Essentials in Youth Ministry: Retreats

Retreats. Chaos. Logistics. Long nights. Long drives.  Injuries. Fond memories.

That is the sequence of words that follow in my mind when I think of youth retreats.

When I think of what was most memorable in my time as a youth minister, my mind travels to small groups, mission trips, and retreats.  Intentional time spent in community.  A retreat is a unique opportunity to invite kids to commit time to relationship, which is something that is becoming more and more foreign in current culture.  The whole meaning of relationship is changing for the younger generation.  In fact, technology has redefined ‘friendship’ and ‘relationship’ for many.

Silence is no longer a welcome space to sit and wonder together; it is an awkward enemy to be avoided or battled with the diversions of the iPhone.  There are so few platforms for kids to simply be together, to explore the things of relationship that take time and space such as communication, vulnerability, paying attention to what’s going on inside you, messing up and forgiving.

A retreat can be intentional time taken for relationship with God, for relationship with yourself, or for relationship with others.  Jesus certainly did all three, and it’s worth noting that relationship lies at the very heart of Christianity.  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit exist in perfect relationship with one another- Lover, Loved, and Love- as my professor, Reggie Kidd, recently said.  God invites us personally into relationship with Himself through Jesus, and we as youth ministers get to share, embody, and experience that invitation with the kids in our ministries.

Retreats provide the opportunity to explore all three types of relationship (with God, self, and others) away from the distractions of everyday life.  Whether it’s an outreach retreat that welcomes hoards of friends to the adventure of a weekend of fun and hearing about Jesus, an inreach retreat that gathers committed youth group kids to dive deeper, or a focused topic retreat that invites any kids interested, this time can be an incredibly valuable part of a youth ministry.  Asking kids to either leave their cell phones at home or to give them to you at the beginning of the retreat is one of the best choices you can make.  I have had more kids thank me at the end of a retreat for separating them from their cell phone than just about anything else.  They find themselves surprised at their sans-phone experience.  Space.  It allows blessed space for them to be in a way they don’t normally get to be.

Concentrated time to goof off and connect apart from technological distraction is a commodity these days.  Time to experience being the body of Christ in a different context is something that sticks with a kid.  The memories- of the many inside jokes created, of ‘the time that kid fell down the stairs and cracked a step with his head (but was fine)’, of ‘the time we blew out two tires on the way to the cabin,’ and of the conversations about Jesus and life that the kids have with you and one another- these are sweet blessings that speak to God’s active involvement in our lives.

And so, let us retreat, I say.  Retreating may be an enormous amount of work to set up, it may include unforeseen debacles, and it may be like pulling teeth trying to get kids to commit to something (that they’ll actually really enjoy).  But it yields such a fabulous opportunity for time spent committed to being in relationship together through a Lord whose Presence delights in that, I believe.

Plus, the stories.  Oh, the stories it yields.

Liz Edrington serves as the Fellowship Groups and Young Adults Director at North Shore Fellowship in Chattanooga, TN. She received her M.A. in Counseling from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL, and she has worked with students in one form or another since 2002. She is an emeritus member of the Rooted steering committee, and she's the author of a 31-day devotional for teenagers called Anxiety: Finding the Better Story (P&R Publishing, 2023). Pickled things delight her, as does her snuggle beast, Bella the Dog.

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