Recently I attended the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers’ Conference. Having attended a few conferences before, I was less anxious about being there and knew pretty much what to expect. At this point in my career, I knew my reasons for going to the conference – to pitch my book to editors and learn more about the writing craft. As I stood in the registration line waiting to check in, I listened to the comments of those around me and soon realized that many of them were first-time conference attendees. I related to their questions and concerns, having experienced the same myself when I was in their shoes. It was a relief that I had moved beyond the initial fears to a more comfortable position, and I was able to answer questions for those newbies nearby.

On the first night of the conference, keynote speaker Torry Martin’s message was about being friendly, and he challenged us to approach others, ask questions and be interested in their answers. He told us to pray for “holy introductions and divine appointments.” I thought the message would be about making me a better writer. Instead, it was about making me a better person. Ah-hah Moment Number One.

Conference Director Alton Gansky started each morning with a devotional message. He too, talked about 1) writing as a form of worship – a dedication of our efforts to Jesus, 2) being an encourager; look for someone to encourage, 3) not be in competition with other Christian writers because we’re all on the same team. Ah-hah Moments Numbers Two, Three, and Four.

As a result of these messages, I was convicted of my own selfish desires and my focus on what the conference would do for me. I prayed that God would help me take my eyes off myself and open them to the people around me, and that I would strive to help someone else in some way.

Consequently, my whole conference experience took on a different tone. When in discussion groups, I held my tongue to let others speak. At meals, I sat at tables with people I didn’t know and asked questions. When someone shared with me their doubts or anxieties about appointments or their writing future, I was able to encourage them. I challenged myself to say something positive, friendly or encouraging to others.

When I was asked afterwards if the conference had been good for me, I had to answer “yes.” But not in ways I expected. Instead of “what’s in it for me?” I learned what was more important: how does God want me to minister to others? And if I focus on that, I’ll be a better Christian writer.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thess. 5:11