The Church Thriving Inspite of Social Distancing

Ugh! The Movement Control Order (MCO) has been extended for another two weeks till 28 April. Even for an introvert like me it’s getting a bit too much of time alone! But that’s not the point of this blogpost.

Even when the MCO is finally lifted there is a real possibility that Putrajaya may ban large gatherings for the rest of 2020.

What constitutes a large gathering? According to a report in TheEdgeMarkets it is anything above 250 people (13 March 2020).  However, according to theStar online it is anything above 50 people (4 April 2020). On top of this the authorities may still require people to keep a distance of at least one metre (maybe even two metres) from one another. If this is implemented the capacity of a church’s worship hall will immediately be reduced to hold at most one third of the usual crowd at any one time.

I believe churches will want to abide by the directives, and also to keep their members safe. What can we do to adjust to the situation, and yet thrive in it? Here are some suggestions for the worship service.1

  1. Have multiple services.
  2. Provide overflow rooms with close-circuit TV or live-streaming facilities.
  3. Live stream the service so that members2 can join the service at home. Those who prefer to play it safe can stay home and join the service online. Perhaps, it ought to be made mandatory for the less healthy and elderly.
  4. Members to take turns to attend a live worship. One suggestion is for people to pre-register until the quota is filled, with preference given to those who do not have the technical resources to join the live-stream.

An alternative is to schedule attendance at the live worship by cell groups. What about those who are not in a cell? It then depends on a church’s philosophy of ministry. Either some places are set aside for those who are not in a cell, or they be asked to join a cell as a pre-step to attend a live worship.

The implications of “no large gatherings” is going to be huge on the church. I’ve not begun to address two other important groups, the youth and the children (maybe in another post). And also about outreach—how will we be doing it in the day of social distancing? Here’s the bottom line: I don’t think we can do church in the same way as we did pre-MCO.

Clearly, church is not just about the worship service. Church ultimately is about relationships (vertical and horizontal), discipleship (or discipling) and reaching out to the world (to win the spiritually lost and to impact our world). If worship services are cut shorter to cater for multiple services and the live-stream “audience”, coupled with social distancing and quick exits from the church building, the worship services are not going to cut it as far as the above mentioned objectives are concerned.

A couple of pastors shared with me that this is where the small group ministry is critically important. Small groups can fulfil all the three objectives. We used to think that the establishment of cells was in preparation for persecution. Little did we know that they would also be critical for a time like this.

I want, however, to add that these small groups must be intentional about discipling, if the church wants to thrive, and not to simply ride out this period of uncertainty. A critical factor rests on a very important person—the small group leader. The above-mentioned pastors said that helping their small group leaders to recalibrate and to empower them for their role will be their primary focus. I’m sure one of the areas of training will be about making effective use of online facilities to connect and disciple their members.

So, during the ban on large gatherings there are at least two things your church should do. One, restructure your worship service and make use of the online platform. And two, recalibrate and strengthen your small group ministry with the focus on caring, discipling and reaching out to others.

1 These include suggestions from the pastors who responded to my query.

2 By “members” I do not mean registered members but all who worship regularly at your church.

Lim Soon Hock Empowering Churches

Seeking God (Part 3): Prayer Posture

(For Part 1 click here)

(For Part 2 click here)

In this third and last of my three-part post on seeking God I want to elaborate on what Jeremiah 29:13-14 says about our prayer posture as we seek God.

Firstly, the Lord EXPECTS us to seek Him. In the verse the Lord says, “You will seek me.” It is not If you want to, or Should you want to, or I hope you will—it is, you will. God expects us to seek Him. Truth be told, God commands it. For what purpose? Primarily that we may know Him. And when we know Him we will know His will, and desire to align ourselves to Him and do His will.

Secondly, we are to seek God EXCLUSIVELY. That is to say, it is God and God alone who we are to seek. For new and young believers, especially those who have come out from other religions and hence, who have previously worshipped other gods, what this means is that there is no place for syncretism. Jesus is not one of the many gods that we worship. He is the only God whom we are to worship and seek. The problem of the Israelites during Jeremiah’s time was that they added the gods of the surrounding nations into their worship, and as a result they were led away from God. That was the principal reason the Lord judged the nation of Israel and sent the people into exile.

For those of us who have been Christians a little longer this may not be a problem. However, there may be a subtle and even greater danger—that we go seeking for counsel and help from elsewhere instead of seeking God first. Or we may run from one church to another or one conference to another—hoping to find some magic formula to lift our lives. The Lord says, “You will seek me.” Prayer must be the first, last and also undergird everything we do.

Thirdly, the Lord says, “seek me with all your heart.” That is, with the ENTIRETY of your heart, or wholeheartedly. Seeking God calls for effort and discipline. It is an effort of the heart—of wanting God, waiting upon Him, desiring to hear from Him and realigning ourselves to Him and His agenda.

A classic example in the Bible is Nehemiah. When we read his story and the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem we often think of Nehemiah as action man. He was always doing something: evaluating, planning, strategising, giving instructions, even physically helping to rebuild the walls, contending with the opposition and dealing with rebellious people. If that is all we thought of Nehemiah—as action man—we have gotten him very wrong.

What was the very first thing that Nehemiah did when his brother told him of the sorry state of Jerusalem? Nehemiah 1:4 tells us, “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” Nehemiah’s first response to the news was prayer and fasting. And when you eavesdrop into his prayer you can hear the depth of his feelings; how he sought the Lord with all his heart. It was during this four months of seeking God (four months had passed between Chapter 1:1 and 2:1) that he understood the heart of the Lord for Jerusalem. It was in his time of prayer when the Lord told Nehemiah what He wanted him to do.

This dovetails into the fourth element we find in Jeremiah 29:13-14. The Lord says, “I will be found by you.” That’s God’s promise, or the result of what happens when we seek the Lord with all our hearts. From another perspective—this is where faith kicks in. Earlier on we learnt that the Lord expects us to seek Him. Now, here is His promise—that we can expect to find Him, to hear from Him and to encounter Him. That is to say, pray EXPECTANTLY—pray with faith, believing we will see the Lord and hear from Him.

Lim Soon Hock Empowering Churches

Seeking God (Part 2): Importance of Alignment

(For Part 1 click here)

In the previous post I said that in order for us to do the God-thing, we need to hear from the Lord, and in order for us to hear from the Lord we need to seek Him.

The classic Scripture that is often quoted in reference to this is Jeremiah 29:13, “‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord….”

This was said in the context of a prophecy to the exiles about what they were to do while they were in Babylon and coupled with a promise that the Lord would bring them back to Israel (Jer 29:1, 4-9, 10-14). After the Lord had made known His plans to the exiles He then told them to “seek me.”

This whole scenario begs a question: why seek the Lord when He has already made His plans known to the exiles? It’s like knocking on your boss’s door when he had just told you what he wants you to do. If you did that you’d probably get an earful!

In the context of Jeremiah 29:13, obviously seeking God is not simply about hearing what the Lord has to say—they had just heard from Him. Seeking God in this case was about the exiles aligning themselves to Him and His purpose. It is one thing to know what the Lord wants—it is another thing to align ourselves to what He says.

 

Israel’s problem was not that they didn’t know what the Lord wanted. He had sent numerous prophets to bring them the “word of the Lord.” Israel’s problem was that she did not heed the word, and that was the reason for Jerusalem’s destruction and the Israelites taken into exile. The people were rebellious—they did not seek the Lord and align themselves to God and His purpose.

Patrick Morley (Man in the Mirror) says, “The turning point in our lives is when we stop seeking the god we want and start seeking the God who is.” An idol is precisely just that—a god we want, a god of our own making. And the Lord will not have us fashion Him after our own image.

“Seek Me” is still the word of the Spirit today no matter where you are in your spiritual journey. Whether you are a young believer or a mature Christian of many years. The same call also goes out to the corporate church—we must continually seek God so that we may not only hear what He has to say to us, but also that we may align ourselves to Him and His purpose.

Lim Soon Hock Empowering Churches

(For Part 3 click here)

Clarity

Short-sightedness, astigmatism, floaters and cataracts are eye conditions. When we have them they blur our vision—we can’t see things clearly. We consult an optometrist or an ophthalmologist, depending on the problem, to make a pair of eye glasses (or contact lenses) or to have laser eye surgery done. We do this because we want visual clarity—to see, to read, to drive, to enjoy the beauty around us.

The need for clarity is not just limited to our physical sight. Just as much, we need mental and spiritual clarity; and this, not only for the individual, but also for a corporate entity like the church. Without clarity, the people perish, may not be quite what the Bible says, but it is the truth! And I am afraid this happens all too often in the church, to the detriment of relationships and the church’s effectiveness.

Without Clarity

Without clarity there is confusion. The Senior Pastor makes decisions on matters like this? I thought it was the Chairman of the Board who makes the call.

Without clarity there is misalignment. My CG is studying the book of Jonah. I didn’t know that it was mandatory for all the CGs to do the study on “Unity” this month.

Without clarity there can be no efficiency. I’ve been walking around in the church building for the last 10 minutes because the signages are so poor, I can’t figure out where I’m supposed to be heading.

Without clarity there can be no teamwork. Chong Beng, you were supposed to bring the pizza. Joe was to bring the drinks. Now we have too much coke and no pizza for our Youth leaders’ meeting!

This is by no means exhaustive, and I am sure you can think of a few more nasty consequences that come from a lack of clarity in the church. Often it has to do with communication; that is, the poor quality and the ineffective means of communication. However, more serious is the lack of clarity at the source; that is, the people who are giving the instructions, making the decisions, leading the direction—they are not clear themselves. And, it is inevitable that they will not be able to provide clarity to others.

Areas That Need Clarity

Some of the areas that a church needs corporate clarity includes:

Clarity of purpose. Some churches don’t have a clear purpose about what they are doing or where they are heading. Those that do often just hang up their vision statement on the wall or emblazon it on their website’s homepage. But the leaders don’t talk about it or rally the people to pursue it. Fewer still have achievable and measurable goals to lead the members to fulfil what they like to do (or what they think the Lord wants them to do).

Clarity of Values. By values I don’t mean the church’s doctrinal beliefs. These are important, and no church should be without absolute clarity about their theological beliefs. However, the values I am referring to here are about a church’s organisational beliefs as a corporate body or group of people who have banded together to serve the Lord and His purpose. People will only stick together and work with one another to the extent that they share the same values. If they don’t, they won’t. Confusion in this area leads to uncertainty and disillusionment. Clarity and acceptance of the shared values is like glue that holds the team together.

Clarity of Philosophy of Ministry. Conflicts in the church today have very much less to do with doctrinal issues. Sometimes it is over values. But really, most times it is over the philosophy of ministry—the way things are done. Hence, if it is unclear it is a cause for misunderstandings and dragging-of-the-feet which can escalate into outright conflicts. Worship-wars is in part due to a conflict of philosophies of ministry. So is the multiplication of cell groups, the number of paid staff the church may engage, and the amount of money the church should save as against giving it away to support missions. Every church needs clear philosophies of ministry for all the critical areas of church life and organisation. (Read my earlier blogpost on Philosophy of Ministry here.)

Clarity in the Lines of Authority. This an obvious biggie! Who’s in-charge? Who’s responsible? Where does the buck stop? Who’s got the final say? Every church needs to get it right and make it absolutely clear to everyone.

Again, the above list is not exhaustive. But I hope it is plain enough that your church needs clarity! Here’s a point of application for you. What is one area in your church that lacks clarity? Work on it today. What’s unclear that needs clarity? Who are the stakeholders that should be consulted? Write three to five statements to provide clarity and get all the stakeholders to agree on them. Communicate it to the church clearly, repeatedly, creatively, and in as many ways as possible. Then repeat the process in another area. It will get you clarity and save you a lot of headaches and heartaches.

 

Team Management Model

The following is taken from Feeding & Leading by Kenneth O. Gangel, Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, 1989 (Chapter 1: Understanding Administrative Process, pp25-27). The diagrammatical presentation that he titled as “Team Management Model” shows what might be the best approach to the administrative-management-leadership when we take into consideration both “concern for people” (people-oriented) and “concern for production” (task-oriented).

Starting with the left bottom segment, Gangel wrote, “…1,1 or low-low with impoverished management. Here the administrative leader carries out only the minimal effort to do what is absolutely essential to keep the ministry going. He is low in both concern for people…and concern for production….

“Moving along the line to 1,9 the autocratic leader is heavy on authority-obedience. A pastor concerns himself only with what people can give to the church and insists they be there ever time the doors are open. He tends to be legalistic and demanding.

“His counterpart is 9,1, called by the creators of this chart country club management. Picture a pastor who lovingly relates to everyone while forgetting appointments, never preparing for business meetings, and failing to develop lay leadership. People may put up with him because they love him but they understand the church’s goals are not being achieved.

“On this model we don’t want to aim for the middle. To do so is to choose mediocrity. The 5,5 organization man management is probably a step ahead of the other three…but has not achieved the highest point on this chart which is 9,9—team management. Team leadership is the genius of the New Testament. Exemplified first in Jesus and the disciples, it continues in the ministry of the apostles both in the early church and all of the missionary journeys. It creates what Lyle Schaller calls “ownership” in the organization.

(For a brief biography and contributions of Kenneth O Gangel (1935-2009) you can go to the link here.)

Complementary Leadership Style Model

The following is taken from Feeding & Leading by Kenneth O. Gangel, Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, 1989 (Chapter 1: Understanding Administrative Process, pp23-25). The diagrammatical presentation he gives (below) is a great help in understanding various administrative/leadership styles. And how, with understanding, we can pull them together to provide a more balanced and complementary practise of leadership.

Gangel wrote, “Beginning with the lower left quadrant we see the amiable administrative style. Essentially giving a free rein in leadership, the amiable administrator tends to sit back, talk about people and feelings, and openly show reactions and emotions everyone can see. He is warm, approachable, and likeable, but a bit slow to act and undisciplined in time and procedures.

“Moving counterclockwise we find the expressive administrator whose heavy sentiment and empathy make him a feeling personality. He speaks quickly and easily to and about people, generally wants his opinions to be accepted, and appears generally impulsive, approachable, and warm. His major abilities lie in teaching, persuading, arousing enthusiasm, and communicating new ideas.

“The driving style administrator is the intuitive type we often associate with strong, natural leadership. Action-oriented, cool, competitive, and decisive, he wants to give the impression of being in charge an eager to led group process. As the visionary possibility-thinker of the organization, he looks ahead, nudges the group toward things which seem impossible, and furnishes the organization with new ideas.

“Finally we have the analytical or logical administrative style. He speaks slowly, cautiously, and often seems wrapped up in his own logic and argument. He’s interested in research and rarely like to act without a strong supply of facts and data within reach. He helps us to find flaws in group thinking, like to organize and reorganize, holds consistently to the policy handbook, and though no Christian leaders likes to do it, is the most adept t firing people when necessary.

“…Which one is the best? For the participation-oriented Christian leader, a constant pushing from an extreme toward the middle…the balanced middle brings together the best qualities of each style….

“But even more importantly the model shows us how administrative and leadership styles complement one another.”

(For a brief biography and contributions of Kenneth O Gangel (1935-2009) you can go to the link here.)

 

The Organised Church (Part 2): Critical Components of Church Organisation

In Part 1 I wrote about the need for pastors and church leaders to seriously look into the organisational aspect of the church. It is my observation that churches that fail to organise themselves well, despite the fact that they may be solidly founded on sound theology and/or pray a lot, disadvantage themselves,

The New Testament-mention of the spiritual gift of administration (1 Cor 12:28) underscores the importance for good organisation in the church. What’s the point of the gift if the Lord did not think that effective administration (organisation) of the church is necessary and important? The meaning of the root word in Greek for the gift of administration is connected to the work of a shipmaster or captain. The job then, of the person with this gift is to help steer or lead the church (or a ministry). If he is not the leader of the church, then his job is to assist the leader to develop strategies, organise the people and implement the process.

Broadly speaking, there are three critical components in the organisation of a church: structures, systems and processes.

  1. Structures

These refer to the organisational structures of the church, such as the leadership, departments, ministries, small groups and communications. (This list is not meant to be exhaustive. Similarly for the lists in “Systems” and “Processes” below.)

Let me flesh out a couple of examples to help you understand what I mean.

The leadership structure concerns matters like the lines of authority and communication; which is often presented in the form of an organisational chart. It also asks questions like: Who leads the leadership team? What is the role of the pastor and the chairman respectively? How is the pastor accountable to the church board? Is the church effectively led by one person or by a team?

In the broader context of the church it asks: What is the role of the congregation in making decisions? What kind of decisions does the congregation make?

With regards to the small groups structure: How is the ministry structured? Are the group leaders accountable to the pastor or to a small group ministry head? If there are a large number of small groups does the church divide them into areas (or zones)? Within each small group, are mature Christians assigned to care for younger believers?

  1. Systems

These refer to the working systems of the church, such as the financial, leadership, small group, worship service and assimilation of new people .

The first thing you probably noticed is that I have included leadership and small group here, even though I had already mentioned them under “structures”. That is because they (and others) are systems in the body of the church that must be properly structured.

Under “systems”, however, we ask a different set of questions. For the small group ministry the focus here is on the workings of the system. We want to know: What level of importance does the church place on the small group ministry? (Is everyone expected to be part of a small group? Is participation in a small group a pre-requisite for membership in the church?) Is the nature, purpose and programme of the small groups standardised or does each group have autonomy? Is attendance monitored? Are small group leaders expected to send in monthly or quarterly reports? Are small groups expected to multiply within a certain period? What is the church’s philosophy of small group ministry?

With regards to finances we are concerned about the efficient and effective collection of the members’ tithes and offering, proper recording of the collection, accounting of income and expenditure, and not just the proper use of church funds but their purposeful use to advance the Kingdom.

We ask the questions: How is the money apportioned? Does the church have a budget? What’s the financial and accounting policy of the church? How is the money collected (physically at worship services and/or bank transfers and/or credit card payments)? What is the procedure to count and record the collection?  Who can authorise a payment and what is the quantum? What policies are in place to ensure the purposeful use of church funds?

  1. Processes

These refer to the steps taken to accomplish an objective, such as the assimilation of new people, discipleship, and ministry and leadership development.

For example, pastors tell me that they want to make disciples, but when I ask them how they are making disciples, they cannot articulate it—either they don’t have a process in place or it’s so vague they cannot tell you. Every church needs to have a discipleship process. If you don’t have one you may start with Rick Warren’s “baseball diamond” found in his book, The Purpose Driven Church.

Disciple making, leadership development (read, raising up next generation leaders for succession planning) cannot be left ad hoc! Neither can we leave the assimilation of new people to chance. That’s the reason many would-be-additions to the church fall through the cracks. Every church needs well thought-out and workable processes for things like these.

Every church needs to be well organised. This will happen when pastors and church leaders do what is necessary to ensure that their church’s structures, systems and processes are efficient and effective. There is no one size-fits all because of the differences in the make-up of our churches. Start with the Bible. Study your own church. Learn from other churches. Get the leadership team to read and discuss one or more relevant books on the matter, and implement what is helpful. This is the road to the administrative health of your church.

Staff Retreat (Part 3): Envisioning

In Parts 1 & 2 I wrote about two of the three priorities for a Staff Retreat; namely, Prayer and Team Building. (If you have not read them yet, go to links here for Part 1 and Part 2). This final part focuses on the primary purpose of the retreat where the pastoral staff huddle down together to look at what needs to be done to strengthen the church to be healthier and to do better.

This may include planning, but the retreat is more than just about planning programmes for the coming year. It is more about the big-picture; where the church is at, where it is going and what needs to be done to get there. It involves looking at everything and anything that will help the pastoral team accomplish that. I will simply call it Envisioning.

I am using the term rather loosely here. It is not limited to crafting a vision statement. Of course, if a church does not have one, then this is among the very first things the pastoral team should pray and work on. If it already has a vision but requires a serious relook or just a bit tweaking, then an appropriate amount of time should be given to do what is needed at the Retreat.

Areas of Focus

The area of focus at each retreat will understandably be different. It depends on what the Senior Pastor discerns to be the need of the church during this season of its journey. Below are examples of what some of these needs might be:

  1. Drafting Vision and/or Mission Statements
  2. Determining Core Values
  3. Setting 5-year Goals
  4. Establishing Discipleship and Leadership Development Processes
  5. How to Retain Visitors and Close the Back Door
  6. Removing Growth Obstacles and Establishing Growth Strategies
  7. Developing Church Health
  8. Developing Church Culture
  9. Carrying Out Change

From my experience there is time for the team to deal with only one or two areas at any one retreat. This is because we want to be thorough, and secondly, because of the method employed for this kind of an exercise.

Methodology

The SP is expected to lead in the sessions, but the outcome should be a team effort. That means, the sessions are to be conducted in a way that allows for every team member to participate. A lot of time is to be given to collective brainstorming, discussion and sharing of opinions.

Putting up the ideas and insights coming from the different members with the use of “post it”, white board, flip chart and/or LCD projection is indispensable to aid clarity and to avoid misunderstanding.

In order to maximise the time at the retreat the SP should clue-in the team with the agenda. Some of the staff may be assigned to do some pre-retreat research and questions may be given to the team to guide their personal pre-retreat reflection. This will give everyone time to think, be better prepared and have more useful contributions to make at the Retreat.

Action Steps

The last thing any pastoral team would want is to go away from a retreat not really knowing what they have done or accomplished.

The Staff Retreat must end with clear conclusions, deliberate action steps for those areas where there is agreement, and outstanding matters noted for further discussion back in the office (perhaps, at the weekly pastoral staff meeting).

Summary Report

Within a week, preferably before the next pastoral staff meeting, the SP should have sent out a summary report of the Staff Retreat encapsulating the conclusions, action steps and outstanding matters. This document is to be the basis for further deliberations at both the pastoral and church leadership (eg. Church Board) levels until agreement is achieved. Following this the decisions and strategies are then cascaded to the members of the church for united action.

(If your church does not a team of pastoral staff, my recommendations for a Staff Retreat may be applied for a Church Leaders Retreat such as the Eldership team or Church Board.)

Staff Retreat (Part 2): Team Building

In Part 1 I wrote about the need of having an annual pastoral staff retreat, with envisioning, prayer and team building as priority on the agenda. If you missed this and my pointers on prayer you can read my post here.  

The second objective of a staff retreat is Team Building.

All pastoral staff are usually given a specific ministry for which he (or she) is personally responsible. While he may be the man in-charge of that ministry he is not, however, to function in a silo. It is very unfortunate that the latter is a common problem in many churches. This is true of both paid staff and unpaid volunteers. Too many church workers are focussed only on their ministry, they fight for the church’s resources for their ministry, they even pray just for their ministry—oblivious of the bigger picture.

It is critical that everyone works as a team, including the leaders across the various ministries of the church (and, leaders need to lead the way and show the way). The greater the unity the greater the effectiveness. The greater the bond between the workers the greater the unity. The better the understanding of one another’s ministry and how each adds to the health of the church the stronger the shared vision to advance the church.

The pastoral staff retreat is a wonderful opportunity to foster this very much needed team spirit. They set the tone and the example for the rest of the church.

How is this done?

Informal Chats

At a staff retreat bonding between staff can happen informally over meals or over a cup of tea during the “free hours”. In such an atmosphere it is natural to catch up on family, share about personal aspirations or even air personal ministry struggles. At a right moment with the right person, colleagues often easily open up to one another on deeper personal issues, which might otherwise be hidden away.

Programmed Exercises

While connections between staff members may happen spontaneously in the conducive atmosphere of a retreat, still, it is extremely helpful to schedule into the programme exercises for team building. The lead pastor or someone in the group may facilitate the exercises, but that may mean that that person will not be able to participate. At one retreat we invited a professional team builder to join us, and it proved to be very useful as all the staff could participate in the exercises.

In some of the staff retreats I had led, I had some time carved out in the programme to evaluate how we had done as a team. We asked questions like, What have we accomplished as a team? How would we rate the support we received from each other? How much do we know of each other’s personal and ministry challenges? What are some things we can do to strengthen our team spirit? The sharing helped us to understand and appreciate one another more.

Forging Together

The ultimate purpose of building team spirit among a group of colleagues is to enable them to work together effectively. Hence, it isn’t enough just to have social camaraderie over a cup of coffee or to bond during team building exercises. As the saying goes, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating,”—so, the test of the team is during those times when the team members work together.

The Staff Retreat is one such platform when this happens. This “planning” time calls for as much team work as when the team is carrying out a project for the church. Regardless of what’s up for discussion, each is to bring his (or her) contribution to the table, and together the team forge a united way forward for the common good of the church. This is part of the envisioning process which I hope to write about in Part 3 next week.

Staff Retreat (Part 1)

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.

PRAYER

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 Priority

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.

Prayer Agenda

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

  1. 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”.