I serve as a campus pastor on the East Side of Milwaukee. Recently our church added “Personal Retreat Days” for all full-time staff. Each staff member is required to set aside one full day each month for head, heart or hand issues. This means that a full day is dedicated to learning, praying, resting, thinking, reading, researching, serving, or being active in some way. We are encouraged to use the day purposefully and in a way that will revitalize us personally and advance some aspect of our ministry responsibility.
Having served at various churches, I have seen several churches that encourage or require such days. I think this type of policy represents the best kind of spiritual leadership. Ministry is hard and vacation is often used for family purposes. Often these days are special times to focus on things that sometimes feel like luxuries. Extended prayer should never be viewed as a luxury, and days like these encourage many of these activities to transfer to normal work days as well. Some of the most helpful ways I have found to spend such days:
Ministry (like any profession) can easily become a tyranny of the urgent. Forward planning is one of the most helpful things to guide daily efforts. I make sure to spend one of may days at the end of each year carefully planning my vacation, ministry, family and conference schedule. Simply having this overarching calendar in place helps me make decisions, see patterns, build yearly habits and stay ahead of what’s next.
Early in my ministry life the idea of praying for hours on end sounded crazy. Now I can’t wait until days of extended prayer. Don’t get me wrong, I still struggle with concentriaon. But I love prayer walking my neighborhood or the area around the church. Sometimes I am praying over projects and planning all at once. Soemtiems it is a mix of prayer and contacting. I spend time praying for a family and then reach out to them through email or a handwritten note to encourage them and let them know they were prayed for. Sometimes I read scripture or other material with extended prayer breaks. These breaks and the subject will blend together and I end up inviting God into the planning or learning process.
Active Resting in Nature
I guess this is my code word for hiking or sitting by Lake Michigan. Some of my most sould refreshing times occur in God’s wonderful creation. Psalm 19 doesn’t lie, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Time in nature always translates into greater clarity, peace, patience and increased awareness of God’s activity in my life and ministry.
If you’re considering adding days like these for your pastoral staff, do it! If your church offers you something like this, don’t waste it. Give it some thought and make them count. It doesn’t matter if you call them study days, study breaks, prayer days, personal retreats, prayer retreats, planning days, or even prayer and planning days. I like personal retreat days, but make it happen.