A few months ago I suggested it was time to reinvent the men’s retreat.
In a previous post I explained why fewer churches are offering them– and why attendance is falling for those that do. In that post I proposed a radically different way of calling and organizing the men before the retreat. If you haven’t read that post, please go back and do so – otherwise this column won’t make much sense.
Most men’s retreats focus on getting guys together for inspiring worship and Bible teaching. We have a little fun, make a few friends (who we quickly forget after the retreat) and we go on our way.
Tell me — is this how Jesus would approach a men’s retreat? If Christ had 48 hours with your men, what would he do? I suspect he’d use those precious hours to build your men into a team that could actually accomplish the mission he gave us. He’d show them how to work together. To love one another. To see God at work in their everyday lives.
Christ wouldn’t spend 7 hours talking to your men and making them sing.
Men’s retreats are supposed to be all about team, but we build them on a platform of individualism. We invite men to sign up individually. To travel individually. To individually choose the activities they’ll participate in. And we spend the weekend goading them to work on their individual, personal relationship with Jesus.
With Christ, everything was done in teams. The most valuable thing a man can take away from a retreat is a group of men he continues to hang out with after the retreat is over. Christian men grow strong when they continually sharpen one another (Prov. 27:17). A church with healthy men is a healthy church.
So how do we create the right environment for men to bond? The same way Jesus did:
- Jesus called and chose a limited number of men for his team
- He organized them into smaller groups for ministry
- He channeled their natural competitiveness toward eternal reward
- He put them through a series of ordeals to bond them as a team
We should do the same things during a retreat:
- Call a limited number of men to participate in the retreat.
- Place every man on a team.
- Use a point system to pit the teams against one another in friendly competition.
- Use team challenges and experiences as the primary teaching vehicle.
The importance of limited team size. The biggest challenge is getting men to commit. Men tend procrastinate – waiting to see if a better offer comes along, knowing they can always sign up at the last minute. Contrast this with Jesus, who gave men just one chance to follow him. Those who immediately chose Christ were accepted – while those who hesitated were left behind. By limiting the number of attendees we lend a sense of urgency and value to the retreat.
Every man on a team. When we call a man to take his place on a team, we appeal to something deeply rooted in his soul. Ever since you were a boy, didn’t you long to be chosen for the team? And didn’t Jesus call his men to serve on a team? Don’t underestimate the power of a personal call in a man’s life.
The point system. Throughout the weekend, we award points to the teams that are most faithful. The team that finishes with the most points wins a cup. I’d also offer smaller prizes throughout the weekend to keep men motivated.
The idea of friendly competition among Christians may seem ungodly or juvenile to some. However, both Christ and the Apostle Paul repeatedly used the promise of reward to motivate men (Hebrews 11:6). The point system offers earthly rewards to symbolize the greater rewards men receive when they serve the Lord.
Teach with experiences. Use words only when necessary. Use challenges and personal experiences as the primary teaching vehicle – rather than spoken sermons. Instead of spoon-feeding men Bible truth, make them figure out the lesson themselves. Let them sweat a little bit. Force your men to work together to understand what God is saying.
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Now, let’s get into the details. I’m going to lay out a run sheet for Friday night. This will show you how to get started, how to begin building the team, and give you a taste of how to teach with experiences rather than sermons.
Registration – meet your teammates. Captains welcome their guys, show them where they’ll be sleeping, etc.
Dinner – teams eat together, if possible.
Initial team meeting. The captain introduces each man and affirms his qualities in front of the others. “This is Ted. I chose Ted for Alpha Team because…” Just as Jesus praised Nathaniel in front of the others (John 1:47) the captain should affirm each man in front of his teammates. Remember, the captain is supposed to meet with each man on his team before the retreat, so he should already know quite a bit about them.
Captain explains the team system – why we’re doing it, how the point system works and how the teams earn points. Explains that the points represent the rewards we earn when we follow Jesus.
Gives each man a notebook to record his observations.
Explains how the lessons work. No sermons this weekend. Everything is active learning. The lessons are supposed to be confusing. Figure it out yourself.
Captain divides his men into twos and threes. These mini-teams are where the discussion will take place.
The first lesson. Captain leads his men through a simple object lesson. Then he asks them to work out the spiritual meaning behind the lesson. They record their observations in their notebooks.
The team reassembles and talks about the ordeal. What’s the spiritual application of this illustration?
Men divide into mini-teams to reflect on the ordeal in light of their personal experiences.
The whole team reassembles for Q&A. Captain debriefs and offers his observations. Explains the lesson for those who may be completely off point.
First big gathering. All the teams reconvene by a bonfire. Retreat leader welcomes them. Re-explains the purpose of the retreat, the team system, the point system, etc. Make sure everyone has bought in.
Might sing a song – Amazing Grace, something guys know and like to sing.
Retreat leader uses the bonfire as an illustration. Calls one man from each team to be a part of the illustration. Gives the men one minute to extinguish the fire without using water. Then the Leader asks the teams to discuss among themselves what the lesson means.
Each team huddles, and then offers its interpretation of the lesson.
Retreat leader offers his interpretation.
Men journal their responses. Discuss the lesson in teams. Personal application.
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And so it goes over the entire course of the weekend. Object lessons. Group exercises. Team ordeals. Breaks for food, recreation and relaxation.
Sometimes the teams compete directly. For example, each team is given a steak knife. First team to cut through a 4” thick tree branch wins. Then the leader asks, “What’s the lesson?” Every challenge ties into a spiritual truth.
By the end of the weekend the men have worked through about 7 challenges together. Seven times they’ve wondered, “What the heck is going on?” Seven times they’ve had to work as a team. Seven times they’ve been trained to see God’s truth in common, everyday situations.
Doesn’t this resemble what we see in the New Testament? Isn’t this how Jesus developed his men?
Men aren’t dying for better sermons or a red-hot worship set. They’re dying for brothers. If they don’t find them at the men’s retreat, where will they find them?
In part 3, I’ll explain how the men earn points — and how to keep the momentum going after the retreat is over.