Youth Ministry Basics: Living Good Stories

In the past few months and years in the youth ministry blogosphere, it seems as though there has been a debate about the value of youth retreats and youth gatherings. Especially with the state of the economy, people wonder if retreats and gatherings are worth the time and money put into them. There are also those who question if the participants really “get” very much from them.

Whether you’re a volunteer or a professional working with youth, gatherings and retreats can be a major part of youth ministry programming. In the Lutheran Church, obviously the National Youth Gathering is a huge time and financial commitment that churches are making for this upcoming summer. As a DCE, some of my responsibilities include helping plan and lead such events and gatherings for both middle school and high school students. Before we begin to plan the event, I try to ask the question, “How will this event impact the students that attend?” and “What spiritual truths are our focus?” Being Lutheran, we always try to be aware and teach God’s grace through His son, Jesus, and it is usually the main message of the event.

I recently read Donald Miller’s new book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, as well as saw him in person when he traveled through Oklahoma City on his book tour. In his book and on tour, Donald Miller said something that has stuck with me. He said that “a good story is about a character that wants something and then goes through conflict to get it.” Beyond the message of a weekend, I think that retreats and gatherings have a great opportunity for youth to live good stories. Retreats and Gatherings help students enter into a “mini-story.”

Retreats and Gatherings are kind of a microcosm of life, community, and struggles–and all over a week or weekend. When our 8th graders head to camp for their confirmation retreat, one of the main components is the General Initiative Course (GIC). The students work through a series of group challenges on the ground and on the high ropes course. There is always a goal given and immediately students enter into conflict and must work through the conflict to achieve the goal. Even more, they almost always have to work together to achieve the goal. Those experiences that they share on the course are often bonding events for youth who were once strangers and are often ripe with spiritual implications. Youth learn how to live their stories in this contained event in the hopes that they take what they learn and can live good stories in their “real lives.”

Retreats and Gatherings also help youth learn to live their stories in relationships with others. Whether by bonding with the adults who came on the trip, or youth from outside their group, there are so many opportunities for students to step outside of themselves and their comfort zones. Having just come back from our Oklahoma District Middle School Gathering, I saw middle school students step up and meet new people in their small groups, learn to trust and listen to the high school students leading their Bible Study groups, and connect with their adults in real, tangible ways. I also saw middle school students meet the needs of the community through acts of service, singing and visiting with residents in nursing homes and cleaning up yards and grounds for those in need. The students this weekend lived their stories and their faith in their words and actions.

How about you? What’s been your best retreat/gathering experience? What’s the biggest benefit of this type of program? What would you change? What would you keep?

Published October 2009

Published October 22, 2009

About the author

View more from

Related Resources

Why Build Resilient Youth in Youth Ministry?

Why Build Resilient Youth in Youth Ministry?

What is a resilient identity in Christ and why is it important for a healthy youth ministry? Check out this blog from the Seven Practices of Healthy Youth Ministry to find out more.

The Habits That We Make – Fundraising

The Habits That We Make – Fundraising

Should youth ministry, or any other ministry for that matter, rely on fundraising to significantly support their ministry functions? Sometimes the habits of fundraising get youth ministry into trouble. This article is designed to help you think more strategically about fundraising.

The Habits That We Make: Parents

The Habits That We Make: Parents

We all have harmful habits, even in our churches. This article helps us think about how we might have habits where parents are not growing in their own Biblical education or even expecting the church and its workers to be the primary teachers of the Christian faith for their children. By identifying these kinds of habits, we can see how we might change them.

The COVID-19 Pandemic: Change or Experience?

The COVID-19 Pandemic: Change or Experience?

As youth workers, we need to remember that this cohort that experienced the COVID pandemic during their younger years experienced it differently than adults. Through research, Dr. Tina Berg has been able to identify key learnings that can help us care for young people, particularly confirmands, in the wake of the pandemic.

The Habits That We Make – Isolation

The Habits That We Make – Isolation

We all have habits, some intentionally developed and others not. Knowing our habits in ministry can be important. For example, we may tend to isolate kids and/or youth from the rest of the congregation. This article talks about how to identify this habit and push against it.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

How do I know if our youth ministry program is healthy and properly caring for our teens?

Discover how you can enhance your youth ministry and serve the youth in your church with Seven Practices of Healthy Youth Ministry.

Share This