This article by Kie Bowman, senior pastor emeritus of Hyde Park Baptist Church and The Quarries Church in Austin TX and the SBC National Director of Prayer, was originally published at baptistpress.com.
If you want your team to lead more prayerfully, a staff prayer retreat is a game changer. It’s a necessity for any church attempting to build a culture of prayer. Even if you’ve never led a staff prayer retreat, you should start planning one now.
Mark Batterson famously said, “A change of pace, and a change of place, equals a change of perspective.” Batterson is right. A planned disruption to our status quo inevitably challenges us to think differently. That’s one reason why Robert Epstein, a senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research, says “The enemy is whatever is static.” So, at least once a year, disrupt the status quo; take your team away from the church, and lead them in a one-day prayer retreat.
Jesus- Our Role Model
Jesus led His team in prayer retreats. For instance, all the synoptic gospels mention the trip to Caesarea Philippi, but only Luke tells us it was a prayer retreat. “…it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” (Luke 9:18)
While the disciples were notoriously prayerless during the life of Jesus; they became fully dependent upon prayer after the resurrection. In fact, in the upper room prior to Pentecost, they had their first opportunity to lead in the absence of Jesus. So, they convened a prayer retreat! Prayer, after all, is more caught than taught.
Schedule A Prayer Retreat
Schedule the retreat far enough in advance so that it’s on the entire team’s calendar. One day for the retreat is ideal, and everyone should participate.
Wherever you choose to meet, you will want enough room for comfort, because everyone on the team should stay together for the entire day. Make it enjoyable. Provide meals or go to local restaurants. Part of the purpose of the prayer retreat is staff fellowship and team building. Nothing brings a team together like prayer.
Pray through Worship
Ask a worship leader to join the group and provide a keyboard or guitar. Praise and worship will be an important part of your day because singing can be a form of prayer. One of the visions in Revelation involves heavenly creatures worshipping Jesus with musical instruments and prayer. “And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Revelation 5:8). Pray through music.
Theme Guided Prayer
The pastor should determine a series of themes to guide the day. Themes create the outline of your day. They are the track the retreat runs upon. Themes could include confession and repentance. Other themes could include praying through all the age groups in your church, the teachers and volunteers and their needs. Include a theme on church and staff unity. With planning, the leader can provide a solid outline of prayer themes which help strengthen the retreat and the larger ministry you serve.
Assign staff members with Scripture verses related to the chosen themes to be read aloud at the appropriate times. Allow the truth of those passages to guide the prayer time for the entire group. Don’t preach the passages – pray the passages.
Hurry is the enemy of prayer. The goal is not to finish a prescribed schedule. The schedule only exists to keep us disciplined and on track. The goal of the staff prayer retreat is to seek God, hear from God, and be refreshed in His presence. You can’t hurry or manufacture that!
Pray for Each Other
Spend quality time praying for each member of the team. One of the most well-known scriptural promises about the power of prayer is given to us in the context of praying for one another. James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” Take as much time as needed to pray for each staff member and expect the blessing of God.
The pastor should invite one or two other leaders from outside your church to teach on prayer and lead your group. Ask another pastor or leader known for their prayer lives or ministries to come in the morning to share a fifteen-minute devotional on prayer to begin the day. Perhaps invite a second leader to teach on prayer for 15 minutes after lunch to restart the retreat. These outside voices bring fresh perspectives on what God is doing in other places and ministries. Stay on schedule; spend the majority of time in prayer but allow teachers from outside your immediate circle to stimulate your faith.
Traps to Avoid
It will be tempting when everyone is together to bog down in friendly conversations. While talking to each other is critically important to the quality of your staff experience, not every setting is designed for that. You have chosen to spend a day seeking God – don’t squander the time. At the end of the experience, you want your staff to resemble the upper room (Acts 1:14) not Mars Hill (Acts 17:21). Always guide the group back to more prayer.
Finally, inject heavy doses of praise and thanksgiving into your prayer retreat – especially to start and as you get closer to the end of the day. It is easy to allow a prayer meeting to get too “heavy.” The needs are overwhelming. The ministry is difficult. A lot of your praying, by necessity, focuses on circumstances that need to change. As a result, long prayer meetings tend toward a feeling of burden. A prayer retreat, however, should uplift the staff, not lay additional weight upon them. Our message is good news. Our prayers change the world because God hears and responds. A staff prayer retreat is not drudgery. It’s a victory lap!
One of the most untapped resources at our disposal is the power of prayer. A staff prayer retreat is one of the key building blocks for developing a culture of prayer. You should schedule one soon.