What comes to your mind when you hear the word retreat? This is the question I asked a room of 20 students on our last weekend getaway. The answers were as funny as they were varied. ‘Run away’, ‘Fall back troops’, I am pretty sure someone yelled out something about Russia! Even though our weekend together had been billed and advertised as a retreat, not one of the answers had anything to do with getting away together to regroup, recharge and get closer to God. This probably is not surprising to you if you have spent any time at all with students.

In Mark 9, Jesus takes James, John and Peter on a mountain top retreat. They went together up to a mountain top and there Jesus transformed right in front of them while talking with Moses and Elijah. Peter went crazy, ‘let’s build some shrines and stay here and worship forever!’

What would have happened if Jesus and his disciples had never come down from that mountain? It might be hard to imagine because we already know that they did come down and Jesus was sacrificed for our sins. Peter, James and John went on to spread the Gospel to various parts of the earth and now over 2,000 years later we are able to share that same Gospel with our students!

Sounds good, right? We get away with our students and we have powerful times of worship. Some of them make huge strides in understanding their relationship with Jesus at these times and we think, ‘why can’t we just stay here and do this forever?’ I have thought this many times. My soul thrives on early morning sitting by the river and just listening to the quiet. Leading worship and reflecting on the words of Jesus leaving behind the busyness of school, church, life.

What’s the point? Retreat! Yes, take your groups on retreats. Have powerful worship and meaningful times of discussion and deep silence to listen to God and enjoy all of it! Leave space for fun and space for tears and space for you to connect with the students and with God. But…don’t set up shrines there. Too many students in your area are hurting and have never had a retreat experience. Too many students are struggling everyday just to find out who they are and if anyone loves them. When we have a powerful experience that reassures us of God’s amazing love, we need to go back home and tell that story to anyone who will listen.

What would have happened if Jesus and his disciples had never come down from that mountain? What would happen if we never came back from our retreat experience? Retreat, yes. Be filled, reconnect, reignite that passion. Worship and make s’mores and stay up late telling funny stories. Ask God to show you the hurting and broken students in your area. Then go home and find those hurting students and next time you retreat, take them with you.

– Rebecca Gilbert

Discussion Questions:
1. Do you have a favorite retreat spot? Why is it your favorite?
2. How do you decide when to take spiritual retreats with your youth?
3. When you begin planning your next retreat, challenge your leaders to come up with at least 2 students that might benefit from a spiritual retreat.

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