Getting Ready for Orange (or any other conference).

Tomorrow I will be driving to Atlanta for the Orange Conference. I look forward to this all year. It is always an amazing experience. Not to mention that it is TONS of FUN. However, I have to remind myself what this is really all about. Here is what I am doing to get ready. I hope this helps you to get ready as well.

  • It’s not about me: No person is at this conference by accident. It is not coincident that even a single person is in attendance. Matthew 10:29 says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.” Jesus goes on to say, “…you are worth more than many sparrows.” If God’s will even covers a sparrow and we are of much greater worth than they, then certainly my involvement in an event like this is not to be ignored. God has a plan for each person attending the Orange Conference this week, including you.
    • My prayer: Lord, open my mind and my heart to receive the message that YOU have for me this week. Help me to keep my focus on YOU.
  • It’s really not about me: Ok, I know I said this already, but hear me out. Even as God has a plan for me that includes my attendance at the Orange conference, he also has a plan for all the other people. I might be part of that plan for some of them. For instance, 2 years ago I met a man named Dave while wondering through the halls at the conference. It turns out that Dave lives and serves at a church not far from where I live. Dave was going through a tough time in his ministry and was hoping that the Orange Conference could be the beginning of better days. I took time to chat with Dave and give some encouragement. Over the next could years Dave and I kept running into each other a different events. Each time I would ask how things were going and each time they were better than the last. I don’t believe for even a second that this chance meeting with Dave was simply coincident.
    • My prayer: Lord, help me to see the people that you would have me to connect with. Help me to see how you would have me to be a part of your plan for their life.
  • It’s STILL not about me: In my past experiences at this type of event God has brought me into contact with people who have helped me far beyond the end of the conference. In fact many of these people I count as friends and call on them when I need help. For instance, at my first Orange Conference I had dinner with Amy Fenton Lee. We have stayed in contact since then. Last year I was dealing with the death of a child in my ministry. Amy saw some of my tweets and blog posts related to this and put me in contact with her dad who is a pastor and has been through a similar experience in his ministry. This would never have happened if I had not be open to and looking for the connections that God wanted me to make. Amy has become a friend and has helped me in many other ways as well.
    • My prayer: Lord, help me to see the people that you would have me to connect with. Help me to look past my own agendas to see what YOU have planned for the relationships that are started this week.

It’s not about you either. I have written this post from my perspective. However, this all applies to you as well. Remember God has a plan for YOUR life and it is way better than any plan you might have. I think it is perfectly natural to enter an event like this with some thoughts of what YOU want to get out of it. Maybe there is some specific problem in your life or ministry that your hoping to find a solution to while your there. There will be lots of good information and the answer to your problem is quite likely to be at this conference. However, I recommend that you set your agenda aside. Remember God has brought you to this conference and HE has a plan for you. Set aside your own thoughts and desires for what YOU want to get out of this and ask God what HE wants you to get out of this. Ask God what HE wants you to learn. Ask God to reveal himself to you through this experience. After all it was HIS plan that brought you here to begin with.

Matt Norman

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Field Guide to Surviving Orange (or any other conference)

The Orange Conference is just a few days away. I LOVE this conference. In fact I am a total conference JUNKIE. I have been to a bunch of them. With this experience I have learned a few things that have helped me get the most out of these experiences. Here are a few key thoughts to help you get the most of it as well.

  • One For the Road: You will be totally overloaded with great information. You will walk away with more stuff that you can process right away. Take great notes, but also look for just one thing that you can implement almost immediately that will have a near instant impact on your ministry. Find this one thing then make it happen as soon as you can.
  • The Beautiful People: The information you get as such  conference will be great. However, perhaps more valuable than that is the people you will meet. Take time to meet new people. Exchange contact information. Follow-up with these people as soon as possible after the conference and work to try to make these connections meaningful and long lasting.
  • I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing: If your like me, then you don’t want to miss a single thing. I struggle to miss even a single session. However, at my first Orange Conference in 2012 one of the best things I did was skip a session to sit with Amy Dolan and chat. Amy an I are now friend and correspond regularly. I couldn’t’ even tell you what session I skipped, but I can tell you that the time with Amy was worth it. Don’t be afraid to skip a session or two in order to spend time with people.
  • King of Pops: Ok, this one it probably specific to Orange, but for the past 2 years there has been a vendor at the Orange Conference called the King of Pops. They make gourmet, custom popsicles. Trust me, you want one.
  • Give it away nowIf you have business cards with your information on them take plenty and give them out generously. If you don’t have some, trust me it is worth the time to print some. Even if it is just slips of paper with your contact information and name that you can hand to people as you meet them. It will make your life much easier.

Have Fun: Maybe I’m the only one, but I can get so caught up in information gathering and trying to process how to apply it all to my life and my ministry, that I can forget that I am also there to have FUN. There is a lot of fun stuff at these types of events. Be sure to have some fun along the way.
MOST IMPORTANTLY: Ok, here is the most important bit of advice I can give you. Come and see me. There it is. I love to meet people in person. So, if you get a chance track me down and say hello. You can follow me on Twitter @mnormancarguy. I will be all over Twitter during the conference.

Matt Norman

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A Friends Investment Brings a Son Salvation

Gary was a friend of my dads when I was a kid. He is a man’s man. I remember him as a hunter and a fisherman. He drove a big 4X4 truck. Basically he was into everything that little boys like. More important than all of that Gary took time to connect with me and my brothers. This is what gave him the opportunity to speak into our lives, at least into mine. The ultimate culmination of this was during a weekend service when Gary was obedient to God’s call and stepped up to deliver the message during a weekend service one week.

My father was the Pastor of the churches I group up in. He was the pastor of the church that Gary spoke in on that Sunday. In the week prior to this fateful Sunday my father had struggled over two different messages that he felt lead to share. As Sunday grew closer he shared this struggle with Gary, not sharing the actual content of the messages. Sunday morning came and my father was still unsure what he was going to preach that morning. Gary approached my dad and said that he had a message the he believed God wanted him to share with the church. My father stepped aside and let Gary have the pulpit that Sunday. When Gary stepped up to the microphone he had my undivided attention. It turned out that the message Gary delivered was one of the two that my father had struggled over. Point my point Gary covered everything that my father had planned to cover. Because of Gary’s investment in my life, I listened to a message that I might have ignored had my father delivered it. I received salvation that day.

You see, it wasn’t that my father did anything wrong, or that he would have delivered the message any differently. I think that all parents would prefer that their kids would talk to them and listen to them the way that I listened to Gary that day. The truth is, however, that this simply isn’t true as often as we would like. Gary took time to connect with me prior to that day. He became my friend. He invested in my life. Because of his investment in my life, he was given the opportunity to speak into my life. I thank Gary for the time he took to invest in me. I thank him for being obedient to God’s leading. I thank him for taking advantage of the opportunity he was given to speak into my life. As I look back my life would never have been the same without Gary and without that Sunday that he preached in “big church.”

This is MY story.

What’s Your Story?

Matt Norman

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Leading Hummingbirds and Eagles

You may be wondering what hummingbirds and eagle have to do with leadership. Let me tell you a little story that I think will help it to make sense. I worked for many years in a local emergency room. After many years of doing this I came to observe that, in general, there were two types of ER nurses, hummingbirds and eagles. I know, your probably even more confused now. Stay with me.

Some people are hummingbirds. A hummingbird flaps its wings so fast that you can’t even see them. They are small birds that work very hard. They buzz from flower to flower, seldom stopping to rest. Some people are like this. They flit around at an often frantic pace. They quickly buzz from one task to the next, seldom taking the time to stop and rest. Think about the hummingbird. Have you ever seen video of one at rest?

Some people are eagles. Think about an eagle in flight. Most of the time he floats on the air currents. When necessary he will flap his wings, but often he will just ride the wind. When hunting, the eagle will ride the currents, watching the ground for his prey. When he spots his prey he quickly swoops in for the kill. Some people are like this. On the outside they don’t appear to be doing much work, but with a task comes up that needs to be completed they swoop in, take care of it and then go back to floating on the currents.

Who is working harder? Well, when we look at these two birds I think we can agree that the hummingbird is working much harder. However, when we look at who is getting the most work done I would say that they both are getting their jobs done. It is the same way with people. The hummingbirds are often working harder than the eagles, but they probably both get similar amounts of work done.

What does this have to do with leadership?  It is important to recognize these two times of people in your ministry. The hummingbirds will often look at the eagles and think that they are not working hard enough. As I mentioned earlier, the hummingbirds ARE working harder than the eagles, but this doesn’t mean they are getting more work done. The danger can be that you, as the leader, could make the same mistake. We have to recognize the different types of people within your ministry and help them to be the best that they can be based on this type. If they are a hummingbird, help them be the best hummingbird they can be. If they are an eagle, help them be the best eagle they can be. What we can’t do is try to make the eagles become hummingbirds, or make the hummingbirds into eagles.

Which one are you? Think about yourself for a minute. Think specifically about Sunday morning, or Wednesday evening, or maybe at VBS. Consider how you operate when the heat is on. Do you lean a little on the frantic side? Or, do you tend to float around waiting for problems to arise and then swoop in to fix them? Are you a hummingbird or an eagle? I think it is important to know this about yourself. Our tendency might be to want to make our team members more like us. If we are eagles we want everyone to be eagles. If we are hummingbirds,  we think everyone should be a hummingbird. This can lead to great frustration in your team. Know which one you are and recognize that not everyone on your team is going to be like you, and this is ok. (it might even be preferred…)

What other types are there? Certainly these are not the only two birds that might describe you or the members of your team. However, I do think that it is important to recognize these two types because of the problems that can come from trying to turn on into the other or expecting the one to behave like the other. What other types of birds would you use to describe yourself or the people on your team?

Matt Norman

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Post Hole Church

Fence PostsMany years ago I helped my dad build a green house. The walls were framed with 12 foot posts buried 4 foot in the ground. Sounded easy enough. My dad purchased a posthole digger and we went to work. This seemed like the perfect tool for the job, after all we had posts and we were digging holes. Well, it didn’t take long before we realized that this was going to be harder than we thought. If you are not from Florida, then you probably don’t know what I’m talking about. Nearly all of Florida is covered in sand; soft, dry, nearly impossible to dig a hole in, sand. Each time we stuck the posthole digger into the ground we would pull it back only to have at least half of the sand fall back into the hole. This was very frustrating. We did eventually get all of the posts in place. However, we quickly learned that the only way to keep the sand from falling back into the hole was to make the hole nearly as wide as it was deep. For every foot of depth we had to open the top of the hole by about 4-8 inches. It was much more work that we anticipated.

Recently I found myself thinking how much this resembles the church. You see there is a debate that has been going on for years. Small churches look at large ones and say that their people are not going deep enough in their faith. Large churches criticize smaller churches for their lack of growth. The argument some make is that if you are growing really fast, then there is no time for Christians to go deeper in their faith. The other end of the argument is that if you focus ONLY on going deeper in your faith then you’re ignoring the main reason that the church exists, to spread the gospel. Obviously these views can’t both be right. So, the question is which one is? I would say that neither extreme is what God intended.
We’re a discipleship church. This is the view expressed by many people in smaller churches. The idea is that they are focused on helping people grow spiritually. They might even say that they are a “discipleship church”. On the surface this sounds like a good idea. I mean after all Jesus did commission us to “make disciples of all nations.”(1) Paul went so far as to compare those that did not grow in Spiritual maturity with babies. (2) The writer of Hebrews made the same comparison, criticizing those that should be teaching others, but still required someone to teach them the “elementary truths of God’s word.”(3) Clearly discipleship is important.

But, is it just an excuse? For some the cry of discipleship becomes an excuse not to reach new people. I would argue that discipleship without evangelism is not discipleship at all. Let’s look at the examples that the New Testament gives us. I think few would deny that the people that had the closest relationship with Jesus Christ were his disciples. These 12 men were hand selected by Jesus and spent three years studying directly under him. What did these men do after Jesus death and resurrection? Did they gather in small groups and have Bible studies by themselves? No, their close relationship with Jesus led them to reach out to people that did not know Christ. In fact it was the efforts of these disciples that were the beginnings of the church as we know it.

We’re an Evangelistic Church. This is often the view expressed by churches with a strong focus on evangelism. This too sounds very noble. After all, Jesus told us to “GO and make disciples of all nations, BAPTIZING THEM…” Clearly this is a call to evangelism. Jesus was all about evangelism and I think we should be too. However, I would say that evangelism without discipleship is not evangelism at all. Imagine a woman has twin sons. One baby she cares for and gives him everything he needs. The other she nearly ignores. Along the way someone may come around and feed the less favored baby. Somehow he survives. If we were to look at these two babies at any stage of life, which one do you think is going to be healthier? Evangelism without discipleship is like the baby that gets ignored. The Bible often compares new believers to babies. Even as the ignored twin can be born without discipleship, so can people come to salvation through Christ without being discipled. However, even as a baby requires ongoing care to grow strong. In the same way a new believer requires ongoing care to become mature and strong in their faith.

It’s like digging postholes in the sand. Now let’s look back at the story I told at the beginning of this post. You see, when digging postholes in sand, it is impossible to go deep without also going wide. Likewise in the church it is impossible to TRULY go deeper in your faith without also going wide.

To the “discipleship church.” I would recommend that you consider these thoughts. Are the people that you are “leading deeper in their faith” reaching out to the lost people around them? If not, then you have to ask if they are TRULY going deeper in their faith.

To the “evangelistic church.” Is your church filled with a bunch of stillborn Christians? Are the people in your church able to feed themselves spiritually? Are they able to share their faith with other people? Are the people in your church praying regularly? Are they reading their Bible daily? Is their only exposure to Biblical truth what they hear on Sunday? If your church is growing rapidly, but you can’t answer these questions yes, then you might want to reevaluate your strategy.

What about us kidmins? Well, check back soon for the answer to that question.

1.) Matthew 27:55
2.) 1 Corinthians 3:2
3.) Hebrews 5:12

Matt Norman

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