How to be successful as a retreat counselor
by Stan White and Cheri EvansHere you are, about to begin a short-term stint as a retreat counselor, and a hundred thoughts are swirling in your head.
I hope the people like me. What if the rules are more than I bargained for? Will there be a decent shower? I wish I knew which Bible verses to brush up on. I can think of three people who’d better not wind up in my cabin. Who can I turn to for help if things get out of hand?
Whether you’re serving as a counselor for youth group kids or another group of young people, these tips will take the pressure off the experience and free you to enjoy a rewarding time away from your routine. This retreat could lead to a turning point in someone’s life—maybe your own.
Parents want you to inspire their children to try new and challenging experiences, both in fun and spiritual contexts. Facilitate the kids’ memory-making by responding to their personal needs, including them, and asking where they stand in their relationship with Christ.
Keep things that are shared in confidence (unless the person says something that indicates he or she is in danger of being harmed; you’ll need to report that to the proper authorities). Be cautious about physical contact with campers or guests, especially those of the opposite sex. Counsel young campers of your gender only.
Finally, set a good example. People who are exploring Christianity are looking to see what following Jesus is all about, and others need to witness a deeper faith than their own.
Because you’ll be in charge of young retreat-goers, remember that the first concern is for safety. Parents understand the concept of reasonable risks, but not foolishness. Be sure you understand the camp or conference center’s emergency and safety procedures.
Your being asked to be a counselor is no accident. God has chosen you and He will equip you. Your task will include unconditionally loving “difficult” young people. Be prepared to go the extra mile.
As you minister, don’t judge your success as a counselor on how many campers you lead to Christ, but rather, on your faithfulness to Him. Spiritual success includes making decisions such as submitting to authority, maintaining personal integrity, and spending time daily with God.
Let God work through you as you imitate Jesus Christ. When you’re running on empty, go to God. Spend time every day reading His Word. Pray for yourself and for each retreat participant. These are vital ingredients in fruitful ministry.
As you embark on your retreat, your prayer should be that campers consider the outcome of your way of life and imitate your faith (see Heb. 13:7). Years from now, they will remember a leader who was faithful to the Word of God.
Stan, who previously served as CCCA’s board chair and executive director of Alpine Camp and Conference Center, is general manager of the Camp Nacimiento Foundation in California.
Cheri is a supervising teacher in the home-schooling program for the Orange County Department of Education. She was the associate director at Pine Summit from 1979 to 1992, and then served as a camp consultant.
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