Thursday, August 29, 2013

7 Practices for Youth Ministry Volunteer Leaders Retreats

NLCC Youth Leaders' Rap Performances
The school year is nearly upon us! Our middle school and high school ministry teams had our leadership retreat this past weekend in order to train, equip, and build unity for our whole youth ministry team. It was an awesome weekend, filled with life-giving conversations and tons of great training.

Here are seven practices that made our retreat awesome:

Make it fun. We opened our retreat with a rap battle; each carload of leaders had to create a rap or song that incorporated each of their team members' names. (The winning group wrote a fantastic rap that featured a brief dubstep breakdown.) There was enough free time to go swimming in the lake, play board games, sit around a campfire and roast marshmallows, and a late-night McDonald's run for the guys. We laughed a lot, and laughing together is essentially for fostering community.

Make it theological. Our leadership created a leaders' handbook, chock full of great material on our vision, values, philosophy, and discipleship strategy. We went through Paul Martin's book on discipleship, reflected on various passages of Scripture, and discussed our core values as a youth ministry. Giving everything in youth ministry a theological foundation models the importance of growing as practical theologians ourselves and modeling theological thinking to students.

Make it practical. Our handbook was also full of practical tools and tips for discipleship (e.g. there were sections devoted to leading small group discussions, knowing child protection policies, and some ideas for discipline.) Giving practical tools equips volunteer leaders to fulfill their mission, and having the handbook allows us to fill it with more practical wisdom over the next school year.

Make it clear. Getting a group of leaders together and simply telling them "go disciple students!" is not enough. Volunteers need to have clarity about their role and mission, i.e. what their role is and isn't, and the essential steps to know if they're fulfilling their mission. So we defined nebulous Christian terms like "discipleship" and "building relationships," as well as gave a year-long discipleship plan that sets some tangible goals for getting the discipleship ball rolling (e.g. in the first three months of the school year, meet three students' parents, and have individual meetings with at least three of the students in our small groups).

Make it prayerful. Some of the best moments of the retreat were the times of prayer and worship together. We took time to share our own hearts and pray for each other, as well as pray for teens, families, our church community, and our neighbourhoods. Prayer can't just be an activity tacked on to the end of a training session; it has to soak its way through the entire retreat, listening for God's voice in everything.

Make it refreshing. Our retreat was only one night and two days, about 36 hours in total, and located about an hour away in the States. It gave us time to truly get away from everyday life and give space to listen for God's voice and have some great conversations together, while not being overly-long. I'd rather have people come home thinking "man, I wish we could have stayed longer!" than "when are we leaving? I've had enough." While our retreat centre wasn't exactly a posh getaway vacation, I think our leadership team came home feeling encouraged and inspired. It was comfortable accommodations, a great meeting room, plenty of free time activities, and good food.

Make it free. We budgeted a significant portion of our youth ministry budget to cover all the expenses for our volunteer leaders. They paid $5 apiece for gas money; everything else was covered. Since we're asking busy people to take significant time out of their schedules, as well as expecting them to disciple students for the coming year, we consider this retreat an important investment. We just don't think we should be charging volunteer leaders for a mandatory training event, so we want to bless them and start the school year off on a positive note.

What would you add to a youth leaders' retreat? Share in the comments!

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