In less than a month, I’m going to the Mid-South Christian Writers Conference. I’ve been to other conferences, but this will be my first one as a published author. In some ways, it feels different. But if previous conferences have taught me anything, it doesn’t change as much as you might expect.
I remember my first conference. I had passion for writing and a manuscript ready to go. What I didn’t have was a published book. I struggled with feeling like I might not belong. Could I stand up and say, “I’m a writer”? Whether they had books or articles in their writing resumes, other attendees were published. Would I feel unworthy of being there with them?
I didn’t need to worry. From the first session of the first day, the speakers made it clear we were all there because, published or not, we were writers. In fact, the main speaker made us own it out loud. And it wasn’t just the speakers. Other attendees were friendly and open, sharing their experiences and encouragement. They didn’t parade their publishing successes in front of the newbies. They never hinted at being real writers while the rest of us were wannabees. They accepted all the new comers into the fold. We were all writers. Some were just a little further along in the journey than others. That acceptance meant a lot to me.
I know I’m not at the end of my writing journey. I’ve just taken another step forward. As next month’s conference nears, I look forward to continuing to learn from those further along the writing path. I’m eager to find encouragement in speaking with those who have more than one credit to their name. And maybe, I will have the opportunity to make others feel as welcome as I was at my first conferences. Maybe I’ll get to be the one to help them own the fact that, published or not, they are writers.
These lessons that mean so much to me in my writing ministry mean even more in my spiritual life. Hebrews 10 impresses on believers the need to gather together in order to encourage each other and grow in our faith walks. Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Ephesians all speak about each believer being gifted to grow and encourage other believers and to work together to reach out to those who aren’t in relationship with God. The book of Acts tells multiple stories of believers coming together with one purpose and God accomplishing great things through their unity and willingness to work together. The message is that we are meant to work together under the single banner of faith in Jesus. Like the conferences I’ve attended, our churches are filled with a variety of people at different stages of the journey. Each of them is in a different place. Some have been living lives of faith for a long time. They’ve experienced things the rest of us are only starting to discover. Others are just starting out. They don’t know much more than the basics that sin separates us from God, Jesus died to take our sin’s punishment, and believing this is the way to find forgiveness and begin a relationship with God. Some don’t even know where to start.
And just like I was at the first conference I attended, there will be people in our churches who doubt they belong. They will look at the spiritual superstars and feel like they simply don’t measure up. They will fear others seeing them as less Christian and less worthy of being there. Some may even let that fear or a misguided word keep them from being part of the group of believers.
Let’s protect what God has given us. None of us is “there” yet. We need to keep the correct perspective. There are others further along the journey we can learn from. There are others just starting out that can find acceptance, encouragement, and greater understanding from us.
Being accepted into the writing world solely on the basis of having a passion to write meant a lot to me. It gave me the confidence I needed to keep trying, even when I failed. Acceptance by other believers in our spiritual lives, based on faith in Jesus instead of how proficient we are at living the way we should, can be even more powerful. It can give us the confidence and tools to keep living out our faith. And when we fail, it can give us the strength we need to start again.
By the Book: Thank someone who helped you in your walk of faith. Give God praise for putting that person in your life. Ask God to show you how to encourage someone else in their walk.