Wednesday, March 24, 2010
I brought a second bag this year (CPC survival tip #14), but with airlines charging more and more for extra luggage, I was determined not to use it if I could help it. So as I packed my bag, I started stuffing every square inch with catalogs, brochures, cd’s, dvd’s, toys, props, illusions, everything I got from my week in San Diego. I was satisfied with my progress, until I looked over at the corner of the bed and saw another pile of items. Not to be deterred, I began stuffing some more…reorganizing, shifting, pushing. My now rock solid bag groaned under the strain. I grabbed the zipper and laboriously sealed the cover. I smiled, satisfied that I had bested the airline in the baggage wars. Until I looked back on the desk in my room and saw yet another stack of materials I had overlooked.
INCM’s Children’s Pastors’ Conference has often been compared to getting the proverbial drink of water out of a fire hydrant. Its significance strikes on so many levels, tangible and intangible, that describing it can be challenging. As a matter of fact, as I made my way across the courtyard following the final session, a cameraman stopped me for a sound bite. He asked me how I liked CPC. He said “action,” the light went on, and for a split second, my mind went blank. I think I mumbled something about being “incredibly full” (ahhh, adverbs: love ‘em and lob ‘em!), but honestly, I don’t remember. I wish I had thought of my overstuffed bags, because that’s exactly how I felt all week: filled to capacity and just when I thought I couldn’t handle anything more, another thought, concept, blessing presents itself.
So for this post, I’m going to take a few moments to unpack. Please join me:
The church tours were fast…almost too fast. But even though I have been to all three churches before and even though a half hour is not enough time to even scratch the surface of these facilities, I can’t help but ask, “If my church was on the church tour, what would visitors see?” The point isn’t what one can do with a humongous budget, the point is, what can one do to make children and their families feel welcome?
The general sessions were, as usual, excellent. I appreciated the music of Danny Oertli. There’s something about opening night that siphons out every single emotion in me. I feel totally alone with God, just as I feel so connected with two thousand others. Some of the songs, by coincidence or design, were songs we sing in our children’s ministry. To sing them with adult arrangements with adult voices was incredibly moving. And then, to make sure all emotions were laid bare, the comedy of Tim Hawkins had me laughing so hard my stomach hurt. I went to bed that night exhausted. But the week went on with more general sessions. Josh Wiedemann on faith, Michelle Anthony’s challenging thoughts (as one online observer said, every parent needs to hear it), Austin Gutwein’s vision at age 9 to make a difference in the world, the moving testimony of CeCe Winans, the basketball prowess of Dan Wetzel—every presenter brought a unique element. Add the amazing and moving chalk art by See the Light and the prayer for the continents with Jeff Smith and Rhythm Café, and it’s no wonder I was filled to overflowing.
Breakout sessions (aka workshops, aka classes) brought the best of the best for the purpose of information, inspiration, and infusion of ideas. I have been long toying with the idea of letting kids lead in worship, so Jill Anderson’s breakout on Kid’s Worship Teams seemed like a good place to start. Not only is Jill a dynamite presenter, but she led the whole group in some of her songs…and motions. The tiredness of the night before gave way to some renewed energy. Throughout the week, I listened to Bruce Barry of Wacky World Studios talk about design and the Kidologist, Karl Bastian, on the subject of discipline (thank you for providing your notes!) And there were others (if I attended your breakout, but didn’t mention it, please don’t be offended. I’m still reviewing my notes).
One of the greatest things about CPC is connecting with people. Some I know personally, some I know from their writings or by reputation. But there is an instant bond among us all. Joni Lum’s posts on the Kidology.com forums are always a blessing, but I finally got to meet her in person, as well as others during the Kidology gathering. It was good to have a mini-reunion with Mike and Karen Puckett of Amazing Truth ministries. They are fellow grads of Christian Heritage College (now known as San Diego Christian College). And to show that it’s a small world after all, Janet, the director of our local children’s ministries network, was at the conference (we attended the reception for those who have attended multiple CPC’s). There are so many more…the “who’s who” in kids’ work and the ones not so famous, all there to encourage and support one another.
So yes, I needed a second bag. As the final session came to a close, I commented to one of the people at the table that one of the hardest parts of CPC is the end. She turned to me with tears in her eyes and nodded in agreement. Yet with the sadness that this must end comes a renewed vision, a refreshed passion, and a rejuvenated energy. As I unpacked my bags and looked at the resources, I remember thinking, “how can I put all of this into practice this Sunday?” Of course, I can’t. The bags are unpacked, but I still have to sort through the stuff.
And that may take me until next March.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
My friend Karl captured this picture right before the first general session at CPC10. The pic is easy, but capturing the essence of this conference in a short blog is extremely difficult, so I'm going to settle for some more pictures and random observations.
Welcome to San Diego
My home away from home for the week. This is the first year that I've stayed at the tower.
This is Rob Biagi and his family performing. INCM arranged entertainment in the foyer before the general sessions began(Sorry for the blurry picture, but we're all packed pretty tight waiting for the doors to open).
Waiting for the general sessions
Jill Anderson's workshop on developing a kids' worship team was very informative and motivating. Jill describes herself and her family as "musical missionaries." I will say that singing with that much energy at the first session on Monday morning is an accomplishment...and to get a whole room full of people to do the same is just amazing.
Karl Bastian, the Kidologist, complete with lab coat, sharing his passion. One of Karl's breakaways was on discipline...but it's not what one would think!
A picture I didn't get was that of Mike and Karen Puckett, with Amazing Truth Ministries. Mike and his family are gospel illusionists and are being used of the Lord to reach families with the good news of new life through Jesus Christ. Mike and Karen and I were all at San Diego Christian College together (back when it was known as Christian Heritage College). I've followed them on Facebook for a while, but it was nice having the "mini-reunion" at CPC.
I've come away with so much at the Children's Pastors' Conference...far more than I went in with. In a future blog, I'll share some more of my heart and personal observations.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
The alarm went off as scheduled. I shut it off and thought how grateful I was to be able to attend the premiere conference of its kind. I thought about all it took to get here, about the great resources and networking opportunities I would have...about...how...I......
My eyes opened and I turned my head to see I had less than 30 minutes to report to the foyer! I sprang from the bed with all the nimbleness of a gazelle (with a broken leg), showered, dressed, and headed out the door. No time for breakfast. I got to my destination on time and....waited. I probably would have had time to grab a bite before we got on the busses, but one never knows these things. Besides, I was anxious to get started on the church tours...an opportunity to visit different facilities and see how they have set up their environments for maximum effectiveness.
First up was Mission Valley Church of the Nazarene. I've actually been here before at a previous CPC church tour. Then, their sanctuary looked like this:
Now it looks like this:
Because it was Sunday morning, we attended the early service at the church. It was rather amusing to see the expressions of some of the people in the parking lot: "Uhhhh, what are these big tour busses doing here?" The service itself was what I would call modernized traditional (the hymns had a bit of a beat to them!). Excellent message on Zaccheus. The pastor even asked all of us to sing the song. Following the service was a very quick tour of the facility, followed by a nice lunch.
Then it was up north to our next destination: Saddleback Church.
To tour Saddleback adequately takes awhile. We had thirty minutes. But it was still worth the visit. Yes, they have a lot of money to spend on totally involved children's ministry environments, but that does not rule out the creativity and ideas that must flow through all children's ministries regardless of their budgets.
And then we hopped on the bus and flew south to visit one of my personal favorites: Shadow Mountain Community Church. I have a soft spot for this church, because it is the home of San Diego Christian College, my alma mater (back when it was called Christian Heritage College). It is amazing to see what all they have done with the place...and again, the short time we were there does not do it justice. The creativity and ideas were there, but so was the honest admission that some things are still in progress. Just like us.
Yes, the church tours were fast. Having them on a Sunday kind of limits what time a large group can do a tour. But my commendations to the host churches for their excellent job in showing us all around in a very short amount of time, particularly after ministering to all of the kids in their own congregations that morning. It was a fun (and tiring way) to start the morning. The big take-away (besides great ideas and maybe a little envy) is that our challenges in Children's Ministry are universal. I met a nice woman who ministers in Hong Kong. Her challenges: volunteers, facility use, networking. Hey..same as mine. One of the best parts of being at CPC is discovering that we're all in this together. And that's worth a bus ride punctuated by whirlwind tours!
Saturday, March 13, 2010
As my trip ended…it almost did. More later, but first….
People sometimes ask me why I try to book a separate travel day when I go to the Children’s Pastors Conference. After all, it’s one more night and more down time. I don’t mind the “down time” so much, because it allows me some solitude to pray, think, read, and relax without distractions. Still, there’s the cost…so why not save myself a night’s lodging and plan to show up on check-in day?
Answer: because of days like this.
My adventure began when my wife dropped me off at the airport at 9:30 a.m. Shortly after I checked in at the automated kiosk, an attendant asked me to go to the ticket counter. They explained to me that bad weather in San Francisco was causing delays and cancellations. It was then that the Biblical injunction to take heed when you think you stand, lest you fall came to mind. In all the weeks prior, I kept saying, “no bad weather when I travel. It can snow all it wants…up until the day I leave. Then let’s clear it up and I’ll be fine.” I’m sure my co-workers got tired of it. And when travel day arrived, it was raining…but at least it wasn’t snowing!
But I hadn’t calculated what bad weather would do at my connection in San Francisco. The attendant presented me with a backup plan. I struggled to follow: “you have a boarding pass for flight A, but if they call you as a stand by for flight B, then take flight B, and then your connection will be for your original flight C, unless they put you on standby for an earlier flight D that leaves later than C, and I before E, except after C.” (All kidding aside, the United counter staff at the Rogue Valley International Medford Airport were phenomenal in dealing with the vast amount of passengers who were inconvenienced by this situation. With patience and good humor, they helped weather the storm (no pun intended).).
My flight was scheduled for 11:00, but was bumped to 1:00 (it turns out that the 8:00 flight had to leave at 11:00). The flight to SF only took about an hour, but since SF had only one runway open (due to heavy rains and poor visibility), we “approached” for another 45 minutes. By this time, I had no idea if my original connection (which the counter agent said had been delayed as well) was still viable. At least I had plan B! I checked the board when I got off the plane and…big surprise! My original connection was so far gone, it wasn’t even listed anymore. I checked my plan B itinerary and was instantly confused. It looked like I wouldn’t be able to make plan B either. So I went to an automated kiosk and punched in my confirmation number. The nice machine informed me that due to weather delays, I had been rebooked on a 6:20 p.m. flight! I printed my boarding pass and rejoiced that that detail was settled. All I had to do now is wait. I watched the rain pelt the windows of the gate area. I watched as big jetliners pulled in and out, doing a delicately timed ballet with the baggage and maintenance vehicles. I could hear a waltz playing in the background as men and women in yellow and orange dayglow suits nimbly guided the planes to their havens (okay, by this time I was tired, hungry, and working on a king-sized headache, so forgive me a little loopiness).
My flight was on time. It left the gate on time. It stopped on the tarmac on time. This was good. And then the captain said, “Ladies and gentleman, we’ve just learned that the computers at the airport have gone down, so we need to wait here a little longer.” Uh huh.
Yes, I made it to San Diego. And incredibly, my luggage followed me! So with briefcase and laptop and big bulky duffle bag, I was ready to tackle the final obstacle: the Skybridge at San Diego International Airport. In order to get to the shuttles, one has to take an escalator up to a glass enclosed bridge, walk across the Skybridge, and then down the escalator. I have never enjoyed this part, because, while one or two of my items aren’t too heavy, three of them together are rough. And then, to navigate an escalator on top of that…..and that is where my journey almost ended!
I stepped onto the down escalator. My hands were full, so I couldn’t grab the rail. I was slightly off in my step, so I adjusted my feet. But the weight of my luggage threw off my balance and I started to fall. And I might have just ended up with a broken or sprained limb (or worse) if it hadn’t been for the guy behind me catching me (don’t know who he is, but the Lord knows!). I breathed a sigh of relief and a prayer of thanks, that after this very long travel day, I was spared another delay.
I arrived at the Town and Country Resort and got into my room at about 9:30 p.m., about twelve hours after my journey began (for the record, my original itinerary would have put me in San Diego about 2 p.m.). Tired and grateful, I prepared for a good night’s sleep. I’m looking forward to everything that I will experience at CPC, even starting with check-in time. And thanks to traveling the day before, I will not miss check-in time.
As our local meteorologist is fond of saying, “Stay tuned for updates….”
Thursday, March 11, 2010
1. Two thousand of my closest friends. We laugh at that, but I feel a connection with all the people there. I may not know who they are, but I consider them brothers and sisters in the service of the King. I usually have to resist a lump in my throat during the closing session, because I and my friends are parting ways.
2. Opening night. For me, the first few songs of worship and praise are incredibly liberating for me. It's almost as if I can feel the stress, the pressure, and the sheer lonliness of the past year siphon out of my whole body. Joining in glad song with two thousand of my closest frineds is very freeing.
3. Education. Whether it is in the general sessions or the individual workshops, I always feel I'm getting the proverbial cream of the crop in children's ministries.
4. The church tour. I like signing up for the church tour. It's interesting, inspirational, and challenging. Whenever I complete a church tour, one of the things I ask myself is, "If a tour stopped at our church, what would they report about?"
5. Resources. Sure, I get catalogs and novelty items, but if you are standing in the right place at the right time, you might walk away with a free book or dvd or action figure. And even if you don't, you can still get a jump on your budget list.
6. The Nap. Yes, you read that right. One of the CPC leaders once counseled that if you need a nap, go take a nap. One year I took his advice. Mid-afternoon, I was tired and felt a headache coming on. So I went to my room, crashed on my bed, and took a two hour nap. I was refreshed when I got up. Besides, when was the last time I took a deliberate snooze?
So there you have it... a quick half dozen reasons why I like to go to the Children's Pastors Conference. As the car commercial goes, "your mileage may vary." So come see it for yourself.
Sunday, March 07, 2010
To understand the significance of that statement, I invite you to read my previous blog post on the subject:
I Do Not Own a Cell Phone
After church one delightful Sunday afternoon, my wife and I stopped at Subway for lunch. Feeling fiscally empowered by the fact that we could buy a five…five dollar…five dollar foot long, we figured we could afford cell phones.
Okay, it wasn’t that simple. We’ve actually been kicking around the idea of cell phones for quite some time. In my previous blog, I listed all the reasons why we were still hold-outs in this communication-crazy age…and cost was at the top of the list. But as we discussed and prayed and debated, we grew increasingly convinced that the cost of owning a cell phone was simply the cost of having what was rapidly becoming a standard vehicle of communication. We agreed to have a look after lunch; besides, looking costs nothing.
We had plenty of time to look at the various models available, since a couple ahead of us was in the process of adopting a pair of cell phones. My wife and I were weighing the options of two different models, when the customer ahead of us leaned over and said that he was getting one the phones we were considering. He was a long time cell phone owner and was very impressed by the features and usability of this particular brand. We thought maybe it was a sign (either that, or he was a plant from the company placed there to reel in naïve, undecided customers). This phone had a good look and had the features we wanted. But one of the best selling points was in how easy we could get a couple of these phones. You see, my youngest daughter bought a cell phone back when she was still a minor. Although my daughter pays the bill herself, the account was set up under my wife’s name. So getting two cell phones was a simple matter of adding two numbers to an already existing account! And doing that was even less expensive than if we were starting fresh. Is that cool or what?
So here we are, cell phone owners. I will not divulge the type of phone or cost or anything, mainly because I don’t want to launch a massive debate of passionate cell phone owners who will say, “You bought what? You paid what?” We got valuable intel after my last entry and we used it in our deliberations. And now, the deed is done. Our phones work quite nicely and are meeting our expectations so far.
As I was sitting at my desk one evening, my phone chimed and vibrated with news that I had received a text message from my wife. I happily responded with a text of my own. I reflected once again on how good it is that we finally had cell phones. And as I turned and looked at my wife who was sitting on the couch across from my desk, I smiled.
Yup, welcome to the 21st century!