Personal Retreats

joel;I talked with a pastor who was struggling with personal problems that were affecting his pastoral work. His huge outside difficulties were placing enormous strains on his daily ministry.God blessed the church’s cell ministry in spite of the problems, and it grew slowly and steadily. But I noticed that the underlying personal struggles were taking a toll on his minsitry. “I’d be willing to leave the pastorate, if it would help,” he told me. Yet, his board of elders and those closest to him encouraged him to stay on, because they knew the situation and believed in him. This is a good sign, I thought to myself. His elders know everything and yet want him to stay.

I didn’t talk with the pastor for awhile, and just recently spoke to him again. I noticed a complete change in his voice, a new vibrancy in his attitude, and new hope in ministry. His personal problems had not changed drastically, but he seemed like a different person. “I’ve been taking some personal retreat times,” he told me. “I realize that I need to be refreshed by God in order to make it in the long haul. I’ve committed myself to schedule more spiritual retreats in the next year. I believe this is the key to pick me up in spite of my personal difficulties,” he said. I rejoiced with him for this new discovery.

The bottom line is that long-term ministry requires periodic breaks. Yes, our daily devotional times give us continual strength, and I believe all God’s people need to take a 24-hour day off each week. Beyond those basic refreshment times, we need periodic spiritual retreats.

I just came off my own yearly personal retreat. I’ve been doing this each year for the last twenty-six years. My pattern is to fast and pray for 2.5 days, rent a hotel room for one-night, review my diaries from the past year, and then try to make sense of it all. I ask myself key questions:

  • What are the patterns in the past year?
  • What were the significant events?
  • How did last year compare to the previous year?

And then I hone in on the vision God is giving me for the next year. In my case this involves: God, wife, family, personal vision, JCG, fund-raising, seminars, coaching, and Wellspring. I write down what God shows me, and it serves as a guide for the upcoming year. One of my goals for this next year (September 2009 to August 2010) is to have an additional, shorter personal retreat in February 2010, rather than waiting for one entire year. These retreat times provide refreshing, retooling, and fresh vision.

What about you? What has worked for you in the area of refreshment and retooling?

Joel Comiskey

19 thoughts on “Personal Retreats

  • Joel, I agree completely with what you have to say. Over twenty-eight years of pastoral ministry I have done my best to take personal time, apart from vacation with family, to get away alone, focus on prayer, reading, meditation and personal evaluation. I always appreciated the silence- no television or radio to disturb. I could also look ahead and plan as well if I had enough time for that. But my main emphasis was space alone with God. It was either an old cabin in the woods or a friends cottage by the ocean. I would recommend it to anyone in ministry, especially someone just beginning, to help develop a good personal spiritual discipline.

  • Thanks, Forrest, for your comments. I, like you, like the quietness–no TV, etc. You’ve made it a habit in your life–like myself, and “would to God” that younger ministers would do the same thing. . .

  • Good advice. I regret the organization I formerly belonged to didn’t practice or encourage pastors to take these necessary breaks. The old-school work, work, work was the emphasis place upon leadership. Ministers Seminars only took up your time and cost money to attend.

  • I wrote this recently for our congregation and posted it on FB:

    How to spend a day in prayer…Share
    Monday, June 29, 2009 at 3:29pm | Edit Note | Delete

    On June 22, I spent my annual day in prayer. Throughout the four years that I have practiced this discipline, many people have asked me, “How do you spend an entire day in prayer?” Let me share some of what I have learned with you.

    First, this is not a day filled with a plan. If you know me well, you must be scratching your head – “What? Merry does not have an itemized list of plans for this day?” The answer is, “No. I have learned to let God plan the day.” The only plans I make are where I will spend the day, the book(s) I will bring, and the audio book I will listen to in the car. Other than that, I let God plan the rest of the day.

    Second, the day is to be spent in solitude. That means I cannot spend the day at home; I can bring a phone with me in case of emergency, but I may not use the phone for any other purposes; I cannot bring anyone else with me. Solitude is a quiet time for reflection, meditation, and prayer. The purpose of solitude is to be attentive to God and spiritual things. It is a time of self-evaluation – a time to evaluate your life, your goals, your accomplishments, and your failures. Instead of having a list of requests of/ questions for God, solitude is designed for you to hear from God. Empty your mind, and let Him speak to you – write down any thoughts that come to you while you are reading, walking, or just sitting. Don’t try to make sense of them right away. Just write them down as they come. When the day is done, read through all the notes. Is there a continuous theme in all the notes? Is God making you aware of something? Is God trying to warn you about something? Keep the notes somewhere. Refer back to them from time to time. They may make more sense after a while.

    Third, you need to spend some time in meditation, clearing your mind of the things of this world in order to focus on the things of God. I used to think that I was not able to meditate, but I learned that I could. Let me ask you…are you able to worry? If you can worry, you can meditate! Worry is obsessing about something or someone. Meditation is obsessing about the things that are important to God. Here are five different suggestions for a time spent in meditation:
    1. Focus on some aspect of creation – a plant, cloud, flower, ocean, bird, etc. Examine it – look at it from every angle. Notice its shape, color, size, detail. Try to imagine God designing it, Jesus creating it, and the Holy Spirit beautifying it.
    2. Focus on a certain passage of scripture. Try to picture every detail, person, and perspective on that passage.
    3. Focus on going to a particular place – what do you see, smell, hear, feel, taste?
    4. With a newspaper story in hand, focus on the events in detail. Try to see the event from the perspective of each of the people involved.
    5. Focus on the sufferings of Christ and His crucifixion.

    I usually spend my day outdoors somewhere special. I set aside 8 hours for my day in prayer. The time begins in the car, driving to the destination, listening to an audio book by a Christian apologist or an audio bible. At the destination, I do some walking, some reading, and some writing. The book(s) will be on prayer, and I will have my bible handy for reference. I write down ideas/insights that come as I mentioned above. Then, on the way home, I continue to listen to the audio books.

    I encourage you to spend a day in solitude, meditation, and prayer. If 8 hours seems too long, try another amount of time. Once you begin the discipline, you will soon find that you look forward to such a time, and 8 hours will not be long enough!

  • Joel,

    I agree. In fact I’m retreating from bringing next Sunday’s message. We will have a guest speaker — Ben Wong from Hong Kong (via the video of his presentation at the symposium) and will give our cell leaders a retreat next week with ‘movie night’ in cells watching the comedian named Nazereth (on DVD).

    And, I’m learning the importance of ‘having fun’ and the importance of reminding EVERYONE of our church leaders to ‘have fun’ when engaged in the ministry of the church.

    Sharing the Journey,
    Rick & Becky Diefenderfer

  • This is such an important aspect of longevity and focus. I am learning now that these Sabbath days and personal retreats are even more important in church planting. Life has become more busy and that is reflected in my schedule, my exhaustion, and my family time. In order to counter-act this… I have requested accountabilty from my wife and to those closest to me concerning this area of my life and ministry.

    In this busy season of my life… My commitment to Sabbath obedience is typically the first thing to go “out the window”.

    The truth is that it’s now become even more important.

    Thanks for the re-reminder Joel!

  • Thanks joel for your article! It has blessed me a lot! Due to the many denominational pressures we faced and the demands from our congregation we at many times forgot that the most essential parts of our calling is to setback and relax, listening on the voice of our master and always lay our head close to hear the beating of His heart. We sometimes put more value on the things we’re doing for Him than the time we should ought to spent with Him! Thanks for the reminders!

  • Joel, Thanks so much for this insight and reminder. Prior to experiencing Hurricane Katrina here in New Orleans, I regularly took retreats away to calm my soul, strengthen my relationship with the Lord, and hear from the Lord. Since Katrina, however, I’ve gotten so caught up in the rebuilding of our city, our congregation and our church facilities that I haven’t prioritized personal retreats. Thanks for being the “voice of the Lord” speaking to me today.

    Dennis Watson – Celebration Church of New Orleans

  • Actually I have a confession to make here in light of the topic. Although it was not a personal retreat (long term) but a short personal retreat, I left prayer meeting early tonight to go play basketball. You know what I had a lot of fun!

    Ok please don’t report me now!

    Eric Miller

  • Joel

    Thank you so much for this articule to have a personal retreat, to me this is awosome, Is reminded me of the eagle they take five months to get renew. I really need to do something like that, I belief it will be a wonderful thing to do to lift up my spiritual life. I REALLY LOVE IT. THAT IS A BLESSING.

  • Pastor Joel,

    Thank you for sharing. I need one quality time with God.. I guess I will force myself to have a personal retreat.. please pray for me.. pastoring is exciting.. and very tiring as well..

    God bless you.


  • Hi, Joel! We’ve met here in Hong Kong (Cell Church Conference). Thank you for your article that reminds me about spiritual retreat. I’ve been in the ministry for seven years now and I haven’t had a decent break for myself.
    I’ll take what you’ve shared here and see what will happen.

    Thanks again Joel. It has blessed me a lot! May the LORD continue to bless you, your family and ministry.

    Ptr. Michael Magaling
    Rivers of Living Water
    Christian International Ministries
    Hong Kong SAR

  • Hi Joel,
    I just preached this past Sunday on our priorities:
    Our relationship with God, spouse and family, ourselves, church, job and
    bunisness. Taking time for ourselves is much needed. Our button can not be
    on go forever, even Jesus sat time to get away and relax and commune with God. I thank the Lord for you Joel, your wisdom, and for the impact you had at our church Conference. Thanks again!
    Pastor Norman

  • Jesus told the disciples to come apart and rest awhile. He prayed all night

    and he fasted and prayed. In the Antioch church they fasted and prayed and

    the Holy Ghost led them on their missions. In this day and time it is so

    neglected and when we as a body reincorporate prayer and fasting in our

    retreat time and ministries as a whole Holy Ghost atomic explosion will result.

    I am so elated about the cell group ministry and the first century Antioch

    model; we can truly turn the world upside down. Our Pastor Dr. Eric Lambert

    who supports the cell initiative has been ministering about a return to the

    old way and a change in the way we do things. Revival is a form of vacating

    into the spirit for; the battle is the Lord’s Thank God for men with vision.

    Because of Calvary

    Evangelist H. Cornell HUdson

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