Dietrich Bonhoeffer Doesn’t Like All My Retreats

Retreats have come to play a significant role in the youth ministry I’m tending. My students are committed to multiple worthy pursuits that claim large blocks of their time during the week, so scheduling gatherings with them on, say, Wednesday nights, is a non-starter. Retreats though? Retreats seem to have found some traction. This year we did six of them.

I like that none of them are the same. Each retreat creates its own unique community just for that weekend. Multiple retreats means multiple points of entry for students into the life of the church. It seems to work, at least for now.

But hold on a minute. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, revered pastor, theologian, and martyr, has a corrective to all of the retreats. Check out this sentence from Life Together, which I’m reading as part of my planning week.

“Nothing is easier than to stimulate the glow of fellowship in a few days of life together, but nothing is more fatal to the sound, sober [brotherly] fellowship of everyday life.”

The “sound, sober . . . fellowship of everyday life.” Gulp.

First, stimulating the glow of fellowship with young people who largely don’t know one another isn’t all that easy. I mean, it’s not rocket science, but it takes intention and sound strategic planning.

Second, “fatal?”

It’s landing, this mid-20th century European rebuke of a reliance upon retreats to grow Christian community. It’s making me wonder just how much of the energy, the “glow,” of these weekends, produces growth in durable community for the participants. Even if it was, how would I know? The community kind of ends with the retreat.

Time to think of ways to build more continuity between retreats and the “everyday life” of students.

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