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.


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.


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”.

Staff Meeting

When a pastor has other staff working together with him (or her) he should, inevitably, have regular staff meetings. It baffles me when I come across churches that don’t do that. And unfortunately some of those who do don’t do it well.

Why do we need staff meetings?

The twin reasons are, to gel the team together and to put everyone on the same page. There is nothing like a shared time together as a team. Information may be passed from the leader to the others individually, but it will not foster team spirit. However, if the whole team were to think through (and pray through) issues together it would inculcate ownership and create resonance.

“Without a regular staff meeting, you will be like soloists who belong to an orchestra but who never have a rehearsal. They end up without harmony and without beautiful, heart-lifting concerts.” (Harold J Westing, Church Staff Handbook, p144).

In the church office there are two kinds of staff meetings.

  1. Staff Group Devotions

Some churches have it once a week, on the first day of work-week. Some have it every day, which I think might be too often. In a former church where I was the Senior Pastor we had it twice  a week, on Tuesdays (first day of work-week) and Fridays.

Typically it was in three parts: worship in song, devotional sharing from the Word and prayer. Everyone is put on a rota to lead in the singing or to share the devotions. Usually the prayer segment is preceded by sharing of personal prayer needs, church members’ needs known to us, upcoming church events and national issues.

This regular time together is certainly important for people who work in the same office. And if the church staff cannot model this, we certainly cannot expect it of the rest of the ministry teams in the church. Furthermore, to quote an adage (with some modification), the staff that pray together stay together. 

  1. Pastoral/Ministry Staff Meeting

In medium-size to large churches that have three to seven pastoral/ministry staff one set meeting a week should be the norm. In mega churches with a few levels of pastoral and ministry staff there will be further divisional or departmental meetings, and including the top level SPO (Senior Pastor’s Office) comprising of the Senior Pastor and a few of the most senior members of the pastoral team.

There are so many things that may be brought to the table at the pastoral staff meeting that we can easily miss the forest for the trees. It is important to keep the main purposes of the meeting constantly in focus:

  • Informing. To bring everyone up to speed on what’s going on in the church and ministries.
  • Uniting. To discuss issues and get everyone on the same page. Reading and discussing a church ministry book together will help the team develop a common philosophy of ministry. This is critical in church work (read my blog on Know Your Philosophy of Ministry dated 27 Aug 2017).
  • Evaluating. To evaluate how the church is doing and determine what needs to be done to correct and to advance.
  • Planning. To work out the plans and steps to do what needs to be done
  • Acting. To assign responsibility to one of the pastoral staff to take action.

Regular and well-led staff meetings are important because they have a rippling effect on the well-being of the church. The lead pastor needs to sharpen his tools to do a good job with this.

A Critical Factor When Engaging New Staff

The usual things that church leaderships look into when getting a new pastoral staff is his (or her) character, his beliefs vis-à-vis the doctrinal distinctives of the church, and the match between his giftings with the specific role to be filled. Let’s just call them Character, Convictions and Competencies. If these are rated at a good level, the new staff is engaged and then, thrusted upon the Pastor to manage. In some cases, over time, it becomes clear that the new staff cannot work with the Pastor. This could be due to a number of reasons, such as differences in vision and philosophy of ministry, and a fourth “C” element, Chemistry.

This must be avoided. A gifted staff who cannot “flow” with the Pastor is counterproductive.

To pre-empt this, it is critical that the candidate understands and accepts the church’s direction and way of doing ministry. Which, presupposes that the church leadership have already worked out, agreed on and are clear about where the church is going and how it’s going to get there. The potential staff’s recruitment is to help the church meet those goals, not to go cross grain to them. If he does not buy into it, it is suicidal to recruit him. A staff disaster is simply waiting to happen.

Furthermore (and this is hardly ever taken into consideration in most churches), since the vision and philosophy of ministry of the church are largely shaped and communicated by the Pastor, it follows that he should have the determining say in the recruitment of a team member. Another reason is because the Pastor is the primary person who will be relating, working and managing the new staff; not the church leaders. He must feel that he is able to work with the prospective staff and vice-versa.

This does not mean that the Pastor alone has the responsibility and authority to hire and fire. The input and opinions of the other leaders are equally important, but the Pastor should never be pushed to accept a candidate whom he views negatively. To force a staff on the Pastor will inevitably lead to poor staff relationships and poor ministry performances all round; and eventually a crisis in the church when things blow up.

If you are a Pastor, don’t take on a new pastoral staff out of desperation. You have to make sure that he (or she) is a good fit with your team, and with you in particular; that he is able to flow with you. If you are a church leader, don’t compel your Pastor to take on a person whom he has reservations. Finally, if you are a candidate for a pastoral staff position be very certain that you can flow with the Pastor’s vision and philosophy of ministry. If you can’t, then don’t accept the position even if it is offered to you. It will save everyone, including yourself, a lot of headache and heartache.