Husband. Dad to 5. Student Ministry Pastor. Follower of Jesus. Yatta yatta.


When I moved to San Diego about 6 years ago, I left behind a youth ministry that I poured my heart and soul into in Nor Cal.  Powerhouse was the place I cut my ministry teeth, experienced life changing trips and retreats, and developed some of my deepest and most treasured life-long friendships.

I could go on for quite some time about the lessons I learned there, but there was at least one thing I vowed to continue- regardless of where I was serving in student ministry.  (ironically, it was one of the first things that was cut after I left- but that’s another story)  Anyway, I vowed I would provide an opportunity for women and men to have a gender specific discipleship retreat.  That experience has taken on many different forms over the past decade for me, but here in San Diego, it has always meant the women go to a beautiful San Diego resort/hotel and the men go to the desert for the weekend.  I have still never experienced the women’s retreat (for obvious reasons) but I know that it changes lives.

But our high school men’s retreat, I’ve seen first hand and this last weekend was yet another trip to the desert.  This year it consisted of our crew and a crew from Danny Bower’s church.  All totaled it was 45 men of various ages from teen to “definitely not teen” in the desert for 2 days of bonding.

Here’s some of the reasons why I do it.

GET AWAY FACTOR:  Everyone in ministry who has ever done a “retreat” knows the power of this truth: “when you change the setting, it’s easier to change lives.”  It just is.  And change is CRITICAL to the process of moving from boyhood to manhood.  Getting away from our comforts and “normal” context is a catalyst to this process.

UNPLUG: even though our girls stay local, the first thing they do is turn in their cell phones in a bucket so they can unplug and focus on God and one another for the weekend.  On our guys retreat, we don’t have to collect them because they don’t work in the desert and we’ll simply use them for target practice if they bring them or their ipod out anyway.  But if there’s anything this generation and men in our world need in general, it is a chance to unplug from the distraction of this texting, ear bud wearing, electronic world.  Solitude and Silence prove to be awesome aids to spiritual growth.

MATURITY IS A CHOICE:  I believe getting older is mandatory, but growing up is not.  This retreat is a chance to offer boys the a clear path of choices that lead to adulthood, something that has been lost in our culture in my opinion. We wrestle with Scripture, we take communion, we worship, we pray, we talk about real life, and we challenge young men to act as such and to leave some childish ways behind.  In the process, it inevitably reminds all the “non teen adults”that manhood is not a destination, but a constant journey we must continue to move along too.

FATHER SON MENTORING:  This retreat gives us a rare opportunity to really step into a role where, like a good father, we offer a chance for guys to be intentionally mentored by a caring adult.  Whether it’s teaching them how to handle a weapon, bbq a steak, or interact with Scripture, I never tire of watching male students and leaders have significant conversations and life on life teachable moments.  Especially when so many of those young men come from a fatherless context, it seems to me that this type of opportunity is mandatory for the church to seize today.

GOD SHOWS UP:  Seriously, there’s something about the desert where it seems that God is there waiting for us.  I LOVE this little spot in the desert we camp in.  It’s a sandy wash in the bottom of some massive rock piles that just makes you want to sit down and connect with God.  

FUN: I love the fact that these guys have genuine fun.  It’s like they all revert to being a young boy again and just have some good healthy fun with no one to impress.  We play paintball with slingshots, baseball with a potato gun, ride a zipline, and teach them how to properly handle several weapons and shoot targets.  We do some team building, we go on hikes, we literally sleep under the stars on tarps, we blow stuff up (don’t ask), set stuff on fire (you can kinda ask), and eat way too much food. It is just plain and simple fun.

And… if you happen to be a youth pastor reading this blog, then here’s some cheater stuff for you if you want to do this same retreat for your group or something similar to it.

Here it is, all wrapped up in a bucket download. Included inside you’ll find:

  • our agenda for the weekend.
  • teaching guides we used with Scripture and some quotes from Donald Miller‘s, A million miles in a thousand years book we centered some discussion around. 
  • 20 questions doc we used for the first night bonding questions
  • food and kitchen prep list for all 6 meals.
  • general packing list of what we take.
  • our church permission slip
If you have more specific questions after downloading that stuff, you can hit me up here

Leave a Reply