Last weekend was the annual youth retreat run by our regional camp and conference center. This was the third one I’ve taken students to (read my posts about the first two retreats here and here). After wrestling with the message and the atmospherics of these retreats for two years, this year I was much more focused on the mechanics of who was in charge and how they related to my students.
The Director of this year’s camp was returning from last year, and he was just as impressive. He’s energetic without being silly, thoughtful without being professorial, and in control without yelling. The unifying theme he prepared and the graphic that tied it together all weekend was relevant and interesting. Seriously, I’m a fan.
The thing I appreciate most about this retreat, like the last one, is the self-directed nature of what students are asked to do. There’s a central Biblical text driving the weekend, but smaller cabin groups led by adult counselors take ownership of a small part of that text in order to explore it with depth and then share their learning with all their peers.
[The unifying text was Colossians 3:12-14. My cabin group (8th-11th grade boys) chose to wrestle with “meekness.” Think about that for a minute.
What they found and shared will certainly stick closer to them than anything any speaker could have told them. Of that I’m confident.]
It’s the students’ ownership of their own learning at these retreats that is producing my one nagging . . . critique? The substance of it is this: as a person with a high level of ownership in my relationships with these students, I want more ownership of their retreat experience.
Tell me if this is bad. It suddenly feels off to me that the people pulling the levers of the retreat experience are young adult youth workers and musicians who don’t know the students–mostly (many of the students have been to the retreat or to summer camp before). They don’t know them at the start of the weekend, and since the heavy small group lifting is born by small group leaders (the students’ pastors and youth leaders), they don’t really get to know them by the retreat’s end.
Here’s what I’m feeling: it would be a good move to either involve more of the pastors and youth leaders from the churches sending students in the conception and planning of the retreat. It would also be a good move to structure the event to force more interaction between youth and these dynamic, smart, compelling young adult leaders.
Retreats are a valuable supplement to my Christian formation program. I want my students taught by people other than me. I want them interacting with peers from far away. Part of my un-ease feels like a lost opportunity–either for my kids to really get to know the paid staff leaders or for their pastors to inform more of what they do at the retreat.
What do you think? Which is more valuable: the exposure to new adult teachers and leaders or a program designed by the people who know students best?