Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I was privileged to participate in a pastors’ retreat held recently in Hickory, North Carolina. Hosted by Regional Pastor Paul David (PD) Kurts, it provided time away for rest, rejuvenation and relationship building. This retreat was one of several being conducted throughout the U.S. in 2015 for lead pastors and their spouses (with a few locations accommodating associate and assistant pastors).
As seen in the pictures below, the agenda at the Hickory retreat included a couple of general sessions (top picture) and lots of time for fellowship and informal discussions. One of the highlights of our time together was when PD asked for personal (family-related) prayer requests and people volunteered to pray for one another on the spot. I was reminded of just how much our pastors need what these retreats provide.
While I was in Hickory, Greg Williams (CAD Director) was participating in the pastors’ retreat in Green Lake, Wisconsin hosted by Regional Pastor Rick Shallenberger (see the group pictured below). Greg was also pleased with the relaxed retreat agenda, with only two general sessions. On Saturday morning, pastors were asked to set aside their pastor “hats” to share about their personal lives and to pray for one another. The rest of the day was free. On Sunday morning, pastors were asked to put aside the needs of their congregations to share about their personal needs as pastors. The retreat began and ended with communion. The response to the entire event was very positive.
This year, rather than holding regional conferences focused on resourcing and training pastors and other church leaders, we opted to hold these pastors’ retreats. Our primary goal in doing so was to affirm our pastors and their spouses, letting them know how much we appreciate them, and giving them time to rest, rejuvenate and build relationships.
All three of these elements are vital. Lead pastors work long hours serving their congregations and need time off to rest and recharge. Many are bivocational, which means that in addition to pastoring a church, they are employed in another full-time job. Some haven’t taken a vacation in years. This is not what we expect or desire.
Lead pastors (and other elders and ministry leaders), please take good care of yourselves! You are important—to me, to others in our home office, to your regional pastor, to your congregation, and most importantly to your family. A few weeks ago here in GCI Weekly Update, I wrote about how pastors are under-shepherds for Christ with an important responsibility to lead, protect, feed and care for God’s beloved sheep. However, I fear that in fulfilling that responsibility, some fail to exercise common sense in caring for themselves and their families. As a fellow elder, let me offer some brotherly advice:
- Take time off. Your congregation will survive without you for a week (maybe even two!). Go on vacation, and get away from home if possible. Sometimes we think we can’t afford a vacation, but there are low- or no-cost retreats designed for pastors and their spouses (see some listed at www.gci.org/pastoral/support). When you go, leave behind sermon notes, theology books and professional journals—disconnect from your vocation. If you have other mature leaders who can fill in for you, consider taking a short sabbatical (you can discuss this possibility with your RP). Time away helps pastors remember an important truth: the congregation doesn’t belong to them (or anyone else)—it belongs to Jesus. If a congregation falls apart because the pastor is gone for a week, there likely are underlying church health issues that need attention.
- Balance family and church. It’s easy to get priorities mixed up—I know, I’ve made this mistake at times over the course of my own ministry. Perhaps you’ve heard it said that pastors should put God first, then family, then ministry. But God doesn’t want you to put him above your family—he wants you to recognize that he is part of who your family is. Your relationship with God cannot and should not be separated from your relationship with your family. Your relationship with God and family, however, should never be set aside to meet your pastoral responsibilities. Your spouse and children need to have time with you apart from church and church-related events.
- Build relationships outside the congregation. You often don’t have to look beyond your neighborhood to find someone to talk with, share ideas with, even share a hobby with.
Pastors, I hope you find the pastors’ retreats helpful in providing time and space for rest, rejuvenation and relationship building. Please look for other opportunities to get away to receive from God his peace, love and joy. While we all know the importance of doing so—a year (or longer) can go by without taking time to get away. All of us in the home office, along with your regional pastor love you, value you, and want you to take care of yourselves. We pray often for you and we’re willing, in love, to gently admonish you to take care of yourselves and your families.
Feeling rejuvenated (though way out of my time zone!),
PS: I was blessed last week to visit with GCI Pastor Augustin Kanu and his wife Christiania (pictured with me at right). Along with Augustin’s brother Emmanuel, they joined me for lunch and a tour of our home office in Glendora. Augustin pastors our Mbaise, Nigeria congregation. In May we held our Pan-African Pastors’ Conference in South Africa. Unfortunately, our Nigerian delegation could not attend because they were denied visas. So it was extra special to have one of our Nigerian pastors visit us just a few weeks later. The Kanus traveled to the U.S. to attend their son’s college graduation in Colorado.
PPS: As this letter goes out, I’m in Australia. Last weekend I visited our Perth congregation. Here is a picture of the worship service:
Part of the blessing of visiting the Perth congregation was spending time with Mohan Jayasekera, who pastors the congregation and directs our ministries in Sri Lanka. Here is a picture of us together: