5 Things I Learned Leading My First Youth Ministry Convention

Tom Shefchunas
August 7th, 2019

Unique. Distinctive. Special. Unrepeated. Uncommon. Rare.

The National Youth Workers Convention (NYWC) in St. Louis was truly just that. It was a one-of-a-kind, a.k.a. unique, experience for me.

It was unique in that it was the first time I got to be part of the process from beginning to end.

It was unique because I was able to dream about what it could be.

It was unique in that I could both experience the excitement and walk through the disappointment of finding speakers and talent, only to lose them to calendaring issues. 

It was unique because I was able to see it move from words on a Planning Center document to actually watching it happen in front of me. Beside me. Through me.

It was uniquely amazing, uniquely scary, uniquely frustrating, uniquely exciting — and uniquely exhausting, all at the same time. (Case in point: I almost missed my ride to the airport the next morning because I slept through my alarm. Now that is the kind of exhaustion that is absolutely unique).

Before I threaten to lose you from the overuse of this not-so-unique word unique, bear with me.

Because, if you’ve been to NYWC before, you already know that it is also a very unique place. A place unlike any other.

To me, the best part about this place and this conference is that it is OUR yearly gathering. Youth Workers from around the country come to one place to be encouraged, equipped, and “Together.” (Which, by the way, is the theme this year at our convention in Tampa, Fla.).  

It is unique to be together for 3 days with thousands of people who love what I love and do what I do. It is unique to take time away to be together. To focus on growing, thriving and learning — together. 

Not many people can say they love what we love and do what we do.

Unique really is the word to describe us, isn’t it? 

So, let’s face it. And let’s own it. We are a unique group, and it’s not always easy to find our unique people in a room full of church people.

This post is not about that, though. This post is about the unique surprises and moments of NYWC 2018. I’ve also asked some of my friends to think about these moments as well. Keep an eye out for their posts very soon.

But in the meantime, you have me. And you have these 5 unique things I learned from my first NYWC

Let’s dive in.

Tim Timmons

I had never heard Tim perform. He is a songwriter and worship leader. To be honest, music is not my main talent, nor my main concern. I was surrounded by it in my last job, so it moved into the “part of the production” category in my head. Tim caught my attention early, though. It was just him, his guitar, and his pedal board. 

He told stories about his music and why it was important. I was drawn in. It was the best personal worship I had had in over a year, and I loved it.  And — I made sure he was invited back! He accepted, and I can’t wait for him to give many a similarly unique experience this year.

Tough Content

I got to lead a panel on LGBGTQ+ students last year. It was difficult and dangerous. On one hand, this is the No. 1 thing I get asked about when I’m working with youth workers. On the other hand, this topic can be a lightning rod for unhealthy debate. But, I think it went really well.

We had Mark Oestreicher, Sean McDowell, and Neely McQueen discussing personal and practical aspects of ministering to LGBTQ+ youth. We obviously didn’t answer all the questions, or even most of them, but we did help, I think. 

This year we are bringing in the big guns on this topic with Mark Yarhouse. He will be doing a Deep Dive and a breakout (Hot off the press information, this hasn’t even been announced yet!) I hope this helps those of you out there who are working with these unique families. I know there are a lot of you.

Comedy Night and Andrew Stanley

For 13 years, I worked for Andy Stanley at North Point Community Church. During my first few years, his oldest son, Andrew, was a part of our middle school ministry. It was amazing to sit and see that once-shy student come fully into his own and dominate the stage at Comedy night. 

I have always been told there is nothing more rewarding than getting to do ministry with those who you once ministered to. I think that’s true.  (Btw, Andrew will be back with the Skit Guys, John Michael Hinton, and Kristin Weber.)

Orange Gathering

I have been working with Orange Students, Orange Conference, and Orange Tour for more than 10 years. I had never been to an Orange Gathering like the one we had last year. I expected there to be 20-30 old and new friends. But when I arrived, I was surprised to see that we had filled a local coffee shot to the “brim” (Pun intended)

It was amazing to see so many friends. I loved watching Reggie Joiner and the Orange Students team in their element, connecting and encouraging ministry leaders in person. In fact, the Orange Gathering along with many others were so popular that we have broadened the offerings and found some bigger spaces to make them happen. Now, that’s “a latte” to be excited about (OK, puns over)!

Make Me Laugh Video Announcements

If you have been around when Doug Fields, Josh Griffin, and I are together you know they wear me out about my Angry Resting Face (Christian version of RBF). Well, that contributed to our game time decision to do video announcements in which I delivered the announcements while the hosts (Josh, Kellen, and Heather) did their best to make me laugh. It was hilarious, painful, and messy as you can see from the video

As far as NYWC 2019 goes, I’m not sure of how we are going to do announcements — but I am sure there will be sweet revenge. Stay tuned! I hold Josh Griffin 100% responsible….

Tom Shefchunas

Tom Shefchunas (Shef) is the Executive Director at Youth Specialties. Shef also leads the development and strategy for XP3 Middle School and High School curriculum. Before that Shef was North Point Ministries’ Multi-Campus Director of Transit, their middle school ministry, for 12 years. And before that, he spent 10 years as a high school teacher, coach, and principal. His passion is working with, recruiting, and developing volunteers and leaders who will shape the next generation. Through nearly two decades of leadership in ministry Shef has had numerous opportunities to coach and be coached by some amazing individuals.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.