When I was in college, I took three semesters of Russian. My first two semesters were taught by a Russian woman who had immigrated to the United States. It was great to learn from a native speaker and hear the language spoken without any non-native accent, but there were also things this native speaker had a hard time conveying. Russian has a vowel sound which is very difficult for non-native speakers to pronounce. When we would try to pronounce it, she would correct our poor pronunciation by saying it the way it is supposed to sound. To her, it was patently obvious that we were mispronouncing that vowel. After all, she’d been pronouncing it perfectly since her infancy. She just couldn’t seem to grasp the fact that we couldn’t actually hear the difference between what she was saying and what we were trying to repeat.

In my third semester, I had an American teacher who had learned Russian as a second language. When she tried to correct our pronunciation of that vowel, she would offer little tips and point us to English words which approximated that sound. I’m sure we still didn’t sound authentically Russian, but at least we didn’t feel like we were completely in the dark. As good as my first Russian teacher was, sometimes you can learn more from a fellow student who has already mastered what you’re now trying to grasp.

The same goes for software. I’ve taught many Accordance Training Seminars over the years, and like a native speaker, I can give attendees an inside look into why we made a particular design choice or what motivated us to create a certain feature. On the other hand, we have other trainers who are not employees, but power users who became so proficient we asked them to lead seminars. While these trainers can’t give you my insider’s perspective, they can give you the perspective of the fellow user who may have had to learn something the hard way. As people who have been there, these trainers really connect well with those attending their seminars.

It’s for this reason that I’m very excited to announce our first ever Accordance Users’ Conference, to be held in Dallas on September 24-25. In some ways, this will be like an Accordance training seminar on steroids: two days instead of one, more hands-on learning opportunities, and more focused on specific applications and uses. Yet this is not just another training opportunity led by Accordance staff. On the contrary, this is your opportunity to learn from and interact with other Accordance users like yourself. Imagine being able to attend a workshop on sermon preparation by another Accordance-using pastor. Imagine learning how to speed up your workflow from an expert at automating repetitive tasks. Imagine hearing papers from other scholars who are using Accordance to further their research. (The conference’s keynote speaker will be Dr. Martin Abegg, one of the world’s leading Dead Sea Scrolls scholars and the driving force behind all of Accordance’s various Qumran modules.) Yes, a few sessions will be led by myself and other members of the Accordance team, but we want you, our users, to take this conference and make it your own. That way, those attending can learn from you as well as from us.

If this sounds as cool to you as it does to me, there are a couple of ways you can get involved. First, if you’d like to lead a session, send us your proposal for a paper or workshop by April 30. The official announcement for the Users’ Conference contains a list of possible topics, but we’re eager to hear what else you all come up with.

If you’re not quite ready to lead a session, but you’re eager to experience an incredible learning environment, you can register to attend the conference. Those who pre-register by August 31 will save 30% off the cost to register at the door, and students can take advantage of extremely generous discounts.

We’re very excited about this, and are counting on you to help us make this first annual conference a success. Like a weekend of immersive language study, the Accordance Users Conference promises to be the best place to become fluent in the use of this incredibly powerful Bible study tool.

P.S.: A friend just wrote to tease me about my use of “first annual.” He argued that it’s bad grammar since the conference isn’t really “annual” until the second year. I wrote back and argued that it’s good eschatology: I’m simply living in the tension between the “already” and the “not yet.” Of course, like all prophetic utterances, there is an element which is conditional on the response of those who hear the message. My prophecy that the users conference will be “annual” can only be fulfilled if enough of you participate and attend. So sign up today! (After all, I understand the consequences are dire for false prophets!)

P.P.S.: Apparently others have begun debating the above point of grammar, and since they all have or soon will have advanced degrees, it would seem I had better concede the point. Besides, my employers aren’t sure they want me promising that we’ll do this every year. So to avoid making promises and to satisfy the grammar geeks, I have now emended “first annual” to “inaugural.” It sounds fancier anyway! 🙂