for reaction, you’re hoping for results that will last throughout the school year.

Breadth, breadth, breadth. Just like with foreign missionaries, college ministers’ experiences and contexts vary incredibly widely. If you want to impact lots of college ministers, you’re going to have to present lots of points of view, lots of options, or teachers with an array of experiences from which they’ll draw their wisdom.

Expertise and experience aren’t the same. In an underdeveloped field like ours, it’s highly common for people to equate years of college ministry experience with actual expertise on our field as a whole. Yes, we need to hear from those who have long labored in a single mission field. But that only makes them an expert on certain things and certain contexts. In addition to those people, seek out individuals who have obtained a bird’s-eye view of our field, served in highly varied contexts, or spent enough time in training events themselves to gain expertise, not just experience.

Target individuals if you can. Because every college minister faces different situations, try to find ways to scratch where individual ministers and ministries itch. This may mean providing hefty Q&A time, ample time for ministers to connect with each other (or the trainers) in free time or at meals, or even offering private consultations during the gathering. (The best time I’ve ever had at a conference was when, after speaking the keynote, I spent the next several hours meeting with ministry after ministry.)

More thoughts tomorrow – click here for those!


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  1. Pingback: joining and growing: more thoughts from a conference junkie « Exploring College Ministry blog (daily notes about our field)

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