A Leadership Retreat for Busy LeadersSep 06, 2023
Blog by Alan Fadling
In 2016, our first year as Unhurried Living, I enjoyed the opportunity to train leaders in the Dominican Republic, Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, India, and Russia on four different trips. I remember each of those gatherings with gratitude, but the day with pastors and business leaders in Nairobi, Kenya, stands out to me as I reflect on that year.
After a week spent with leaders in Nigeria, I overnighted in Nairobi on my way to spend a week with leaders in Rwanda. A friend had arranged for me to lead a day retreat for a group of pastors of mostly large churches. We met at a bustling hotel in the center of town. They didn’t know me, but they were gracious enough to attend the Unhurried Leadership training day I was leading.
As usual, my main plan was to teach a bit, give the leaders some time in solitary reflection, and then regather to debrief about our time alone with God.
As we began, I could tell immediately that this was one harried group of leaders. They were distracted. Many of them received phone calls while I was teaching, answering them at their tables before getting up and walking out of the room. I didn’t feel I had anyone’s attention.
I could have been discouraged. I could have given up and “phoned it in.” I had raised funding so that I could give this day as a gift to these leaders. There had been no cost for them to attend. But I’ve been leading days like this for decades, and I had a deep hope and confidence that God’s Spirit would do something good and generous among us if I stuck to my intention.
Little by little, the group began to settle into the day. By the time we broke for lunch, they had begun to open up and engage a bit.
After lunch, I prepared them for 20 minutes of time alone with God. There were many other groups at the hotel, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. And my friend who had arranged this opportunity suggested that 20 minutes would probably be a stretch for them.
I sent them out with a simple instruction. I suggested they take to heart the simple prayer of the child Samuel: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” I suggested that when they found themselves distracted, they just offer that experience to God and ask for the Spirit’s help to remain focused and attentive.
While the pastors were scattered around the grounds, meeting with God in solitude, I prayed in faith they would have the capacity to hear the voice of God and experience a meaningful encounter with the Living God they served.
I wish you could have witnessed that group of pastors when they returned from those 20 minutes. The group had begun the day distracted, guarded, and rather formal, but now they were laughing together, open, and lighthearted, and to me they seemed full of holy energy.
I’ve had experiences like that more times than I can count with leaders all over the world. The main thing that happens in a retreat like this—whether it lasts 20 minutes or a few days—is that God meets with his people. Too many times in my early ministry, I talked about how important prayer is. I soon learned that the best gift I can give leaders is time and an opportunity to encounter God in solitude, silence, and prayer.
The Living God is a very good shepherd. Making space and time for Christian leaders to enjoy the unhurried presence of God has been the most fruitful thing I do in ministry. It often seems the least urgent, yet it is the most important thing in our work as Christian leaders.
- How might God be inviting you deeper into the practice of personal retreat, whether that’s already a rhythm for you or it’s a newer idea?