Laurelville for the rest of us part two: Toying with Emotions


Hello again friends!

I have done enough three day evangelism inspired retreats to know how things are going to go down in terms of teachings. On Friday night, as emotions and caffeine are still riding high, tell a funny story or seven, get the kids into the idea of being on a retreat, and maybe name drop Jesus once or twice. Saturday morning, offer the sin talk. This can feel slightly sketchy, as usually the day time activities on Saturday are dangerous enough that someone could actually die, and the last thing they would ever hear is that there's a sin problem. This of course has never happened, but it's just enough to make me nervous. Saturday night, you give the good news of the gospel. Typically here, you want to over-emphasize the pain and the torment and the tribulation that Jesus went through, so that the kids will be good and emotional. If they're crying, you're winning. Then you let them loose for 20 minutes of silence to make their peace with God. Sunday, you wrap things up with more jokes and a talk about how to keep living as a Christian in the world you're headed back to.

It's a formula, and I throughly dislike formulas.

Which is why it was so refreshing to hear from our speaker Kent this weekend! His teaching style was a little bit different than what I was used to on these kind of retreats, and in a very good way. He stuck to the formula listed above, but he tweaked it enough and in such a good way that it really hit home with me, as well as the kids. So if Kent doesn't mind some positive critique (and who does?) I offer up three things that Kent did this weekend that made me appreciate what was being said:

  1. Be up front. Sometimes speakers in this situation will do what John Acuff affectionately refers to as the "Jesus Juke." One moment you're talking about monkeys at the zoo flinging poo at you (true story, I heard that one once) and the next you're equating it to the four spiritual laws. I think kids any more just want us to be honest with them up front about what we're speaking about, and that's exactly what Kent did this weekend. No bait and switch, no hiding meanings in cute stories. Here's what I'm going to talk to you about today. The kids knew exactly where he was going, and I think it made it a little easier for them to get there with him.
  2. Let the good news sound like good news. Kent made Saturday night's talk about the gospel and Jesus' sacrifice on the cross sound like, well, good news. It wasn't heavy. It wasn't depressing. There wasn't an orchestra playing in the background to make kids feel a certain way. Again, in a straight forward kind of way, Kent just showed us the person of Jesus. Rather than present the scandal of the cross and elicit a guilt response, Kent presented the scandal of the cross (let's face it, it will always be a scandal) as Jesus' biggest act of love, and invited people to celebrate in that. The change was subtle, but dang did it make a big difference, at least in this youth leader's eyes
  3. Prepare them for a healthy response. The Sunday morning talk always feels a bit to me like "Now you be a good boy or girl, or else Jesus is gonna zap you!" This was once again not the case for Kent. In fact, his goal was to get kids plugged into their local youth groups so that the celebration of Jesus' grace could continue well beyond the weekend itself. I didn't have any non-youth group kids with me this weekend, they were all pretty well established regulars. But if I had, this talk would have meant a lot to me. It would have opened the door to a discussion about what Church is really all about, and how to best include yourself in that if you made a decision to follow Christ that weekend.
So if you're reading Kent, well done! To the rest of us, my question would be what impact does the subtle shift in tone of our teaching (or just straight up living) have on our efforts to share the gospel with others?

Comments encouraged!



Laurelville for the rest of us part one: retreat.


Hello friends!

I must once again apologize for the lack of regular posting on the blog. I had meant to post a bit from the National Youth Workers Convention, but man I was so into everything that was happening I just didn't have time to pull out my laptop and write. A quick recap of that will come later I think. I have lots of notes to look back over.

This weekend, I took a group of 11 students to Laurelville Camp for a weekend retreat. It was an amazing weekend, with great times of building relationships and worship and games and all kinds of fun things. But while this was a trip meant for the kids, as I was wandering around and taking it all in I realized that there were any number of lessons that those of who who hesitantly apply the label "adult" to ourselves could learn. So we're going to work through a series of these things in the next couple of days, so keep tuning in to see where we're headed.

As is the tradition for any Veritas youth retreat, we began the weekend by taking away the devices that our students hold most dear. Cell Phones, iPods, Nintendos, basically anything that plugs into a wall. This ritual is always remarkable to me, because when it's happening, as I'm snatching the precious device from their hands, I always get resistance. Veterans know this is coming, but they still put up a fight. Rookies look at me as though I have three heads. "My cell phone?" they ask me. "How will I keep in touch with the world back home?"

That's the point, isn't it?

A retreat is exactly what it sounds like. Get away, back up, fall back, retreat. For 36 (what I would call) glorious hours, we are cut off from the world. No one will hear from us, and we won't hear from anyone else.

I've been at Westminster for four years now, and I've been doing youth ministry for about 8 at this point. Do you know that in all the times I've taken away the cell phones, nothing earth shattering has ever happened back home that required a student's attention? If it did, I always keep my phone on me so that parents can get in touch. But it's never come to pass that someone back home desperately needed to be in touch with the students. Funny how that works, right?

We got into a great discussion the one night as a group about how the concept of a retreat allows us to leave behind the very things that get in the way of our relationship with Christ. In fact, with the distractions set aside, it became clear for the students what the distractions actually are. It was like spraying bright orange paint on a hunter in camouflage.

And when I handed the phones back...almost no one used them on the way home.

So the question comes to us: What would you like to retreat from? You could argue that there was no way you could retreat from your cell phone (or your job, or school, or worry, or fear...), but I bet you could. I bet you could turn off the computer for a couple of hours and put your focus entirely on Christ and his work in your life. I won't deny that it will require an obscene amount of courage, but I believe it can be done.