By Carl Barton
Plan to be surprised by the amount of enthusiasm Joe and his buddies generate about their church when you announce a weekend men’s outing. A Men’s Retreat or camp-out will become traditional more quickly than any other activity.
A well-planned retreat is a skillful blend of the spiritual and the physical, study and recreation, the serious and the nonsensical. Because of its attractiveness it affords unusual opportunities to reach unsaved and indifferent men for the Lord. If carefully guided, it may be a spiritual highlight of the year for many.
The Men’s Leadership Council will probably set the date, departing and arriving times, general theme, and location. They will also set up committees to do the detail work: Spiritual Emphasis, Entertainment, Menu, Publicity and Tickets, Arrangements and Transportation.
Where to go for this occasion? Available facilities, travel time and finances all enter in and must be considered individually by each church. It is ideal to rent a camp ground if there is one within a hundred miles, and if time permits you to travel that far. Successful retreats can be planned at state or national public campgrounds if they are not crowded with tourists. A country home or farm with a lake or river has possibilities. Sometimes it is more fun to pick out a spot in the mountains or by the lake where the world seldom traffics, and make your own retreat grounds using the imagination and ingenuity of the men.
Worthwhile men’s retreats have even been held in town at a local gym if resources are definitely limited in your church.
The success or mediocrity of a men’s retreat depends more on the quality of work done in committees than on the location, although both are factors. Suggestions for committee planning follow.
Spiritual Emphasis Committee: Separating this planning group from that concerned with general entertainment will emphasize in the minds of all involved that spiritual growth is a major reason for having the retreat. Guide your men to choose a nucleus of the more mature Christian men when choosing members for this committee. Ask for help from the pastor in planning this area of the schedule. Prime time should be allowed for spiritual emphases, and all other activities planned around these spots.
This committee will develop the theme of the retreat in a Scripture motto, song and activities. Several theme ideas are given as examples of this.
Theme: The Upward Evolution
Goal: To explore male related problems in Christian living
Scripture motto: II Corinthians 5:17
Song: “Things Are Different Now”
Goal: To discuss men’s involvement with social problems of the community
Scripture motto: Matthew 28:19
Song: “So Send I You”
Theme: Not I, But Christ
Goal: To discover the implications of total commitment to Christ
Scripture motto: Galatians 2:20
Song: “He Lives”
Theme: Wide-Awake Living
Goal: To study the how, why and when of witnessing for Christ
Scripture motto: I Corinthians 15:34
Song: “Lord, Lay Some Soul upon My Heart”
Theme: X = Life
Goal: To apply Christian values to all aspects of your life.
Scripture motto: Philippians 1:21
Song: “Christ for Me”
Many avenues of activity are available to convey the theme to the retreaters. It is up to the Spiritual Emphasis Committee to decide which will have the greatest impact and encourage the greatest participation in your particular group. Two or three well developed periods of concentrated discussion and commitment will be more effective than five or six shorter, shallower activities. Timing is of utmost importance, so reserve the times when the men are freshest and most cooperative. Upon arriving, they will want to unload and explore. To ask them to sit right down and “be spiritual” is to ask something contrary to human nature. A starlight service at eleven p.m. sounds dramatic, but few will be at their intellectual best. Right after a heavy meal is often a poor time to expect alert involvement. Following a strenuous hike they will be quiet, but hardly from reverence. Some possible activities for spiritual growth are given for you to suggest to the committee. They may conceive a better idea of their own.
1. Sunrise Service: an ideal beginning for the second day of an overnight retreat. Include the flag-raising ceremony, a familiar hymn, a devotional given by one of the men on some aspect of the retreat theme, and a season of prayer for the day.
2. Morning Watch: a different idea for beginning the day. Set a time when each person goes out alone to read a suggested Scripture passage and pray. After fifteen minutes, come together for a time of sharing what they have found with the pastor or men’s director. Sing familiar choruses as they are suggested by the ideas voiced in these informal testimonies. The leader could close by giving his own thought from the passage.
3. Buzz Groups: a way to get group involvement during the day in thinking about the goal of the retreat. Divide into groups of six to ten, giving each group a sheet of paper with some questions to discuss or problems to solve. Scripture references relevant to the theme should be included. After twenty minutes of group study and recording of ideas, reassemble. Select one person to report from each group (or two if there are less than four groups). The leader will ask a question and hear the ideas each group discussed in turn. Continue with the other questions or problems on the sheet. Summarize group conclusions, and discuss further action which the men’s group should take.
4. Forum: another idea for group involvement and thoughtful discussion. Have a guest speaker or the pastor present some Scriptural truths relevant to the theme. Have the group follow up with discussion questions and problem solving.
5. Book Study: highlights of a thought-provoking book on some topic related to the retreat theme. A leader will present the basic concepts of the author, and allow the group to agree or disagree, apply and improve on the ideas.
6. Clinic or Workshop: an enlarged study of some Christian skill which requires two or three hours of emphasis. Select a need which relates to the theme, such as knowing how to witness to others, group leadership techniques, exploring possibilities in Christian service with your denomination, Christian marriage and family life. Using resource books, schedule studies with someone knowledgeable in the field, followed by trial and error sessions and demonstrations, individual study and work sheets.
7. Prayer Partners: a way of helping men to claim God’s promises of answered prayer together. Assemble for a short devotional period, sharing some prayer requests which concern the men’s group. Ask the members to choose a partner with whom they can feel free to pray. If some seem left out, suggest that they join two partners in a threesome. Let these partners scatter in the surrounding area to share prayer requests which they have on their minds. Schedule a free time following, so those who finish early can drift into activity as they desire.
8. Evening Vespers: a worship service with men’s group participation and leadership. Plan a service around the retreat theme, using men to lead music, present special music, give testimonies, lead in prayer. A guest speaker or the pastor would bring a relevant message and lead in a decision service at the close.
9. Campfire Service: an after-dark sharing time, valuable for inspiration and commitment. Gather around a large campfire, on a hillside, or on logs. Cut a pile of evergreen sticks and give one to each person. Sing informal choruses, including the retreat theme song. Allow time for the men to throw their sticks onto the fire and share short testimonies of what they have felt and decided during the day. It is helpful to tell the group ahead what will be done, so they can be ready. Four or five men might be asked in advance to step out and begin the sharing while others are polishing their thoughts. Intersperse choruses and quiet encouragement when there is hesitancy, but do not put anyone on the spot.
10. Devotions: In advance, ask several men to prepare a Bible-centered devotion which will tie together the day’s discussions. Afterwards pend about ten minutes in small groups. Talk and pray together. Give each person a piece of stationery and an envelope. Ask him to write himself a letter, putting down his desires for his spiritual life in the coming weeks. Have him seal and self-address it, and give it back to you. Assure him the letters will remain sealed and unopened. Keep these at least three months before you mail them back to the men.
Entertainment Committee: When the Spiritual Emphasis Committee has scheduled the times for serious thinking, the Entertainment Committee can begin to work. The skeleton of a schedule can be placed on a chalk board: departure time, approximate arrival at retreat location, mealtimes, spiritual emphasis periods, bedtime, closing time. The remaining hours are for the Entertainment Committee to program interesting group activity. Much free time should be scheduled, but definite activities need to be assigned spots in the schedule. Here are some springboards for planning.
1. Sports: Equipment for team sports can be brought along by individuals or from the church equipment closet. Volleyball and softball are good for teams. Tournaments can be scheduled in tennis, ping-pong, and horse shoes, if facilities are available for these.
2. Active Games: Capture the Flag, relays, a scavenger hunt, and even dodge ball are fun for short periods.
3. Other Outdoor Activities: Depending on locale, hiking (either by sunlight or moonlight), swimming, boating or canoeing, and horseback riding are ideas to be considered.
4. Indoor Activities: A stunt and skit time, when the men are divided into small groups with each being responsible for some contribution, or a talent show on the same order, might go over well. Try well-planned word games.
5. Crafts and Skills: Invite an outdoorsman or a ranger to talk with the group about wildlife and natural history of the area. This might be combined with a hike. Have someone teach an outdoor skill.
The Entertainment Committee will assign each activity to some men’s leader and confirm acceptance to their chairman. Be certain to schedule times for clean-up, dishes, pack-up and lights out.
Menu Committee: There are many variables to consider: distance food must be carried, finances available, number of people to be served, number of meals needed, facilities for cooking on location. The Menu Committee will need to secure two to four cooks who will make the trip. Plan the menus, including afternoon or midnight snacks, with these. Let the committee determine amounts of food and supervise the purchasing.
It is often advisable to have everyone bring a sack lunch for the first meal if it is noon or evening. This gives the cooks more time to get organized before cooking a major meal.
One meal could be a cook-out, when men either roast their own hot dogs, or fry their own hamburgers.
In some situations it is necessary to take several large containers of water for drinking.
The Menu Committee will also want to plan the KP procedure. It adds to the spirit of the retreat if everyone shares the load of table-setting, dishwashing and drying, floor mopping, etc. Count the number of meals to be served during the retreat. At the first meal, ask the group to “count off” by that number. Assign each number to a meal. “Number 1’s, you have KP at supper tonight. Number 2’s, in the morning after breakfast.” There will be some swapping of numbers, but this is their privilege as long as they all work some time during the outing.
Use the same groups for general clean-up before going home. Assign one group to sleeping quarters, one to rest rooms, one to the dining hall, and one to the kitchen. Double up if there are fewer groups. The general camp clean-up can be done quickly in this way, and as painlessly as possible. In a one-day or out-in-the-open retreat, all this would be simplified considerably.
Publicity Committee: Publicity should not be spared. Often the success or failure of an activity rests with the effectiveness of the publicity. Posters, announcements and a clever mail-out cartoon will make everyone conscious of the coming event. The mail-out is important, because it will reach men who are not present in any church service. It may also reach wives who can encourage reluctant men to attend. Make plain that unsaved friends are welcome as long as they are paying customers.
A week before the retreat itself, have the committee divide the men’s church roll and call each person for definite reservations. This is necessary for the Menu Committee before they purchase groceries. Be certain the reservations include the number of friends who plan to attend.
How the sale of tickets or collection of fees is handled will vary. Generally men will not complain about a $$-a-day charge. If this does not cover costs, possibly the church budget will supplement it. When a bus is rented for transportation, or a campground reserved, the cost naturally goes up. If use of horses or boats will be extra, this information must be included on the mail-out.
Arrangements and Transportation Committee: The most economical means of transportation is to secure cars and drivers. Simply ask who would be willing to take their car and how many could they take with them.
If a bus is borrowed or rented, this means the number of adults attending may be smaller. It is wise to take one car whenever a bus is used. In case of accident or emergency, it is more convenient to reach a doctor, telephone, or drug store in the smaller vehicle.
If a campground is involved, reservations must be made in advance. Remember to confirm these a week before the retreat date.
It will avoid many problems if a retreat booklet is made up and mimeographed. The retreat theme, goal, verse, and song will occupy one page. The date and place, and perhaps a sketch appropriate to the theme, will be on the cover. A complete retreat schedule will assure that everyone knows what is expected and when. Space may be provided in the back for personal notes or a small chorus and song book. Booklets are more useful if they are small enough to fit easily into a shirt pocket.
Making all the arrangements ahead through committees will free your mind as men’s director when the time actually arrives. Into your personal luggage, place a home-remedy kit and first aid supplies, several extra sweaters and jackets for the forgetful, and a flashlight. There are always some emergencies and some incidents to be expected, but these will be at a minimum if the planning has been thorough.
As much as you are able, enter into the activities as a participant, using every opportunity to strengthen your friendships and make new acquaintances. Be alert to the “loners” who do not feel a part of the group, and give them special attention. Be available to those with whom the Lord is dealing. Many precious counseling times are afforded by men’s retreats. Be prayerful, both in the weeks of planning and during the actual outing. Someone – maybe Joe – has an important decision to make, and he may need your help.
“Men’s Retreats” Written by Carl Barton.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”