Purpose: To experience the promise of God to be uniquely present and bless those united and joined together in the name of Jesus.
Eight-and-a-half years ago I assumed leadership of a youth ministry at a large church. Just moving and getting acclimated to a new church was enough. On my first day in the office my assistant and I sat down together. The first order of business we needed to attend to, she told me, was the winter retreat. Winter retreat?! It was summer! Why in the world would we start working on winter retreat?
Come to find out, she was exactly right. Our church, I discovered, put on an annual winter retreat for a number of churches each January. I had no idea what an undertaking it would be. In fact, by the time I went to the retreat location to get setup, I already had my mind made up. This would be the last year we would do this major event. It took so much energy, and I just wanted to do something with our own students.
But then a strange thing happened. Hundreds of students from many different churches showed up. There was so much excitement in the air. By the time we were into our first session I was sold. This was something we had to keep doing, no matter how much work it put on us. The presence of God was so thick and palpable. God was pouring out His blessing upon our gathering. I saw students having a powerful encounter with the living God.
That year, and each successive year, we experienced the promises of God given to us in the Bible. Two Scriptures, specifically, came to mind.
- "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! … For there the Lord commanded the blessing—life forever" (Psalm 133:1-3).
- "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18:20).
I would guess that for the majority of churches, a good 90-95% of our calendars and budgets are consumed with events that are "just for us"; that is to say just for "our" students to grow and build relationships. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with this, the reality is that Jesus only has one Church (Big "C") - the body of Christ, and the world needs to see unity between local churches (small "c"). Something like a winter retreat or camp or conference where churches work together is a chance for the Church to come together, build bridges, and create a true picture of the unity that Jesus prayed for in John 17:22-23, which says, "The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me."
If you're near New York, we are hosting Youth Winter Fest in Mt. Bethel, PA January 10-12, 2014, and would love for you to join us. We currently have 12 churches gathering together, and we still have room for a few more. If you're interested in bringing a group, e-mail me. Here's a promo video: