Redefining Spiritual Retreats

Yesterday morning I read a short but mind-churning blog post about the essence of spirituality.  It got me thinking more about something  I’ve been churning over in my head for a couple of days.

“Spiritual retreats” are popular–getting away for a week, a weekend, a day, or even a few hours by yourself to be alone with God.  I have a lot of friends who have taken spiritual retreats recently and have all come back refreshed and renewed, recommending that everyone take a spiritual retreat.  I have friends who work for churches where spiritual retreats are required–at least one day per month must be used as a spiritual retreat.  Keep in mind, this is different from the “daily God time” that should be part of our routine.  Spiritual retreats are extended periods of time, even if its just a few hours.

As I look back over the last eleven years (that’s how long I’ve been doing “professional ministry”), I’m tempted to think that I haven’t taken enough spiritual retreats.  I’ve never taken a week to be with God.  I’ve sporadically taken several hours at a time (the coolest of which is watching the sun rise on the beach, and spending the time anticipating the sun breaking over the horizon in prayer).  I think I’ve benefited from those times. 

And I’ve realized how unrealistic they are for “non-professional Christians.”

As I’m preparing to leave the “professional ministry” (where I get paid to be a Christian and do “church work”–and I’m leaving by choice and conviction, not by force or scandal), stuff like this keeps swirling around in my brain.  Spiritual retreats are nearly impossible for those outside of professional ministry.  It requires taking time off (which, in this economy, is becoming a luxury).  For those who are married and/or have kids, it means taking time away from family on the weekends.  As I visualize what will be my new “normal” when we move to NC, I won’t be able to do extended spiritual retreats that focus on solitude and silence.  Regular, daily time with God?  Yes.  Extended spiritual retreats?  Probably not.

Some of us would say that Jesus took spiritual retreats–He often went away by Himself to be with God.  While this is true, when did many of these retreats take place?  At night.  He robbed Himself of sleep to be with God.  He would invite His disciples to come away from the crowds at times, but the crowds always found them.  I would almost argue that Jesus wasn’t taking spiritual retreats as much as He would spend regular time with God (if I’m wrong, someone please point it out to me).

Is there anything wrong with taking a spiritual retreat?  No.  But maybe those of us in “professional ministry” should try and put ourselves in the shoes of those we lead–especially those who cannot afford to take time off from their careers, who must work to make ends meet.  If we’re to model practices for those we lead, should we consider ditching those that aren’t realistic for them?  I don’t know.  But it’s worth thinking about.

Maybe instead of solely emphasizing solitude, we should look for ways to also emphasize community when it comes to this idea of spiritual retreat.  I like what author Tim Chester writes:

Biblical spirituality is about:

  • Bible meditation, not mystical silence
  • Passionate engagement, not rural retreat
  • Growing together, not individual solitude

I think he’s right on.  What are your thoughts about the idea of spiritual retreats?


About Aaron

Aaron is a follower of Jesus. He's married to his smokin' hot wife Laura and is the father of three adorable girls. He enjoys a robust cigar, a complex root beer, a good movie, writing, football, thought-provoking books, and rousing discussions about subjects you're not supposed to talk about (like theology and politics). Religious people irritate him (because he once was one). He's on a quest to find the perfect dry rub and sauce for ribs.
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5 Responses to Redefining Spiritual Retreats

  1. Koffijah says:

    Hey Aaron,

    Like your thoughts here. I think you bring up a good point.

    I never knew how horrible I was at “living in community” until I moved overseas. Seriously, our American society is pretty individualistic and we have learned to all have our private lives. We value privacy. I enjoyed times I had in the US when I could get away from others for a while, sleep by myself in my own room, have my own place to make my own food and watch my own programs on my own tv.

    Then I moved overseas and said I wanted to do “incarnational” ministry and live with the local people. Basically, they live in real community. It means that (usually, not always) they sleep in the same room, all share one small house, all share the same bathroom, all share the same kitchen, share everything. They like to live very close to other people’s houses, and like the “noise” of other people talking all around their house. It makes them feel safe.

    If I were to build a house outside of town on a big piece of land and build a big wall around it and ask one nuclear family (from this country) to go live there, they would hate it. It would seem too quiet, too lonely, too disconnected. But to me it sounds like a dream.

    So, I do think we have a lot to learn about living in community and I think we can see more examples of Jesus doing that in the NT if we look.

    • Aaron says:

      Well said, Koffijah.

      I’m looking forward to what you’ve got to say about missions (my computer doesn’t like your word verification very much… sometimes I can comment, sometimes I can’t… today, I can’t). I’m the brother of a former missionary to Venezuela (she spent 4 years there) who is now a recruiter for a major missions organization, and my wife spent a semester in college overseas in India and Indonesia. Our church now has some opportunities in Nepal… so I’m totally looking forward to what you’ve got to say. Bring it!

  2. Koffijah says:

    Hey, thanks for your words. Sorry you couldn’t post on the Koffi House. What org is your sister with? Can you share that? What is her name?

    I have several posts lined up for the Koffi House. A new one today, and some more the next couple days. Thanks for reading, man!

    • Aaron says:

      Yeah, her superhero ID isn’t secret. Her name is Steph Saufley, and she’s with Team Expansion. She spent four years in Venezuela, and now she’s a state side recruiter.

      I’m looking forward to what you’ve got to say. Should be fun.

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