“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6 NIV)
Let’s face it. Some men resist strongly going to a Bible study on a Sunday morning in a classroom. Perhaps they feel that it is for boys only. Perhaps they are Physical Learners (prefer “hands on” approach to learning) or Natural Learners (enjoy the beauty, investigation, and exploration of God’s creation.) Instead of using guilt, why not start them off on a men’s retreat?
Madison Heights Baptist has been doing so for 54 years! In 1961 their pastor, Reverend Hugh Bumgarner, led their first retreat for boys and men. The object was to combine things they loved doing with lessons about life skills, values and guidance through Bible study about what it means to be a Godly man. The retreat has continued through two Pastors since then, Dr. Tim Madison for 16 years and now Dr. Todd Blake for the last 5 years. They made Staunton River State Park their traditional retreat site since 1979, the year Dr. Blake was born.
Here are some lessons I learned this week from them.
In order to be a great leader, you need to learn how to be a great follower. Each child/youth is put on a team to serve. They clean up after meals and help keep the campground looking great. The older youth and young adults serve the meal. The older men cook the meal. Every person serves in some capacity. They are learning the value of serving and following directions. (As I have mentioned before, every SS class should have an ongoing service project. Part of my reasoning is to learn how to serve and follow.)
Discipleship is more than Bible study. It is teaching life skills and mentoring. Yes, there is a Bible study every morning, and a devotional every night. In years past, the Pastor would train older youth to lead some of the Bible studies, but this year is a young group (age 5 is the youngest.) Dr. Blake is leading the Bible study. Besides the Bible, they learn about the environment, fishing, physical health including sunscreen, taking care of nature, helping each other as they put up tents and learn other valuable skills. They encourage each other in the games they play, and pray for each other.
Following Jesus and Discipleship is an ongoing adventure. Jesse is the oldest camper in the group this year at age 65. He was at the first retreat at age 11. He is one of the cooks and encouragers. There are several more adults who have been on this retreat since their childhood. They recognize that following Jesus and discipleship is a life-long adventure.
Retreats are an outreach opportunity. Some men and children are experiencing this idea for the first time on this trip. I have talked with them and seen how this has been a transformative experience. It has been a new way to look at Bible study and discipleship. The children have influenced other children that brought dads! There is an excitement that is contagious. I overheard two boys around age 10 one night while they were waiting their turn to kick at kickball. Both can’t imagine what the summer would be like without this retreat. They look forward to it every year.
I do believe Madison Heights is training up a child in the way they should go. With so many adults coming (who once were children on the trip), the message is clear. It is our responsibility to train up a child.