By Pete Hohmann
As eleven-year-old Brooke was being driven by her mom to a retreat, she wondered if this weekend would be like the lock-ins she had attended in the past. Those retreats had been packed with games and videos late into the night, but her pastor said that on this retreat kids would learn to change the world through prayer. The journey to this retreat started a month earlier with a short promotional video during the Sunday service. There was an application, a medical form, and a pre-retreat assignment. To complete the assignment, Brooke had to study some Bible verses and pray every day for a different need around the world. Even before the retreat began, she felt like she was making a difference.
When Brooke arrived at the registration area in the main lodge, she received a laminated nametag on a lanyard with the retreat theme. This gave her a sense of belonging. Her mom was there to help her settle into the cabin and meet her leader. The retreat began with a welcome, ground rules, and a few teambuilding games. These activities were followed by a transition into worship, but Brooke’s thoughts were racing a mile a minute and it was hard to focus on God.
The speaker talked about intercession, but she didn’t just “talk.” There were fun prayer activities which served as springboards to launch the kids into deeper prayer. A second worship time followed. This time Brooke had no problem focusing on worship. During a debriefing immediately after worship one girl shared, “I thought it was neat that we didn’t just pray the whole time. It was a good idea to do all of those activities, like outlining our state with tape on the floor and going to different places to pray.” After a snack, Brooke and the girls in her group headed to their cabin for bedtime. Before the lights went out, the group talked to the leader about everything they had experienced that night.
Brooke expected the new day to begin with more teaching or worship, but to her surprise the first activity after breakfast cleanup was personal devotions. Instructions were given on one of the ways to have a quiet time and the kids scattered in different places in the lodge for a 30-minute personal time with God. After regrouping, the children were given an opportunity to share what they learned during their devotions.
More teaching on intercession and prayer activities followed. It didn’t seem to take as long to begin interceding and the morning flew by. After lunch, a two-hour recreation period included crazy group games and then a long hike in the woods. After a mid-afternoon snack, the ministry training workshops began. Brooke had six choices, including puppets, drama, choreography, interpretive dance, ministering to preschoolers, and setting up and running a sound system. She chose the puppet workshop. The puppet group practiced a puppet choir song they would perform during the Sunday morning retreat service. Brooke felt a new excitement about her faith as she thought about ministering to others through puppets.
The worship after dinner seemed to take off with little effort. Everyone seemed focused on God! The message challenged Brooke to be a world changer and surrender herself fully to God. The next morning began with personal devotions, which also seemed easier now, but the church service that followed was unlike any Brooke had experienced. This service was led completely by the kids! Each group demonstrated the ministry skills they had learned. Kids led the worship. There was even a “tag team” sermon that five kids preached. After the service there was a final debriefing that included time for the kids to write down the best thing they had experienced, what they learned about God, and how their life would be different when they got home. A final commissioning took place. Brooke had always wanted to make a difference with her life, but the retreat taught her that she could do it right now – she didn’t have to grow up first.
Brooke represents the hundreds of children I have led on retreats during the past 8 years. Without a doubt, the greatest spiritual breakthroughs occur when kids are together for an extended period of time. Of all the things I do as a children’s pastor, I consider spiritual formation retreats with children the most valuable investment of my time and resources.
Preteens (10-12) are the ideal age for retreats, especially when the retreat includes ministry training. Kids this age often become bored with their faith; it is such an accumulation of theoretical knowledge, but not enough opportunity to acquire a proven knowledge of God. This proven knowledge of God is developed as children minister to others and come to know God through experience. Directly experiencing God in this way just takes time-and time is what a retreat can provide better than other event.
Here are some retreat themes to consider for your spiritual formation retreat:
“Let the Children Pray” by Esther Illnisky, Children’s Global Prayer Movement
Sharing Your Faith
Kid’s Evangelism Explosion, www.eeinternational org, (954) 491-6100
“KIDS in Workship”, by Charisma Life, www.kidschurch.com
“Discovering Your Children’s Gifts”, by Don and Kate Fortune, www.heart2heart.org, 360-297-8878
“Experiencing God”, by Henry Blackaby, LifeWay Christian Resources, 615-251-2970, Preteen version available