There’s a stereotype about men that, if true, is only partly true. In a recent children’s film, the main male character tells his wife, “For guys, a punch in the shoulder is like six months of therapy.” In other words, men don’t know how, nor do they really need, to talk honestly and openly with each other. A “hey buddy,” with a brotherly jab in the shoulder is about as close as we will ever get to connecting with another man and trying to be his ally.
Well, sadly, the stereotype can be true at times, but it’s not because men don’t have the ability or the need to speak honestly about their lives, or their challenges, or their problems. It’s that many men have simply never had this modeled or taught. And, when a person lacks the vision or the knowhow for something, it’s easier to fake their way through things so they can avoid what feels awkward or foreign. But, a well planned and well executed men’s retreat can provide a forum and environment for men to unplug from the demands of life and experience a level of honesty with themselves, with other men, and even with God.
Several things need to be considered and then put in place at a men’s retreat, but if retreat leaders take the following three suggestions to heart, they will be off to a great start in creating a men’s retreat experience that will foster positive change in the lives of men.
1. Find a location for your men’s retreat that has as much wilderness and natural beauty as possible.
Not everyone lives near the mountains or the sea, but every part of the country is near natural, rugged, unspoiled places. And having a men’s retreat in the conference room or basement of your local church doesn’t do much to open a man’s soul.
You don’t have to have men rappelling off a cliff or rafting through whitewater to help them get out of the ordinary and be open to the unexpected, but giving them wide open fields, wooded trails, or lakeshores to explore just does something to a man… and it’s good.
2. If you have men speaking or facilitating at your men’s retreat, make sure they are men that have sincerely journeyed in their message and not just studied a book.
When a church or other group chooses some popular book, tells a team of men to read it and then assigns a chapter to each, there is little strength and power to the message. It ends up being a “staged” or “scripted” program, and there will be little that is authentic. If you let men hear from other men who are genuine, tell the truth about their lives, and let the power of their lives speak for them, then you may very well help other men do the same.
Ask men and most will tell you they want to be in the company of a man who has become someone rather than one who simply knows something. Who you are is way more powerful than what you know.
3. Don’t plan guided or structured activities for every hour of the retreat, and honor a man’s privacy. They way many men’s retreats are planned and structured, it seems like the leadership doesn’t believe a man can go out and experience much that is deep or spiritual on his own.
Sadly, men go from large sessions where speakers teach to assigned discussion groups that are also led in some way to recreation times, meal times, and so forth, with little, if any unstructured time to be alone and decide what they need on their own. Retreats can almost feel like elementary schools where the participants are watched and led all day long.
Trust a man to be out on his own for an hour, or for a number of hours, without his blackberry, laptop, cell phone, and you may be amazed at what can happen. So, be intentional to plan for long periods of time when men do not need to be led, taught, assigned to a discussion group, or counseled. They just get to be alone and do what they feel is the best thing to do. Good things will happen.