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What’s the Purpose of our Retreats?


What’s the purpose of our Retreats?

During the Christians Engaged in Faith Formation (CEF) conference in Des Moines, Iowa in October 2018, I noticed speakers were emphasizing the distinction between being a church that is of service to its parishioners and being a church where parishioners are engaged in service. When people leave a church because “It was no longer service our needs” it portrays a church that offers services for our enjoyment or self-benefit. Conference speakers and workshop leaders challenged this mindset. Church isn’t a spa or a cruise ship with activities meant for our enjoyment, Church is a place where we are challenged to be the hands and feet of Christ in serve to the world around us.

I noticed this theme continued in a workshop I attended called “Leading ‘Grace-filled’ Retreats” by Rev. Sherry Johnson. Retreats are a fine balance of providing hospitality and pushing participants out of their comfort zone. Rev. Johnson emphasized that as we begin a retreat we must set up a space that meets people where they are – providing prevenient grace for the deep spiritual work ahead. Then she suggested a layout for a retreat schedule that brought participants together for multiple sessions of reflection on a single scripture passage (preferable with a focus on Jesus). Each time you come back together to look at the scripture you take a different study approach such as entering via different characters or different segments of the story. Then after meditating on the scripture the retreat can include moments of reflection individually in silence or with a partner. The goal is that through a set apart time of deep reflection we leave transformed and challenged by the word of God and one another.  Rev. Johnson said the ideal number of retreat participants was six people. 

After Rev. Johnson shared her model of “Grace-filled” Retreats, she opened up a time for questions. One woman asked about her churches “Women’s retreat” which consisted of prominent speakers, workshops, a masseuse, a catered meal, and hundreds of women fellowshipping together. You could feel the room change- though they both used the word “retreat” the intent of these two models seemed quite different.  Rev. Johnsons focused on deep analysis of scripture, perhaps leaving the participant feeling challenged with more questions then they came with; the “Women’s Retreat” focused on providing an experience that built friendships and provided stress-relief.

As you consider a retreat for your church, district, friends, or youth, consider what will be the goal of your time together. Retreats can take many different forms and serve many different purposes. How will your retreat help participants grow in faith and become better disciples?

Some resources highlighted by Rev. Sherry Johnson:

The Retreat Leader’s Manual: A Complete Guide to Organizing Meaningful Christian Retreats by Nancy Ferguson and Kevin Witt

Five Means of Grace: Experience God’s Love the Wesleyan Way by Elaine A. Health

Contemplative by Design: Creating Quiet Spaces for Retreats, Workshops, Churches, and Personal Settings by Gerrie L. Grimsley and Jane J. Young.

Companions in Christ: A Small-Group Experience in Spiritual Formation by Scott Gerrit Dawson

Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives by Wayne Muller

The Michigan Conference