by Cory Boerm
Every year about this time I begin to look at my calendar and count down the weeks. I’m counting down to those last few days of April, when I know I get to step away from the craziness of my work as a children’s pastor and join the thousands that paint the Gwinnett Arena orange. I pack my orange swim trunks and become one of the many who travel hundreds and thousands of miles to get refilled and refreshed. Many of my co-workers look at me kind of sideways though, when I explain to them that I will be spending most of the conference volunteering. Why would you return year after year and give up so much of your time?
The answer to that question actually started on a cruise with my wife. One of the first experiences I had with this whole strategy of Orange was when I heard Reggie Joiner speak over 13 years ago at a children’s conference that was held on a cruise ship (don’t hate me . . . I had to twist some arms to get permission). I was in my first year as a children’s pastor and only four years into ministry. My self-centered young pastor’s world was all shaken up when he shared his passion for partnering with parents. Like so many others who have heard Reggie bring it, that message helped shape my calling. It was one of those moments when you know God spoke, and for me it was about how to empower families, and how to lead those on my team to do the same.
On the plane trip home my mind could not settle on which idea to implement first, but reality set in rather quickly when I had to sell those new ideas to church leadership . . . had to convince small group leaders to serve more than once a month . . . had to implement a family service with limited space, money and volunteers. I believed God had shown me a healthy ministry strategy, but making it happen was not easy. I even prayed for someone who could mentor me, or just answer a few tough questions when church leaders pushed back. What made it difficult was that there were no leaders around me who had previously sailed the rough seas of family ministry, and I felt alone.
Six years later, I attended my first Orange Conference. The first day, I ran out of space on my notepad listing questions I wanted to ask all the fellow leaders I was meeting. What surprised me was that for every question I needed answered, there was someone near me who had a question I could help with. We were a band of sailors sharing and discovering what adventure our captain was taking us on next.
My first experience with volunteering at Orange Conference occurred when the downturn in the economy led to a downturn in my conference budget. I was serving on staff outside of Atlanta and heard that extra hands were needed. What could it hurt? Almost every week I challenged new volunteers to at least step into children’s ministry to try it out. They never truly knew what to expect and almost all were pleasantly surprised that the kids didn’t make them walk the plank. How could I spend years asking hundreds of volunteers to give of their time weekly and not do the same at least once a year myself?
What a difference that year made in my conference experience! There really is something special about wearing that volunteer shirt—even if you do have to wear it three days in a row. So many people feel comfortable asking you questions and you get to walk beside them as they have those moments when God speaks to them. After a couple of years volunteering, I guess you could say I’ve become one of those mentors answering some of the tough questions. I’m not giving up my time when I volunteer. I’m truly blessed by every minute that I get to serve the true Master and Commander.
Now, if we can just convince Reggie to move OC16 to a cruise ship! A trip aboard the Gwinnett of the Seas . . . I’m sure we would all volunteer for that voyage. I call dibs on running check-in for the snorkeling excursion!
Cory Boerm is the children’s pastor at Vale Church in Bloomington, IL. He has served in ministry since 1998 working with children, teens and families in churches across the country including TX, IN, AZ, GA and IL. He has a passion for creating fun experiences where kids can connect with leaders as they learn about God’s plan for their lives. His reputation might include making his late arriving volunteers wear crazy hats. Cory has an amazing wife (Christy) and together they have been blessed with three beautiful children (Emma, Alexa and Hudson).