Monday, May 31, 2010

Spiritual Retreats for Recharging Youth Leaders

I'm sure you've already got plans to take your youth group to an amusement park, raft trip, outward bound camp, and/or a mission trip this summer. Summer is only about twelve weeks long so you want to pack in as much as you can while the weather is nice and the kids have the time. It is also important to plan a few spiritual retreats for yourself.

My favorite activity is camping. I go by myself to a favorite spot. Two nights is enough for me. That allows one whole day for prayer, reflection, and relaxation. The prayers are frequently "listening" prayers. The hikes, fishing, reading, napping are things I do for refreshment feeling that God is doing them with me. It's great to be surrounded by things God created.

I am able to do this because our church traditionally does not do Sunday school on the first weekend of every month so I can be gone. I also have a team of practiced helpers who can step in and cover the days I miss.

My wife also does spiritual retreats...alone. She usually has her spiritual retreats in a condo she gets through a travel club for just $99.00 a week (e-mail me and I will refer you to this club). That's cheaper than camping. It gets her away from the distractions of home. She also feels safer than being in the wilderness. Plus, it gives her the opportunity to go in bad weather or the winter. She takes her favorite music, devotionals, and easy food. She goes for a week at a time, comes home really refreshed.

Whatever you can do, plan to do it before a hectic schedule crowds it out.

If it's already too late for that you can still get a little time for yourself and be a great example to your kids at the same time. Jesus frequently left his dusty band and went off alone to pray. When you're on an outing with your kids just let it be known that the first thing in the morning, for about an hour, you'll be walking a little ways from camp to do your own "quiet time." Suggest they do the same (safely). My son actually does this when we go camping together. What a witness it has been to me. A pastor friend also does this. He goes camping every week, invites guys to join him, but it's understood that he will be doing his quiet time every morning and highly recommends those who join him to do the same.

It's commonly know that "more is caught than taught" in youth ministry. The kids will remember seeing you making your time alone with God a priority.

I can't stress enough how important this has been my for continued spiritual health and vitality. When ministry starts to feel overwhelming it's usually a reminder that I need to get alone with God to pray, listen, even cry and complain. Burnout is one of the most frequent topics in the youth ministry forums I participate in. There are many reasons youth pastors and leaders give for feeling burned out. These reasons are just symptoms of the underlying cause. The real cause is lack of spiritual nourishment.

You can't remain a healthy branch of you're not constantly sucking nourishment from "the vine."

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Innocence and addiction, one messed up package.

We had an interesting "Youth Church" lesson today. Youth Church is what we call our junior high group that meets during the sermon time. That helps identify it from the Sunday school that meets before the service. Anyway, I always give the kids a snack and let them socialize for awhile before we start. This week the talk centered around a drug bust in which one of the kids they all new was arrested for selling pot out of his locker at school. The school was locked down, dogs were brought in, and lockers were searched with a heavy police presence. Then the boy was led away.

Their discussion was very animated. Everyone was intensely interested. I had a lesson all prepare but I chose to let this conversation continue. They were dealing with an issue that confronts them everyday and pushes against their faith and choices they make. The boy arrested is from a church attending family. Why had he chosen this path? How does the enemy entice you into destructive behavior? How will you react when offered the seemingly innocuous joint at a party? What if...

I could not have planned a better lesson. Near the end I asked them if they wanted to hear my story. I revealed to them a less-than stellar past of addiction and how God saved me. It was a little more than I had intended to reveal about myself but may have given me a little for credence for knowing what I was talking about. I was able to clear up a lot of misinformation that had been voiced, like the addictiveness of pot and it's role as a "gateway" drug. I shared my battle and the path back to relationship with God. They listened intently. I felt like I was speaking to adults.

We still had a little time left, it was a nice day, so I suggested we end with a game. Their choice: Duck, duck, goose. They played with child like abandon. This is understandable since they are still children, yet the jump from a serious conversation about drugs to the innocence of a children's game left my head spinning. As students, they deal with this incongruity everyday. Is it any wonder that they seems dazed and confused sometimes? My sympathy for their situation has intensified even more. Kids really need us to be good role models for them. They need us to be involved in their lives, to teach them what we know (when their ready to hear it).

I remember when I was offered my first joint. I was twenty. They are twelve. As a twenty year old Christian I made the wrong choice. How can we possibly expect them to make the right choices. Frequently they do make the right choices. That is a time to marvel proudly. We talked about how the enemy will attack when we are at our most vulnerable at a point where we are at our weakest. They got it because they had just seen it in real life.

I'm glad I was there. Hadn't planned it. God must have. Right place at the right time. Ok, what will happen this week? Stay tuned.