skip to main content

Why Pastors and Church Leaders Need Retreats

You may have been involved in various forms of church ministry for many years. Maybe you have been on full-time staff, or you have been like the apostle Paul, who worked as a tentmaker to help pay the bills while fulfilling your ministry roles.

And during those many years of ministry, you may have asked, “What’s the point? Why work all these extra hours? Why carry what seems to be the full load of humanity's problems on your shoulders?” 

You may have thought about quitting or taking a break.

And then, after a while, you would bounce back. You would see the need again, remember the calling of God on your life and jump back into ministry once again. You would never really quit at all. You would just ponder on the thought before pushing that aside and continuing with what you knew God wished for you to do.

In order to continue, you, hopefully, would take a step back from time to time, consider your life, and reset priorities. You would take the time to get a fresh understanding of what God wished for your ministry. Maybe you would take time away from the ministry and set that time for your family and yourself. And then you would enter back into the fray with renewed strength and anointing.

There are pastors and church leaders all across the country who have experienced this and needs to retreat away with family or ministry team to collectively refresh themselves and prepare for the future in ministry together. 

Why Pastors and Church Leaders Need Retreats

There is one simple answer to this question of why pastors and church leaders need retreats. Because pastors and church leaders work hard at what they do, often in very difficult, life-changing circumstances, people need a vacation from time to time. But let us investigate this a bit more.

Even the Son of God Went On a Retreat to Get Away. 

As Christians, we believe that Jesus is the son of God. But we must remember that while he walked the earth as described in the gospels, he was also totally man. The gospels say that Jesus experienced everything that man experienced while on the earth and overcame it. 

We see in scripture that there were many times when Jesus would pull away from the people and his disciples as well to be with himself. During these times, he would pray and spend time alone to refresh his spirit as well as his body.

There were other times when Jesus would take his disciples away from the ministry they were involved with to refresh the entire group.  Let’s look briefly at three of these times.

The first can be found in Mark 6:31. He tells his disciples that they need to go to a deserted place away from people for a period of rest. We see later that when they reached this retreat location, the people were there waiting for them. So, on this occasion, the plan did not work as they had imagined.

For a second time, as recorded in Matthew 15, Jesus took the disciples to the region of Tyre and Sidon on the Mediterranean Sea to get away from the constant debating with the religious leaders in Jerusalem. 

On a third occasion, as written about in Mathew 16, Jesus took just his disciples on a men’s retreat to the headwaters of the Jordan River in a wilderness area away from anyone. During this time, we hear Peter declaring that Jesus was the Messiah. So, this retreat had far-reaching effects on the entire future of Christianity.

So, if Jesus understood the importance of taking a retreat away from the ministry, then pastors and church leaders should as well.

The past few years have been incredibly difficult for pastors and church leaders. During the past three years, we have experienced COVID, which shut down many churches across the country and forced church leaders to minister in alternative ways that they had very little or no experience with, including remote ministry, online services, and social distancing guidelines.

We have experienced increased economic problems, civil unrest, growing drug abuse, expanding poverty, increased immigration problems, and political and social unrest, to name just a few. And all the while, pastors and church leaders are dealing with these increased pressures on a day-to-day basis as they attempt to minister to their parishioners' spiritual, emotional, and physical needs.

Barna Research Group shows that nearly two in five pastors have considered quitting full-time ministry this past year.

With pastors’ well-being on the line, and many on the brink of burnout, 38 percent indicate they have considered quitting full-time ministry within the past year. This percentage is up nine full points (from 29%) since Barna asked church leaders this same question at the beginning of 2021.

This statistic shows a growing need for pastors and church leaders to take the time for self-healing and growth, to refill their spiritual batteries, so to speak, and taking a retreat as a church staff or family can be an important part of this process.

This statistic also shows the increased difficulty and stress of the past three years as church leaders have had to navigate the changing times. The research of Barna Group also illuminates the reasons given by pastors on why they are thinking of leaving the ministry.

Reasons Given by Pastors Leading to Burnout

Barna Group lists the reasons given by pastors in order of their importance.

  • The immense stress of the job.
  • I feel lonely and isolated.
  • Current political divisions.
  • I am unhappy with how this role affects my family.
  • I am not optimistic about the future of my church.
  • My vision for the church conflicts with the church’s direction.
  • My church is steadily declining.
  • I am not satisfied with my job.
  • I don’t feel equipped to handle the ministry demands.
  • I don’t feel supported by my staff.
  • I don’t feel respected by the congregates.
  • I have experienced a personal crisis of faith.

When you look at the number of reasons given for wanting to leave the ministry, you will see that 56% said that the stress of the job was their primary reason, and 43% said that they felt alone and isolated.  The lowest on the scale was the personal crisis of faith which was 10%. 

Congregations need to look at these reasons and then see if they can assist their own pastor and church leaders as needed. We must understand that our church leaders are people just as we are and have their problems, needs, weaknesses, and strengths the same as we do. 

We need to work together as a church family to ensure that our leaders are protected and nurtured in the same way that they protect and nurture us.

We can think of many churches over the years where the congregation expected the pastor to do everything. When someone is sick, the pastor better visit. When the plumbing breaks in the bathroom, the pastor needs to fix it before the next service. If the Christmas play is to be a success, the pastor needs to be at every practice. After all, that's why we pay the pastor, right?

Some churches enslave the pastor in such a  way, but there are church leaders that do it to themselves. They have problems with delegation. They have problems with letting go or trusting others to do the work of the ministry. In both cases, the church leaders will soon burn out and leave the ministry, but this should not be the case.

However, God gave us a better way.

Ephesians Chapter 4:11 "So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ."

Can you see in these scriptures that the church is a team, all working in their God-given gifts together to accomplish God’s work for each church body?  If we truly utilize the ministry model given to us in scripture, we can lower the burnout rate of our pastors and church leaders.

Working together as a church body is a very important step in reducing the stress levels of our pastors and church leaders; however, as Jesus showed us in scripture, there is a time when removing ourselves from the day-to-day stress of ministry is what is most needed.

And going on a designated retreat either individually or as a ministry team, can do wonders in improving a church leader spiritually, emotionally, and physically. As a ministry team, a staff retreat can energize the teams, build closer relationships, and prepare the team for new ministry growth in the future. 

As I stated before, we see Jesus taking the disciples away for a team retreat in the mountains, where they spent time together developing relationships; during this time, the disciples gained the lasting spiritual blessing of knowing who Jesus truly is. 

We see Jesus himself taking a break away from ministry to spend time together with God to rejuvenate his spirit. If the Son of God felt the need to do such a thing, who are we as leaders to say that we don't need to do the same?

So, we have seen factors that create burnout in pastors and church leaders. We have discussed how the congregation can assist with this growing need within our church leaders. Now let us focus a bit more on  the main point of this discussion, and that is:

Why Pastors and Church Leaders Need Retreats

You do a bit of research and most likely find books everywhere that answer this question, but there is one answer that may be the most important one. 

There is one simple answer to this question of why pastors and church leaders need retreats. Because pastors and church leaders work hard at what they do, often in very difficult, life-changing circumstances, people need a vacation from time to time.

Jesus himself went on personal and team retreats during his earthly ministry.

This is a very important yet simplistic answer to the question. If Jesus, who was God in the flesh, understood the importance of taking a retreat away from the stress of ministry, then we should, as in all things, model our own lives after the life of Jesus.

With that said, let us look at some practical benefits of taking a church leader staff retreat

Six Benefits of Taking a Staff Retreat

  1. Prayer: Taking the team to a secluded retreat center away from the normal ministry environment always provides an ideal setting for prayer. The team can spend time with God as individuals or as a group that will provide lasting, positive results.
  2. Understanding: In the process of team development, we must understand our fellow team members and take time just simply to get to know them better.
  3. Encouragement: The time spent together can be a great encouragement to the team. We can grow stronger together as we encourage one another through times of fellowship and fun.
  4. Education and Evaluation: We can spend time together learning new ministry skills. We can spend time discussing past successes and failures and learn from these experiences.
  5. Planning: We can take time together to cast a vision for the future of the ministry. 
  6. Forget for a time that we are church leaders: And most important of all: If all we wish to do at the retreat is to just spend time away from the ministry and enjoy the presence of family and/or church staff, then that is okay as well.

Being a pastor or church leader is a calling of God that requires the anointing of the Holy Spirit to truly be effective. There are times when all goes well, and we can see the fruits of the work that we do, which gives us strength and hope that the many hours are worth it. However, there are times when we can work and feel the stress of what we do.

God chooses to use us to carry out His mission on earth. God does not need us, but more importantly, God chooses to partner with us to do His work on earth. We must understand the fact that the hard part of the equation is God’s.  All we have to do is just be at the right place at the right time and allow God to flow through us.

But even knowing this truth, we sometimes allow the stresses of life to suck the energy from us, and we need to step back and take time to refresh our spirit, and there are times when taking a retreat away from everything is the right and only thing to do.

And High Peak Camp in Estes Park, Colorado, offers everything needed for your next pastoral care retreat.