I met Cal Huge in the living room of the Inn, a retreat center where we were attending Train to Reign, a program for spiritually depleted pastors and their families. He had been responsible for hundreds of people in an international ministry, and the two-year calendar he carried in his Day-Timer had felt like a thousand-pound weight on his head. When I said hello, he didn't look up. He only stared at the floor and rocked in his rocking chair.
A couple of days later, as we sifted soil through a screen in the center's garden, Cal remarked, "It feels so good to do something that takes no mental effort."
Twelve weeks later, I watched him play basketball with his teenage boys, hold hands with his wife, smile and engage in meaningful conversations. He wasn't totally out of the woods, but was nearing the edge. After the program was over, Cal spent a short stint working part time at a local high school, then nine years as headmaster of a large Christian school. Today he is waiting for God's next assignment, "Too often leaders use the tools of the world to grow their church [not the Lord's]," Cal says. "We talk about how we are out doing great things for God. I did! Yet it's rather arrogant to think that He needs us. What the time at the Inn really showed me was that God did not care what I did for Him. Rather He cared who I was and what I was to become. Was I to become more like Jesus, or just do lots of stuff?"
The Inn Cal refers to is actually Christian Training Center International (CTCI) in Franklin, N. C., founded in the early '70s by Jay and Sally Fesperman as the Inn of the Last Resort. Group interaction, messages, devotional times, physical labor and recreation under the loving direction of Fesperman (now deceased) and Larry Pons changed Cal's life.
Some retreat centers, such as CTCI, offer structured programs designed for pastoral couples or families in crisis, when immediate change must occur for the sake of both the church and the individuals involved. Whether a pastor has failed morally, feels burned out or can no longer function in his ministry position, counseling is built into the program to help in the healing process. Often, trained counselors and psychologists are available to provide additional guidance and treatment.
On the other end of the spectrum, settings like Living Water Worship and Teaching Center in Cottonwood, Ariz., invite ministers to simply get away and unhinge from the pressures of ministry. Whether you want to hike, sit by a fire, fish or swim, or enjoy the scenery, room and board is provided, but you set your own schedule and pace for your stay.
Other retreats offer varying combinations of structure and leisure with counsel. Depending on your situation, you determine the right place for you and your family.
Sometimes caring individuals, such as church board members or relatives, may insist we take a respite because our lives are spinning out of control. Bob and Sandy Sewell, founders of SonScape Re-Creation Ministries, a retreat center in Southern Colorado, call this out-of-control feeling the "overwhelmings." A focus of their center, in addition to providing time for reflection and relaxation, is to help pastors and families learn what they call the "holy rhythm of life."
The SonScape staff makes fun activities a priority in the prevention of burnout. They recognize the need for work, play, rest and worship, and they stress the importance for making room in our lives for each one.
While some programs are underwritten by private grants and foundations, church boards or congregations are often willing to help. You may also ask for paid leave or use vacation time. After all, wouldn't it be better to use your time and money in such "sanity maintenance and repair" than wind up unable to minister because of burnout or brokenness? It's a valuable investment — both for you and your church — for the sake of healthy ministering over the long haul.
So, give yourself a break. You'll be refreshed and find vitality for your life and ministry.
Ever feel like you need to wear a mask to cover up who you are? Are you concerned that, if people knew who you really are and how you really felt, they wouldn't understand?
One minister, two jobs and the family that's at the top of the list. The number of bivocational ministers, those in full- or part-time ministry who carry an additional job, is estimated by some researchers to be as high as 30 percent of ministers nationwide.
"You should see the church they attend," Lucille said, armed with bulletin and newsletter. Creases formed across my brow as celebration gave way to comparisons a trap that had sprung too many times.