When Lebron James steps to the foul line with 0.3 seconds left on the clock and his team down by 1 point, what matters most at that specific moment? Is it his incredible, jaw-dropping, God-given talent? Is it the energy of the home crowd? Is it his all-star surrounding cast?
I don’t think so.
What matters most in that critical moment is his preparation. It’s what he does before and after the game that determines how his game goes. The reason Lebron can sink the two free throws necessary to win the game is because, over the course of his career, Lebron has shot 10,000 practice free throws between the games. In big events, preparation is everything.
While the Sojourn National Conference next week certainly isn’t the NBA Finals, the preparation principle still applies. I want to suggest that the benefit you receive from the conference is directly connected to what you do before, during, and after the conference.
So how can you prepare? Let me break it down into some specifics:
BEFORE YOU GO
The most important thing you can do before attending the conference is to pray. Am I stating the obvious? Probably. But it’s the obvious things that are easiest to overlook.
Pray that God would meet you in a unique way at the conference. Pray that he would impart refreshment and encouragement to you. Pray that he would revive your soul. Pray that God would invigorate you as a husband or wife, father or mother, leader, pastor, mom - whatever important role you fill.
Equally important, pray for those serving at the conference. Pray for the main speakers and the worship teams and the volunteer brigades. Pray that they would be able to serve effectively, efficiently, and in the strength the Lord provides.
Here’s another thing: Turn off the information spigot before you arrive. Sometimes we can be in a physically different location, but because we’re just as accessible we’re just as distracted. So do this...take strategic steps to build information barricades around the conference time before it even begins. Put your email on auto-respond, take a Twitter sabbatical, swear off Facebook - whatever it takes to keep you focused on God and what He may be saying to you.
WHILE YOU’RE THERE
Four things to consider while you’re at the conference.
Receive humbly. Conferences present unique opportunities to learn from gifted people who are there to serve us. To learn from those who have specifically prayed and prepared to feed us. Assume that God wants to speak to you, and arrive expecting to hear. We’re not convening to grade messages and be entertained by personalities. We want to position ourselves to benefit from the gifts God has given to others. This starts with humbly coming to God to “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your soul.” (James 1:21).
Serve joyfully. Often times, we attend conferences with a consumer mentality. We’ve paid the registration and we expect a product or experience. We come to a conference thinking only of what we will receive. This shouldn’t be the case. Scripture calls us to first approach each other with an attitude of serving, rather than being served (Matt. 20:28). So while at the conference, look for any and all opportunities to serve. Ask God to help you be others-focused, rather than self-focused.
Thank repeatedly. This conference in only possible because of an army of heroic volunteers. These amazing servants are spending hours and energy, without pay, to make it possible for us to come together. Make sure that the volunteers feel your deep gratefulness. Let this conference be marked by our gratitude towards others.
Think missionally. This conference is not simply about information transmission. This conference is about information propelling mission. Throughout the conference, ask God to help you connect what you are hearing from the pulpit to your own mission field back home. Also consider that there will be folks from outside of Sojourn present. Greet them, reach out to them, share a meal with them, pray with them. Let the way we participate in the conference testify to the reality that Sojourn sees life and needs beyond Sojourn.
WHEN YOU RETURN
Remember, conferences happen in a vacuum. For three days you do nothing but listen to preaching, enjoy great worship, eat food, hang with friends, and drink gallons of coffee. The moment you return home, all the cares and pressures of life immediately crash your party, like a tropical storm on your day at Disney. If you want to be a doer of the word, and not a hearer only, there are several things you must do when you return from the conference.
Create space. Set aside some time to prayerfully review the material taught at the conference. Give special attention to the particular areas God spoke to you. What are the one or two issues God pressed upon during the main sessions?....during the track you attended?...in times of fellowship? Give your attention and reflection to those issues.
Connect with others. In order for the content to gain traction in your life, you need to share what you learned with others. If your wife was unable to attend the conference, take an evening to share with her how God met you. Have a roundtable session with the other folks on your leadership team where you go through the material. Spend time with your elders, strategizing about how you might put what you learned into action. Think specifically about how to move the material from discussion to application.
Get back to us. We want and need your feedback. After the conference, please let us know how we can more effectively serve you. Let us know how we can make the conference better the next time. Remember, Sojourn exists to help pastors plant, grow and multiply healthy churches. If our conference doesn’t serve that goal, and doesn’t serve you...well then, it’s pointless. So let us know whether we hit the mark and how we can improve.
Preparation makes all the difference. Come prepared; go through the conference prepared; and return home prepared. You won’t regret it.
See you soon!
Dave Harvey is the Chairman of Board for the Sojourn Network and will be speaking at this year's conference.