Well, the day has finally come. You’ve been waiting for weeks. Your flight itinerary is printed out, your bags are packed with that perfect not-too-stuffy brand of business casual, and you can’t wait to be out of the office for a few days.
Yes, it’s time for a conference.
Oh, and this isn’t just any ministry conference. This is THAT ministry conference that will solve all of your woes, give you renewed vision and perspective, ensuring a lifetime of happy, healthy service to God and others.
But we’ve all met some interesting characters at our conferences who make our experiences…well…interesting. Haven’t we? After all, ministry conferences are like tiny social experiments where people from different contexts converge and share their experiences, their struggles, and their personalities for a few days. And in the midst of all the fun, nobody wants to be “that guy” (or girl), who makes the experience a little less enjoyable for everyone else. So here’s a rundown of some folks you’ll find at every conference and hopefully how not to become one.
“Laughs Louder than Everyone” Guy
Yes, this guy has a great sense of humor, but he wants everyone to know about it. The slightest hint of humor from anyone in the room will get a seismic eruption from this guy, regardless of whether or not the moment was actually that funny. This is distracting and simply draws attention to oneself. Yes, the comment about eating catfood in the money management seminar was funny, but not that funny. Is it really that necessary to belly laugh at everything? So some girl said you didn’t have a sense of humor when you were in the 8th grade…don’t punish everyone around you by proving what a fun guy you are. This could possibly be a female, but usually tends to be men.
“Asks Too Many Questions” Girl
This lady, or guy, is in a sense someone to be admired. Yes, she got the material on the conference and saw that they were offering THE breakout session. The breakout session that will provide a quick and practical solution to that horrible problem that has totally sucked the joy out of her job. She registered for that session the day it opened and now the day has come. She’s in the room and a guy with a brief case and a Power Point clicker is giving everyone some valuable information that is exactly what she needs to hear. Of course she wants it to apply to her particular context, so she asks a question…then a followup question. A few minutes later, another question. At the end of the hour, you realize that she’s asked more questions as everyone else in the room combined. To be honest, this is rude and it monopolizes the time of the presenter. Most conference speakers are available after the sessions to visit. If you simply have that many questions, wait until the session is over.
“The Class Clown”
This is another male-dominated stereotype, but could apply to women. We all love to laugh and it’s great to have people around you that can find the humor in lots of situations. But there are some folks who simply look a little too intently for opportunities to interject jokes. They quietly stalk the conversation waiting to strike like a cat pouncing on a mouse. This guy sits, wheels turning, waiting to ambush the crowd, sharing his gift of humor with the world…especially “Laughs Louder Than Everyone Guy” (actually, these two feed off of each other; it could be a setup). And while this is funny the first couple of times, after a while it gets old and again takes away from the presenter. In many of these sessions people have come a long way to hear a very knowledgeable speaker cover a lot of material in a short period of time. Don’t disrespect the presenter’s time by drawing attention to yourself.
“Always On” Girl
One of the great things about conferences is that even though they are educational from a work standpoint, they afford us the opportunity to get out of the office and not be consumed with those specific projects that are on our desks. We get to kick back a bit, network with other folks, form new relationships, and embrace the fact that other people in ministry are normal people, too—just like we are. But some who attend ministry conferences are in what I call “always on” mode. What I mean by that is at mealtimes, in the hallways, and between classes they are constantly talking about work. Some of my favorite conversations at conferences are about our favorite sports teams or our hobbies. There is plenty of time to learn at these conferences. Don’t feel like you have to exploit every moment of the event to discuss ministry issues. Some folks want to relax a bit and not hear about all the problems you have at your church.
“How Big Is Your Ministry?” Guy
Experts say that when you put men in a room full of other men they’ve never met, the first two questions they will ask one another are “What’s your name,” and “What do you do for a living?” At a ministry conference, this is covered for you because everyone has a rather large nametag somewhere on their person and by nature of the conference everyone knows everyone there is in ministry. If you ask people what is the ministry question they hate answering most, I’m willing to bet most would say, “How many people are in your church/ministry?” But what is funny is that when we get around other ministers, this is often the first question we ask, even though we hate it. As bearers of the gospel, we are supposed to be able to be at least somewhat creative. How about using that creativity to come up with better ways to break the ice with one another?
“Ask the Same Question in Every Session” Guy
Not to be confused with Asks Too Many Questions Girl, this character has an interesting super power-the ability to ask the exact same question with slightly different phrasing to every presenter at the conference. You got your answer in the last seminar, but you do really have to get a second opinion? This isn’t a bad medical test. We know how unique your situation is and how badly you want to improve it, but again, if you need to visit with the presenters that badly, do it after class.
It’s odd to think that when you pay money to register, rent a fairly expensive hotel room, and travel hundreds of miles to enjoy an event with a bunch of fellow servants that there is some etiquette involved. But really there is. As everyone has come with different goals and expectations for the conference, it is very important to be respectful of that, and not hijack discussion by being consumed with ourselves and our own issues. So pack your bags, grab your phone, your tablet, and your laptop, and go to that conference that’s going to change your life. But be nice.
[Image via Kevin Dee]