Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Retreats

In many recent conversations I have heard youth pastors wondering aloud about the merits of youth retreats. Many have expressed serious questions about whether these retreats are the right approach in helping students grow in their faith. Now retreats can come in two basic types – the spiritual growth type or the social bonding type based on the objectives of the leaders. To be fair both spiritual growth and social bonding happen at both types of events but each one has some basic expectations. You hardly expect to take kids to YC in Edmonton and not come away with some report of kids changing their lives (the church board chairman would like that report on his desk tomorrow Paul). It the 'spiritual growth' type of retreats that most of the questions have centered on in my discussions. Here's the questions I have heard - -

Do we do more harm than good by isolating these kids for a weekend completely void of the natural stimulus around them in their normal life? Does a decision made at one of these retreats actually seem less likely to 'stick' with the kids?


When you look at the problem from the point of view of classical conditioning – we need to raise some important questions. We know that kids some to these retreats full of crappy coping mechanisms to deal with the dysfunction in their lives. Their coping strategies are played out in what we would call defeated Christian discipleship (in the case of pre-followers we might even call them their sinful ways). Kid's behaviour is typically challenged at these retreats. Stop sleeping around, stop smoking, stop being a dick to your friends, stop and follow Jesus. Do the stuff he wants you to do – be nice to your friends, treat others with respect, help poor people etc… Kids normal behaviour doesn't measure up to these convicting pleas from the front/preacher/pastor so they naturally feel guilty – often confess their sin and promise to live a more devoted life. A week or two after the retreat it is not uncommon to find these kids right back in the old groove – doing the same old things – and often worse. Defeated lots of kids wander away. Psychologists can identify this easily as a result of classic conditioning. Kid's normal world conditions them to respond in a certain way. The retreat is an opportunity to eliminate the regular stimulus and give a person the opportunity to cease the bad behaviour. What is tough is that according to classical conditioning we know that merely one exposure to the original stimulus can trigger a recurrence of the original behaviour. Add on top of that the new found guilt that the kid has just acquired on the retreat and we can compound the effect of the negative action with the added stigma of broken promises etc etc.


Of course classical conditioning is not the only thing at work at these retreats but sometimes I wonder if we don't recognize it and respect it enough to develop more effective strategies of discipleship training that can actually help kids deal with the stimulus they find themselves in every day normally…

5 comments:

Paul Morgun said...

I think a whole year of youth bonding and creating relationships can happen in a weekend retreat. I find that bonding, trust and doors are open in a retreat that take about half a year to develop otherwise. In honesty I do challenge youth on morality issues, I do encourage them to develop habits in living out their lives following Christ.

But mostly I create (or at least try, hope) relationship that will allow me to have freedom to speak into a youth's life over the year and more so that the old habits, 'classical conditioning' can be worked on together, in a discipling atmosphere.

I suspect we all wrestle with sin for the rest of our lives, we are continually tempted, but I also believe there is hope. And it is in these retreats that I hope to develop deeper trust and relationships that hopefully will allow me to share that same hope.

In short the relationships and trust that is built in a retreat allows for discipleship that is deeper because of the trust that is built in a weekend that normally would take 6 months.

Good post Dale worth the thinking of how and why we do retreats.

Freezer said...

Good post. It is definitely something to consider - but I would say that this stereotypes a spiritual youth retreat into a "cum bye ya mixed with Hell-fire and Brimstone" kind of thing. I believe beyond developing relationships at these things we can model a very scriptural practice of coming apart of the natural conditions to listen to what God wants to say in the quiet and rest.
That being said - we then need to reflect this desire in the content and schedule of such retreats.

Outgoing... said...

Paul, yeah like i said there is more going on at these retreats than just spiritual behaviour modification. Smart guys like you know that relationships can be developed at retreats that can take along time to develop with kid's busy lifestyles. That's why I think we need to give careful thought about events like YC for instance.
Pat, yeah I am sure that getting away for a while can be a good reason to create a retreat. But if behaviour mod is our objective - it changes from an event where we can meet God - potentially to an event where we essentially meet ourselves.

Paul Morgun said...

I don't like YC too many dangers of speakers with whom my theology does not jive with...too many bad experiences of rubber snakes waved around and such...definitely we have to be smart about how we do retreats...

Outgoing... said...

amen on the rubber snakes