My time at a recent pastors retreat.

On retreat we are invited to “hear God’s invitation to rest and learn what we must relinquish in order to do that.”- Ruth Haley Barton.

At the end of October I attended a two-day pastors retreat put on by Linda Gist and her ministry Rhythms of Grace in Sacramento. Linda and her team have been leading these retreat for the last few years. Below is a little about my time at the retreat, but first a little background:

A year and a half ago I was listening to the Renovare podcast and heard an episode on the necessity of retreats for pastors. The podcast was compelling and touched on a weary place in my soul. Near the end of the podcast, Linda, who was being interviewed, mentioned that she was in Sacramento and my heart leapt. Rachel and I went to lunch with her and her husband Chris and we struck up a friendship. Rachel attended one of her retreats back in April and then  joined the team. For the retreat that just happened Rachel curated prayer experiences and offered spiritual direction to attendees.

My experience at the retreat:

Over the past few years in ministry, I have come to highly value the power of retreats. Whether it is for just one day or a few, the chance to step out of the day-to-day and focus my attention fully on the Lord is a true gift.  It is also a rare gift. It’s not often that we get to silence our phones and emails, and our never ending to-do lists to simply pray and be. This retreat came at the tailend of a busy ministry season full of teaching, writing and editing a small group curriculum, launching new small groups and other initiatives. The timing couldn’t have been better. I have become more and more convinced of the necessity of this in ministry. It's not automatically built in to our schedules, and the pressing demands of life can easily pull us away from the all important ministry of connecting with God.

Most of the retreats that I have gone on over the last few years have been self-directed, meaning that I just choose the date(s) and location and what I want to focus on and go do it. It was a great change of pace to attend a retreat led by someone else, especially someone with such a passion and gift for caring for pastors in this way. I had gotten so used to ‘putting on’ my own retreat, that I didn’t realize how much energy I put into formatting it for myself. It can take a lot of work to decide how you want to spend your time, what you want to focus on, what practices you will engage in, what book(s) you might bring and discerning what you hope to walk away with. My personal tendency is to try to do much. It may seem odd for a retreat, but I can easily enter in wanting to accomplish too much. But attending Rhythms of Grace was an opportunity to just show up and be present. I didn’t have to choose the dates or the location or the schedule. That was a blessing in itself.

The retreat center was beautiful and just entering the grounds feels like entering into a new world. The retreat center is actually located in middle of a suburb outside Sacramento, but the sprawling grounds, and the trees created a beautiful and peaceful environment.

The format was a great blend of teaching, practice, community and alone time with God. The teaching was centered around living life with God, as opposed to for God or simply under God. The teaching led into experiences or long reflective spaces or alone time with God. It wasn’t teaching merely for the purpose of learning, but rather teaching that led into an encounter with God. The teaching was shorter and there to guide our times with God. For example, on the second morning, Linda taught on the value and need for silence in our lives to hear from God and then sent us out for a few hours of silent time with God.

Another great experience at the retreat was the blend between alone time with God and community time. Each day had a few hours for time alone with God. In our gathered sessions though, we weren’t just looking forward learning or answering questions. Three communal moments stood out to me. In our opening session, we broke into groups of three and did a visio divina on an icon of the Trinity. Visio Divina is the practice of slowly praying as we reflect on a visual image. This practice isn’t in my wheelhouse and so if I had done it alone, I would have missed a lot. As we prayed through it, hearing the insights, reflections and the scriptures that came to mind from my group members was insightful and gave me space to see how each member of our Triune God was active in my life, walking alongside me and leading me. Later that afternoon, we broke off into pairs to discuss, “Where are you right now? ” My new friend, who I just met that day, and I had a very vulnerable and encouraging conversation. It was a moment that I wished had lasted longer. It was a reminder of the need to have people to process with and walk alongside of one another. You could feel the Lord’s presence as we shared with each other and prayer for one another. The final communal experience that stood out to me was near the end of our retreat. We were given space to reflect on where God might be leading us next as we close out the retreat and step back into our normal routines. Was there anything God was inviting us into the next season? Any new rhythms or practices to engage with? Any changes the Lord was inviting us to make? After having space to pray and reflect individually, we broke into groups of three and shared with each other a prayed for each other. It was a beautiful space to sum up our retreat time.

I can’t speak highly enough of the need for retreats and unhurried, unhindered space with God.

My hope is that you will:

  • Take time for a retreat. Even if it is just for a day.

  • Consider attending a guided retreat. If you are a ministry leader near Sacramento, I can’t recommend Rhythms of Grace highly enough. Check out their website for upcoming dates. Or keep an eye out on our website. Rachel and I will be putting a few on during the year. If you don’t live near us, find one in your area or message us.

  • Read Invitation to Retreat by Ruth Haley Barton