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The Benefits and Dangers of Tradition

Last week a column I wrote for Slant 33 went live on the web in the subject of “Tradition in Youth Ministry.”  Myself and two others wrote about the inherent dangers and strengths that tradition hold. 

In light of our weekend retreat a couple of days ago, it proved a timely reminder of both the benefits and dangers of doing the same retreat in the same location over and over again.  
For our women, their retreat has followed a similar format, but never the same location two-years in a row.  Their trip has both some tradition and some constant movement, but not enough to give a sense that things will be radically different.  This both helps us and hurts us. 
For our men, their retreat has been in the identical spot for 5 years straight now.  We go to the same piece of sand, drive the same route often in the same trucks, pitch the same tent, and even eat almost the same menu.  We do change the team building exercises, some of the activities, and the content of our talks every year, but much of it is tradition that remains the same.  In fact, some who even had a great time last year told us this year that, “I went before and so I don’t need to go again.”  
In both cases.  Tradition has strengths and weaknesses.  
Here’s some things I wrote about on Slant 33 that were absolutely true of this tradition for us too:     

SHARED STORIES: If you do an event or have a ritual or keep a tradition over the long haul, then your ministry has a consistent shared journey. Students and staff can say, “Remember that time at summer camp…” and they all have an instant shared story. Sure, each year was different, but there’s camaraderie and unity and ownership in shared language and experience, all of which are like gold in youth ministry.  

THE LOGISTICS CAN BE DONE IN YOUR SLEEP.You already know the family that does the food. You know who plays the music and who your leaders will be. You just call them, confirm a couple of things, and move on because they already know what to do, what to expect, and how to help. The logistics are virtually done before you even start. Tweak the flyer, fix two things you learned last year, make some phone calls, put it up on Facebook. Done.  

WE GET PREDICTABLE.  Tradition can also lead to predictability in a bad way. Instead of keeping your students on the edge of their seats, wondering what will happen next, they start to ditch stuff because they’ve already done it. Even if it was amazing the first time, the second time was okay, and the third time was, um…predictable. When we do and say what everyone thinks we’ll do and say, we lose our leadership edge in the lives of students. 

If you want to read more of what I said, plus Adam and Michelle’s thoughts, you can go hit them up here.  

If you want to throw in your own thoughts on tradition, by all means, drop a comment.

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Brian Berry is a proven veteran of student ministry. He serves as the generation ministries pastor at Journey Community Church near San Diego, California, where he works directly with the high school ministry and oversees a staff that is responsible for infants through teens. Brian is also a frequent blogger, writes and teaches for youth workers, and is the author of both As for Me and My Crazy House and Criticism Bites. He speaks at various conferences, camps, and retreats for a variety of audiences. He is married to Shannon, and they have five kids.