I love association conferences. Back in the day, I cut my teeth on what were then the Christian Camping International (CCI) – now Christian Camp and Conference Association (3CA) – annual gatherings in cities like Seattle, Denver, St. Louis, San Diego. These past three days, I've been at the Association of Classical & Christian Schools conference in Dallas (I attended and wrote about last year's ACCS conference in Atlanta here), but this time I've brought 42 of our Veritas staff and parents to keep me company (34 of them are pictured below).
Annual association conferences are helpful for a variety of reasons, but here are some specific thoughts with regard to my role and context:
1) Coming on the heels of my first year at Veritas, the timing and location of this year's conference being in Dallas has been especially helpful. A year ago would have been too early, as I didn't know what I didn't know; next year would have been too late as I might have missed some urgency of key foundational aspects of my tenure as Head of School.
2) At every association conference – regardless of context – I'm always reminded of how much relational dysfunction can still exist within Christian organizations. Thankfully, in my years in Christian camping/conferencing and now in Christian schooling, I've been privileged to be at both a camp/conference center and school that, while not having yet arrived in terms of all the nuts and bolts of our work, were much further down the road in terms of interpersonal practice and relational maturity. This didn't/doesn't mean we didn't/don't have issues, but we did/do have processes to work through them.
3) Being an affirmation junkie, I'm always looking for encouragement that I/we just might be thinking about the right things and moving in the right directions, at least as far as more experienced and established leaders/schools are concerned. I haven't spent all my time comparing and constrasting every move we have or haven't made, but there have been occasions – many this week – when I've heard a story or point of fact and felt affirmed that we're really doing okay in more areas than I often let myself believe.
4) That said, I've experienced more than one paradigm nudge/shift as a result of being here. Douglas Wilson challenged me to avoid the extremes of both ends of the Founding Fathers' Christianity debate (complete and total Christians/complete and total Deists); Tom Garfield raised some flags on my idealism that we as a school can somehow make up for parents' lack of desire/diligence in carrying out their God-given responsibility to educate their kids; and our Veritas staff and parents inspired and convicted me that I want to work harder to become more of what they need as a clear-thinking, passionate-loving shepherd for them.
5) I'm also newly aware of just how far I have to go to be more classical and Christian in how I live and lead as a Head of School; neither comes naturally (the former due to a lack of experience; the latter due to a lack of sanctification), and it can be intimidating listening to Wilson and others, for whom both seem much more hand-in-glove. I'm humbled by the way God has gifted and blessed these men academically and theologically, and long to see Him do similarly in me.
It's been a good several days – made better (and only a little more complicated) by having Megan and the girls with me. Megan has attended and enjoyed the conference very much, while the girls have had the run of the InterContinental Hotel while we've been in meetings. We've had lunches together in our room and eaten out dinners before swimming in the hotel pool in the evenings. They've read some books, watched some cartoons, and seemed to have fun (most of the time) hanging out as sisters.
As Douglas Wilson reminded us, "The goal of a leader is to have thick skin and a tender heart, not tender skin and a thick heart." This year's conference has helped me with both, and I'm grateful to our Veritas community for their generosity in providing the funds for us to come, as well as to ACCS for providing something good to come to.