10 Ways I approach a Retreat as a Speaker

I am in no way an accomplished speaker or a speaking guru…I’m just a guy that God’s tapped on the shoulders dozens and dozens and dozens of times over the last5z491qkq5iiws8o_450_fill 15 years to speak on retreats and at conferences.

I’m so blessed for every opportunity I’ve had.

Retreats have always held a very dear place in my heart. It was on a retreat when I was 13 years old that God gripped my heart and used my youth pastor to speak the truth of God’s word into my life and heart.

That moment changed the trajectory of my life. 

When I was 19, I was asked to a youth pastor and I wanted to create those moments for students the best that I could and for 15 years as a youth pastor I poured every once of energy and resources into making our retreats the best they could be.

Then, in 1997 I was asked to speak on a retreat. I had never been asked to be the official ‘speaker’ and I was so nervous and so excited. It was great and I had the bug to speak and to teach.

Shortly after that somebody else asked me to speak and then somebody else and then somebody else. 15 years later I have been blessed with the opportunities to speak at retreats and conferences all over the country.

Here’s How I approach a Retreat…

1. I absolutely cover it prayer. The day it’s agreed I will speak…I begin praying. I pray for the person who is leading the retreat. I pray for the students who will be attending. I pray for all the youth pastors who will be attending and the volunteer youth leaders. I pray for the camp.

I pray that Jesus will become famous in the lives of students. That they will serve Him, Love Him and give Him their all.

2. I get to know the camp and the theme. I know the camp or retreat center spends a lot of time dreaming and planning all the creative elements to the theme and I want to represent that the best I can. So, I read the camp website. I go over their doctrinal beliefs. And…I ask a lot of questions about the theme.

3. I prepare. Sounds simple enough, right? But, I believe how you prepare determines the outcome of your speaking. Yes, God can use you if you didn’t prepare anything. But, I also know, that preparation honors God. I know that as a teacher, it’s my responsibility to study scripture. So, I prepare.

4. I get alone. I spend a good deal of time alone thinking through the weekend. I spend time a lone and I think through my talks, the schedule and the different elements.

5. I suggest a few things. There are a lot of things I’ve learned over the years to help make a retreat success. If I have the right opportunity, I will share them with2012-11-04 10.42.36 the people in charge.

Like: I always encourage the camp to set up chairs. I’m not a fan to speaking to kids sitting on the floor. More on that later…but it’s just a bad idea.

Like: I always encourage the camp to turn up the house lights during the message. Too often, kids are dozing after long nights and constant activity.

Like: I always suggest having Bibles out for the students. Too often kids leave them at home or in the cabins. The older I get, teaching kids how to look up scripture is a valuable tool and a gift to them.

Like: I always seek out the program director and make sure I know all my cues. Some camps are program heavy, some are program light. Regardless, I have a conversation with the person in charge so I know what’s expected of me.

6. I connect with as many adults and students that I can. Relationships change everything. Even if there 1500 students at an event, I seek out kids and learn names and ask about their lives.

7. I follow up as many conversations with a thank you card or message. Obviously I don’t send cards or personal messages to kids…unless kids friend me or message me. But, if I talk with youth pastors or camp staff, I try to send cards or messages to remind them that I’m thankful for what they do.

8. I call students to a decision. I tell a lot of stories. I hope kids will laugh with me. Once they do, I believe some trust is built and as the weekend goes on, I challenge them more and more.

9. I pray with as many adults and kids that I can. I’ve heard thousands of stories over the years and one day I decided I was going to start praying for people right then and there. It changed things!

10. I pray Phil 2:5 before I speak…EVERYTIME! I started this about 10 years ago, but I pray that Jesus would be famous, not Jason. That I would consider them all better than myself. I ask for God’s help to step out of the way.

I still have a lot to learn. All these things don’t happen every time, and I do the best I can.

What am I missing? What have you learned?

2 Thoughts

  1. FWIW, here are my top 5:

    1. Treat students like adults (or at least not like idiots). They get way more than we give them credit for.

    2. Address things that actually matter (“Jesus is cool” is not a helpful message, yet it’s the primary message I’ve seen taught at conferences for the past 15yrs).

    3. Listen and Respond. To the Spirit, to the students, to what’s happening inside myself. Rather than just executing a plan.

    4. Share my weaknesses from the stage.

    5. Be generous. This is probably the hardest one for me. To perform without needing anything from the crowd. Nothing they can do can give me life or kill me… Now I can *really* give. Otherwise, I’m just scratching their back in a way that will make them want to scratch mine.


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