The church staff I serve with is on our annual ministry team retreat, down here in South Carolina’s low country. Some of the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen, with coastal forest blending into dunes that lead down to an inland beach. We can see porpoises moving through the water and a favorite pastime, when we’re not in meetings, is observing the crabs along the sand.
We’re at a retreat center called Camp St. Christopher, a rustic nature preserve on the end of Seabrook Island. Of the different locations we’ve gone for our retreats down through the years, this has turned into our favorite. It’s simple, quiet, prayerful and hospitable. Everyone on staff looks forward to coming here.
Keeping a church staff motivated, engaged and purposeful takes a lot of effort. Don’t get me wrong—these are godly and effective ministers. In fact, there’s such friendship among the people I serve with that our meetings are usually filled with laughter and the kind of good feelings that come only when people really like each other.
But the demands of leading a large, diverse church within a fast-paced culture mean that if we don’t pay regular attention to just sitting still and listening, we’ll lose touch with each other, the larger church we serve and the spiritual energy and creativity that comes from a close and authentic connection with God.
So each year we get away, set in a conference room, and talk nonstop for three days. What do we talk about?
- We talk about our individual ministries—how they’re organized, how they’re doing, what problems we might be having, dreams for their future growth.
- We talk about our church’s broad vision and how we can better lead our people forward into that vision.
- We talk about the challenges our church faces and how we can meet them.
- We talk about changes we need to see at our church and how to lead our people through the changes.
I used to meticulously plan these kinds of retreats. I’d get to the conference center with an agenda, a schedule and a list of expectations. I guess those earlier retreats accomplished something—but looking back on them now just makes me tired.
Instead, our approach now is much more free-wheeling and authentic. This year I arrived with a general idea of a few things we needed to address but very little detail on how to address them. Instead, our staff has such a high trust level that I can just introduce a topic and the round-table discussion that results is much more productive than the canned agenda I used at one time. Everyone weighs in; everyone listens; everyone brings their unique voice to the discussion. It’s fun, energizing and often filled with surprises.
Most importantly at our retreats is the unforced, leisurely time we have to pray together. Prayer is foundational to our church and to our ministry team—all of us who minister together are praying people. But the opportunities to be quiet and still before the Lord without the worry of the next appointment or meeting are few and far between in local church life. So we cherish those moments when we can do that.
Here at Camp St. Christopher there’s a small chapel with a simple wooden altar. The wall behind the altar is made of picture windows looking down through oak trees and sea oats to the beach. It’s a perfect place to gather at the close of the day, watch the sun go down and pray. We worship, encourage each other, read Scripture and pray for our church. Maybe more than anything else we do, these kinds of moments are what make our ministries possible.