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Importance of Retreat for Pastors

The demands of present day ministry are often unrelenting. We can get things done more quickly, but hardly anyone in ministry feels like they have more spare time on their hands. Most ministry leaders feel overwhelmed and weighted down by the myriad of responsibilities that have no end in sight. This reality recalls to my mind the words of T.S. Eliot:

Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word…

Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
(From "The Rock", 1934)

When Jesus calls leaders to follow him, he first calls them to a relationship of growing closeness and devotion. It is out of that relationship that ministry responsibilities are to be carried out (see Mark 3:13-15). Ministry is to flow out of relationship with Christ. Our exterior ministry is to be the result of a deep interior life in God. Peter Scazzero writes:

"The overall health of any church or ministry depends primarily on the emotional and spiritual health of its leadership. In fact, the key to successful spiritual leadership has much more to do with the leader's internal life than with the leaders expertise, gifts, or experience."

However, in the U.S. we live in a culture that is thoroughly committed to the priority of "doing", being productive, of getting things done. And in many cases those in ministry have been seduced by the sirens of our culture and evaluate their ministry by the very bench marks that fan the flames of productivity and doing, to the determent of their own soul. This cultural obsession with "doing" impacts their lives (their families and their Churches) in dangerous and destructive ways.

A post on the web version of Christianity Today reported that John Piper, the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, was entering into an eight-month leave of absence. While the article did not spell out the specific reasons for Piper's leave, it was clear that the busyness of his schedule and ministry and writing commitments had taken a toll on his relationship with his wife "and others who are dear to" him. The article went on to talk about the lives of other evangelical heroes, Billy Graham and Carl Henry, and the negative impact that excessive ministry busyness had upon their personal lives and families. Every ministry leader is susceptible to this trap of excessive busyness usurping the place of intimacy with Jesus himself. Doing God's work often takes precedence over knowing God himself. Parker Palmer, commenting on the active life, speaks of the violence this does to one's soul:

"But the active life also carries a curse. Many of us know what it is to live lives not of action, but of frenzy, to go from day to day exhausted and unfulfilled by our attempts to work, create and care. Many of us know the violence of active life…Action poses some of our deepest spiritual crises as well as some of our most heartfelt joys."

Palmer's quote highlights the dual reality of busyness and productivity: it is a source of spiritual crisis and heartfelt joy. The life of ministry is a two edged sword bringing both curse and blessing, but too often it is the curse that carries with it the more lasting impact, destroying personal lives, shattering marriages and devastating ministries.

The following quotes emphasize the violence inherent in the active life:

"Because we do not rest we lose our way…Poisoned by the hypnotic belief that good things come only through unceasing determination and tireless effort, we can never truly rest. And for want of rest our lives are in danger."
Wayne Muller

"While our way of life may seem heroic, there is a frenetic quality to our activity that is disturbing to those around us. When we do have discretionary time, we indulge in escapist behaviors – such as compulsive eating, drinking, spending, watching television – because we are too tired to choose activities that are truly life-giving."
Ruth Haley Barton

So, how do those in ministry avoid this trap? As usual, the answer to the question can be found in looking at the life and ministry of Jesus himself. One cannot read the gospel accounts without noticing that Jesus made a habit of interrupting his "doing" ministry in order to "be" with his Father in solitude and silence (see Mark 1:35; Luke 5:15-16; Luke 6:12; Matthew 14:13-21; Luke 9:10; Matthew 26:36-46). It was out of these times of silence and solitude that Jesus received direction and strength to carry out the ministry the Father was calling him to. If Jesus needed to attend to such times of quiet and withdrawal, we can assume they are vital for our lives as well!

Henri Nouwen has written that, "Without solitude it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life." Solitude and silence are practices that go hand in hand, but for many of us, solitude and silence are practices that are not easily adopted into our lives. For many, solitude and silence seem like a waste of time. We live under the illusion that nothing can happen in quietness. The truth is, it is important to be able to be alone with God and alone with ourselves. God's best work in us is often done when it is just God and us, alone and quiet.

Stressing the importance of quiet and solitude, Eugene Peterson draws a lesson from Moby Dick:

"In Melville's Moby Dick, there is a turbulent scene…the sailors are laboring fiercely, every muscle taught, all attention and energy concentrated on the task…. In this boat, however, there's one man who does nothing. He doesn't hold on; he doesn't perspire; he doesn't shout. He is languid in the crash and the cursing. This man is the harpooner, quiet and poised, waiting. And then the sentence: to ensure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooners of this world must start to their feet out of idleness, and not out of toil."

What if we in ministry (God's chosen harpooners) endeavored to minister from a place of internal quietness, poised, rested and waiting – a sort of God infused idleness resulting from learning to lean into "the unforced rhythms of God's grace."

How does one escape ‘the violence of active life' and learn to lean into the unforced rhythms of grace? One way is by incorporating silence and solitude into one's life through the practice of personal retreat. A regular routine of retreat allows time for rest, reflection and refreshment; it allows us space to just "be" with God, not "doing" for God. While the benefits of personal retreat are powerful, it is also true that it is a foreign practice to many ministry leaders. You do not have to feel alone in figuring out how to incorporate this practice into your life. If the idea of personal retreat is a new and challenging thought to you, b can help you enter into this important practice. We have years of personal experience in this area and we know the transforming power that it can bring to one's life and ministry. We would consider it a privilege to walk with you in making this a part of your ministry routine so that you might stay true to your calling.

In order to help you to incorporate this practice into your lives, b will begin offering retreats designed for pastors in Los Angeles and San Diego County.

Pastors' Comments:

Our staff has benefited greatly from the one day b retreats we have participated in together. It is an important way for us to collectively remember what is most important: developing a deeper walk with Christ. Ministry can be hazardous to your health and these retreats are a tangible way for us to be renewed and refreshed. We are reminded that our value does not come from our performance but from our status as God's beloved. Larry does a great job of setting the theme for the day (Passion of Christ, "I am" statements of Jesus, etc) and giving creative options to enjoy time with Jesus. The retreats are focused on Jesus with an emphasis on Scripture with a wide variety of creative options to enjoy being in his presence. What a great way to spend the day!

Larry first invited our staff to a one-day retreat in the Fall of 2009, through the Center for Pastoral Leadership at PLNU. Though I had experienced "b" retreats on several occasions, growing in capacity each time, few on our staff had participated in such an event. I was pleasantly surprised that almost our entire staff elected to share the day together in this way. To a person, each reflected how needed and beneficial the day was. This not only created a meaningful time for us as individuals, but a rich and bonding memory for our team. Larry invited us again in the early Spring of 2010. Needless to say, it was an easy yes. It's becoming a cliche—we are too busy not to set aside this time with God and each other. Personally, I see these retreats as simply a needed (and wanted) part of my life. It's great to have this kind of resource to keep us calibrated with God.

There is nothing else like the b retreats. If Larry Warner disappeared from my life I would not be receiving this valuable prize: Time with God. Sure, I get that time every day when I am wise enough to receive it. That is precisely the point: Larry speaks into the quiet moments with God. He gives me permission to slow down. He shows me ways to practice. Very little comes easy in this life, particularly the pearls - we practice riding a bike with training wheels, we work on our marriages, we learn parenting through trial and error - and the b retreats are practice in the one area that matters most. I paint. I draw. I doodle. I walk. I sit. I feel the breeze in my face. I practice knowing that any and all things point to God.

God calls us to make space for the Divine and rest. Yet as a minister, I often fail to lead others into the decision to stop and retreat. Day retreats with Larry Warner have been an important step for me to find nourishment from the Source alongside others who face the same challenges I do. I have felt restored by the guilt-free space to enjoy and experience God in whatever way he leads -- be that in naps by the ocean, creative projects using my hands, silence, prayer, music, or Scripture. I have used these retreats to intentionally invite God to recalibrate my life according to his good plans, rather than my own controlling grasping.


I had never attended a b retreat but when I heard about a one day retreat for pastors being held in my area I sensed an internal pull to attend. I did not know what to expect but just knew I needed some rest for my soul. It was an excellent day of being with Jesus. At the end of the day I shared that “in 20 plus years of ministry I have attended many so called retreats that often left me more tired than when I came or feeling like I needed to accomplish more in my ministry but at the end of our retreat today I feel rested and more in love with Jesus than when I came.” It was an extraordinary day and I look forward to the next b retreat opportunity.

I have attended several b retreats both individually as well as with our whole church staff. Although it can feel inconvenient to pause the movement of ministry which is full of e-mails, appointments, and phone calls, these protected times away have proved to be so rich and meaningful. Above all - they have reminded me/our staff that it is Jesus who gives us the power to preach, teach and to listen and love people deeply. These retreats give us as ministers both direction and freedom to dwell deeply in God's presence and hear God's voice. If you are desiring a time to get away either personally or wanting to model/experience corporate spiritual communion as a staff I highly recommend these retreats!

Our staff has found the day with b a refreshing pause in the Lord and strongly recommend it for those who are looking to meet the Lord in a guided yet alone setting.  Each time we have attended our pastoral team has come away with the touch we needed to be renewed and ready to step back into His service.  It is only a day away but it is a week of rest!


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