If I were to pick one event in the church calendar that had been a consistent highlight in the churches I pastored it would be the annual pastoral staff retreat. It was one of the most useful, time-well-spent, cost-beneficial, and I hasten to add, necessary, events to be scheduled into the calendar.
Where? A quiet place like the Cameron Highlands or Fraser’s Hill, because I like the cool weather and great food served up by the resident caretakers. (Picture on the right is the OMF Bungalow in Cameron Highlands.)
How long? Usually a few days.
When? Normally, in October. With three-quarters of the year done, enough have happened for some serious evaluation. With only a few months left before the new year, October is also a good time to start working on the big picture for the following year. In most church settings, a reasonable lead time is also needed because the “plans” coming from the pastoral team have to be cascaded to the Church Board for their agreement.
Who? Obviously, the pastoral/ministry staff. But I have sometimes included the elders (or senior members of the church leadership) to let them see what we do at such pastoral staff retreats and also to benefit from their input. (There is certainly a place for a larger church leaders retreat, but a pastoral staff retreat is irreplaceable. I believe that the pastoral team should be at the cutting-edge of the church’s advancement.)
Purpose? Like the Staff Meeting (read the blogpost here) many things can be brought to the table for a Staff Retreat, but the following should be topmost on the agenda: 1. Envisioning, 2. Prayer and 3. Team Building.
I’ll deal with prayer in this post and leave team building and envisioning to subsequent posts.
I am certain that you believe that prayer is not something we simply pay lip-service to—we need to get down to seriously praying. And if the pastoral team cannot do that then we might as well hand in our resignation letters. Time away for a staff retreat must also mean setting aside time for prayer at the retreat.
Prayer should be the first thing on the programme when everyone has arrived (though I have to confess that afternoon tea with scones, cream and strawberry jam often come first!). There is such a great temptation to jump right into business—talking and strategising—without first seeking the face of the Lord and listening to Him. Each new day should begin with corporate worship and prayer, and a good part of the evenings should be dedicated to prayer.
- Praying for the Retreat. We don’t want to be led by human understanding, we want to be led by the Spirit of Lord. We don’t just want good ideas, we want to be divinely inspired. We shouldn’t be satisfied with doing good things, we must want to do the God-thing. Hence, we must pray and seek the face of the Lord.
- Praying for One Another. Only those who are in the full-time pastoral ministry know how tough the job is. It follows that we are the best people to pray for each other.
The retreat is a good time to pray into one another’s life. The setting lends itself to it. From my experience I know this can be so powerful. As the staff minister to one another inner hurts are healed, spirits are lifted up, a fresh anointing of the Spirit falls on one or more people, and maybe, even on the whole group!
At one retreat we invited a spiritual director to lead us for the first one and a-half days in a silent retreat. It was a short but significant time—evidenced by the sharing at the conclusion of our personal and quiet waiting upon the Lord.
- Praying for the Church. The chief reason why the pastoral staff are at the retreat is because of the church. We are there to seek the Lord for the church. Hence, it is only natural and right for the staff to seize the time to make strong intercession on behalf of the church.
The Staff Retreat is not a prayer retreat, but you can’t do without serious prayer if you want to accomplish something significant at the Staff Retreat.
Next blog post: Staff Retreat (Part 2) on “Team Building”.