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Dangers of Encounter
by Joel Comiskey
We’ve looked at the positive aspects of Encounter Retreats but what about the dangerous side? One key danger that we’ve already mentioned is straying from the Word of God and entering into strange psychological regression based on emotion rather than Scripture. Encounters are not a secret, magical, gnostic experience in which the person receives a secret formula that perfects him or her forever. We must remember that the process of sanctification is for a life-time. We won’t be perfect this side of heaven. Apart from the danger of straying from Scripture, allow me to mention two more potential problems:
1. Placing too much hope that an Encounter will forever change someone.
Sometimes we put too much stock on “Encounter type” experiences but forget that the Christian life is lived daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and over a lifetime. In my book An Appointment with the KingI wrote the following:
God has granted me the opportunity to study and visit some of the largest churches in the world. One phenomenon I’ve noticed in many of these churches is the growing interest in weekend retreats, often called Encounter with God retreats. The purpose of these retreats is to break the bondages and strongholds of sin in a person’s life so that he or she can walk in spiritual freedom.
When I attended my first Encounter retreat, God worked powerfully and I confessed strongholds of bitterness and anger, as well as other sins. God transformed my life, and I experienced an incredible new freedom and liberty.
Yet, as the months passed, I noticed that I still struggled in some of these areas. I realized that in order to remain free, I needed to approach God on a daily basis, confessing any reoccurring sin. God showed me that I needed the strength of my daily quiet time to walk in continual victory.
Camps and retreats are great. God uses them to speak to us clearly and powerfully. But there’s a danger in living today on a yesterday’s one-time experience. We need to walk in daily repentance.
I believe the daily Christian walk of sanctification (e.g., personal devotions, walking in the Spirit, etc.) is far more important than the occasional jump-start of a retreat.
2. Over-emphasizing the Encounter to the detriment of the other parts of the equipping process (training track)
I’ve seen this happen in cell churches. They became so excited about the Encounter Retreat that they forgot that the Encounter is simply one step in the Equipping process. They become stuck on Encounters and fail to get the people through the rest of the training and into cell leadership. One church got so excited about the Encounters that their main Sunday announcement was getting people into the Encounters. The church’s effort and resources became absorbed into paying for Encounter Retreats, recruiting people to attend, and then advertising what happened. I noticed that the cell structure began to weaken and go backwards instead of forward.
Remember that Encounters are simply one link in the chain, one part of the cell system. The goal is to make disciples who make disciples through the cell system–of which the Encounter Retreat is just one part. What has been your experience in balancing Encounters with the rest of the cell system?