The season of winter retreats has now come to a close for our youth ministry. Well, actually we really shouldn’t say “retreat” for the guys because guys “don’t retreat.” Regardless, every year we take two weekends in January to get away for a weekend. The first weekend was a few weeks back for Sr. High and the other one was this past weekend for the Jr. High. If you ever find yourself spending time with teenagers on a retreat, it would be good to have an idea what to expect. So, in the interest of community service, I offer to you a few ideas for your preparation for youth retreats.
What to pack: Packing is a tricky thing. On the one hand you want to have everything you need and on the other you want to leave things out that could be used against you. Toothpaste is an important item to have, but if you aren’t careful it can end up being used against you. One item that was a favorite in years past was the Axe body spray, since so many of them used it. It is wise to have a small can available– just in case.
Endurance Training: I have 4 children, so I am always being trained on how to operate without sleep. I know that many people go into retreat thinking they are not going to get sleep. I go into retreat looking forward to several solid hours of sleep. It is important that for the weeks prior to retreat that you stay up until midnight, listen to loud music and eat junk food right up until bed time. This will come in handy when the people in your cabin want to go to sleep but you are still dancing around the room. This is just turning it around on them and it works beautifully.
Buy Snacks: This is one of those areas that is important for the drive to and from camp. I have found over the years that if you don’t have a case of water and some food in the van, you will be constantly bothered to stop because they are hungry. Be prepared and have snacks for them to eat. It makes them happy and lets you make better time on the road. It also means that you will have snacks to eat until midnight with them in your cabin.
Arm Yourself: When I say arm yourself I am not talking about a weapon. Instead you need to arm yourself with scripture to deal with any situation that might come up. It is especially important to know where the unwholesome talk verses are, just in case you need to use the sword (a.k.a. Word of God) to actually cut someone. The truth is there are many questions that come up on retreat. You don’t need to know all the answers. You do need to be ready to at least have a conversation with one of the youth and point them in the right direction.
Learn New Dance Moves: It can only help your cause and give you swag points.
Know Reality: As hard as it is to admit, we are not as young as they are. I think they know this and exploit it. Regardless, during the basketball tournament or the volleyball tournament, or any game, don’t go crazy and knock kids over. I know you think you have something to prove and want to relive the glory years, but you don’t have a mullet anymore, so let it go. Injuring a Jr. Higher in the basketball tournament just isn’t cool.
Go in with Open Eyes: I have met many kids from other groups that were really awesome! It is easy to get caught up in yourself or your group, but resist that and look for opportunities all around. I have even had opportunities to pray with and encourage other youth workers.
Heart Preparation: Lastly, be prepared to have a deeper sense of what it means to be in youth ministry. It is incredible to be with groups of teenagers as they worship God in one voice. I love to hear them respond to God’s Word and then connect some of those things in their minds. They can process so much depth and desire to be challenged to live for God. Every time I go on a retreat I walk away knowing why I serve in youth ministry.
Do you find significance in what you’re doing with your life? The truth is youth ministry is not for everyone. I know that this is where God has me and it is an amazing place to spend my life. I know some people who are deathly afraid of teenagers because of any number of misconceptions. However, teenagers are not a type of plague to be avoided, they are valuable people who have the potential to live godly lives and do amazing things in this world. Sure they sometimes do silly things, but that is what we are there for. I don’t go on retreat because I want to spend a weekend away from my family. I go on retreat because God uses it to impact the lives of teens so that they find significance in His ways, not their own. If that means I give up two weekends a year to do these, then so be it. I am all in!
* And for those interested in what actually happened this year on retreat, I will be sharing a few of the topics in posts this week at some point.