First Christian Church | Pittsfield


Orange Conference - Michelle

06.21.22 | Elder's Corner | by Michelle Hart

    Before I share my experience with Orange Conference this year, I want to take a trip down memory lane to my last Orange experience. The last Orange conference I attended was 2019 due to covid canceling each year, and it was life changing. My report was all about how the conference changed me and feeling a nudge to serve God differently. I felt a calling to move from leading a small ladies bible study to being a leader for our youth. I, along with a few other leaders jumped on Kacie’s team and began working with our youth in Sunday School. We later started a Thursday night youth group averaging 10 kids in the beginning to now averaging over 30 kids each week. Trust me, if all kids were present at once, we would have over 50 kids. If I had missed the opportunity to experience Orange in 2019 I would have missed the calling to be a youth leader. Orange is what got Kacie on board with our youth and what moved me to join her. Without Orange, I am certain our youth wouldn’t be where it is today.

    Now moving to 2022, this Orange Conference was HEAVY, but a good heavy. As a youth leader my sessions were focused on teens. Let’s be honest, the kids I help lead are going to be facing some very difficult and “Heavy” situations. This report took me a while to create as I needed to take time to let the information settle. I have many pages of notes that I have found myself rereading to make sure I retain everything provided to me. Orange Conference was so good, I don’t want to forget anything. I am happy to report, we have already began applying what we have learned with our youth. First Sunday back Kacie and I were provided with an opportunity to share our knowledge in our Sunday School class.  Kids were talking about their week, and we heard more than one person sound like a broken record. Broken record = something a kid thinks about themselves and constantly has this negative thought about themselves on repeat. We were able to remind them of the truth, and this situation doesn’t label them or identify who they truly are. We were able to reset the broken record they believed to be true and give them hope. To be honest, every single time I have been with our youth since the conference Kacie and I have been able to use the knowledge we learned at Orange Conference.

    I can’t list a favorite session as each one of them were so, so good. We listened to speakers talk about many important topics such as social media, identity issues, deconstructing faith, communicating with teenagers, how to build relationships, and many more. This conference gave us tools we need to handle situations our youth are going to face. It gave us encouragement & motivation so we can be the type of leader our youth needs. Each speaker brought something different to the table but they all spoke on “Love and Be Human” How quickly we forget to love like Jesus.

    My 2 biggest take aways from Orange conference would be how to handle a difficult situation our youth may face and how important it is to build a relationship with our youth. It can take up to 2 years for a child to trust a leader. 2 YEARS. Kids face new teachers and school surroundings ever year. Could you imagine if we as adults had a new job or boss every year? We would have all kinds of anxiety and fear. It’s important for the kids to have someone to confide in other than their parents. I now know the correct way to respond to a student when they open up to us about their difficult situations they are going through. My first response will be Thank you for telling me, I love you, I am here for you, you are safe here. Before Orange conference I would jump into solution mode but instead I will now jump in their chariot. Get a full understanding of what is going on in their lives. Build a relationship with them. Nobody wants to be told they are wrong, they screwed up, this is a sin. We need to establish a relationship with them and give them HOPE. If we have a loved one not following God’s way, why would we want to push them away from us or the church? We need to keep them near the church and let God work through them. There is no difficult situation to big for God. I now have confidence that if someone in my small group comes to me, I will handle it in a Christ like matter. I want our youth to know our small group is a safe place, and they can share anything with us.

    It appears each time I go to Orange I have a testimonial moment. As I grow in my own faith, I am finding how I enjoy sharing my testimonies. Most are little but each one has developed me into the leader I am and the leader I want to become. When I was in my teens I know my walk with God wasn’t a straight line. I made a bad choice and one was publicly known. I remember going to church the first Sunday after and an Elder made a joke to me in front of a large group of people making fun of me and the decision I made. Nobody reached out to me to ask how I was doing, how they could pray for me, to see what was going on in my life causing me spiral downward. Instead, an elder of our church made fun of me. This moment came back to me many years later reminding me when I am in a similar position as a leader I want to lean into the person, ask how they are, let them know I love them…..Remind them God is bigger than this…… Ask how I can help …….. and remind them this situation doesn’t define who they are. Looking back, I never had a youth leader walk beside me. They were always in front of me throwing scripture at me or telling me what’s wrong or right. As I walk in life with our youth, I look forward to sharing my personal experiences with them in hopes it will lead them in a straighter path than the one I traveled.

    I hope we continue to have the opportunity to attend Orange conference. Being a youth leader for many years can begin to wear you down. We pour so much into being a leader that we forget to pour into ourselves. Orange conference is a time to reconnect, worship, soak up the Holy Spirit for 3 solid days, as well as allowing us time to build a relationship with other fellow leaders in our congregation. The past few years we have developed a great relationship with our youth, but not being able to attend the conference for a few years we also began to just go with the motions and feel drained. This conference gives us knowledge, tools, motivation needed to reach and empower our youth on a higher level. Satan’s game is getting stronger, we must keep educating ourselves and allowing the Holy Spirit to fill up our cup for our youth. As always, I encourage anyone who isn’t able to volunteer with our youth to help sponsor a leader to attend Orange next year. I know I would love to go each year and there are other leaders waiting to go.

    Michelle Hart