What to Do on A Personal Prayer Retreat (Church Planter Edition)
At DCPI, we have walked alongside hundreds of thousands (393,640 to be exact) of church planters like you, and we have seen how planting a church can be exhilarating, rewarding, and–at the same time–exhausting. When you’re the leader of a church planting venture or even a larger church planting movement, you are almost always in need of two things:
1) direction from the Lord and
2) refreshment from the Lord.
Christianity Today recently published an article stating that most pastors need rest and refreshment. The Baptist Record recently published survey results that found that the two biggest needs pastors have are time management and balancing work and home life, which we think are issues that could be solved with specific direction from the Lord. Both of these together are why DCPI leaders are firm believers in the practice of personal prayer retreats.
Have you ever taken a prayer retreat? We recommend all church leaders, especially church planters, take two prayer retreats each year to seek direction and refreshment from Jesus. Let’s take a look at what a prayer retreat is and how to do a prayer retreat so that your time away with the Lord yields the maximum amount of fruit in your life and ministry.
What Is A Personal Prayer Retreat?
A personal prayer retreat is a time you set aside to go away to be alone with God. We usually recommend spending three days and two nights away from everyday life, the stresses of society, the distraction of technology, and the pace of work. Prayer retreats are your chance to ask the Lord questions, seek His will for your church’s next ministry season, soak up God’s Word, and enjoy the beautiful intimacy of spending time with your Heavenly Father.
Where to Take a Prayer Retreat
You can take a prayer retreat in the wilderness, in a rented room, at a retreat center, or anywhere that you can escape distraction and reserve time for you to be alone with God. Once you’ve chosen where you will stay and reserved your dates, you can begin asking the Lord to prepare your heart and for His Spirit to speak to you and to refresh you during your retreat.
What to Bring on Your Prayer Retreat
Before your retreat, gather your Bible, a journal, and anything you will need to rest.
Now that you know where to go and what you will need, let’s explore how we recommend church planters and ministers outline their retreats, so that you can get the most out of your time away with God.
Twelve Steps to an Effective Prayer Retreat
Step 1: Go to your retreat site and rest.
That was the counsel of Jesus to the apostles:
“The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place” (Mark 6:30-32).
Ministry has a way of depleting you, if you do not take time to rest. One of the most powerful outcomes of prayer retreats is how God uses them to sustain weary, thirsty men and women and reinvigorate them for the ministry road ahead.
Step 2: Pray for your retreat.
This is one of our most precious Bible promises. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5)
Start your retreat by giving the time to the Lord and asking Him to direct you, speak to you, and give you wisdom.
Step 3: Plan your retreat.
Because this time is precious, you will want to be intentional about how you spend it during your retreat.
Proverbs 14:22 promises that, “those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness.”
Step 4: Repent of your sins.
Sin will obstruct your receiving God’s guidance or enjoying His fellowship. So, first repent and receive His cleansing.
Jesus said, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:19, 20).
Verse 20 is often used as a salvation verse, but it speaks more directly to Christ’s desire for fellowship with the believer. He is knocking on the door of your heart. Repenting of your sins assures He will enter the door of intimate fellowship with you, ready to communicate and guide.
Step 5. Thankfully review how God has been working.
You may want to list the many ways God has blessed you. Then, as you recognize God’s work in your life and provision in your ministry, spend time thanking Him.
Step 6: Submit to God’s plans for you.
“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’S purpose that prevails.” (Proverbs 19:21)
Step 7: Devour the Word of God and take notes.
Often God guides us directly from His word. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105).
Specific books of the Bible may meet specific needs as you practice the discipline of prayer retreats.
Step 8: Write down your specific issues and questions.
What are the specific issues and questions about which you really need to hear from God? It may be helpful to consider three categories of issues and questions: personal, family, and ministry. The most important question for church planters to consider is: What is God’s vision for your church, or what is God’s vision for your ministry, or what is God’s vision for your church planting movement?
Step 9: Meet with God in a quiet place. Listen and take notes.
Consider Elijah, who was discouraged, and needed guidance from God. He found his quiet place in a cave (1 Kings 19:9-13). He discovered the Lord spoke, not in a great wind, earthquake, or fire, but in a gentle whisper.
Where do you best hear God’s gentle whisper? Is it on a beachfront, in a desert place, by a lake, at a retreat center, in your “prayer closet,” during worship in a crowded auditorium, in a garden area, in a library, etc?
“But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father secretly. Then your Father, who knows all secrets, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6 NLT)
DCPI President and Founder, Paul Becker once said, “I find I can best hear God’s still, small voice’ as I hike by myself in the mountains. While my body is engaged in exercise, my mind and spirit connect with the Lord. I take along a small notebook or cards to take notes as he gives me insights and ‘consecrated thoughts.'”
Step 10: Prayerfully respond in writing to your questions and issues.
Paul Becker also said, “After I return to my retreat room, I transfer my notes to my laptop computer. Then, I try to match my thoughts with the issues and questions I recorded earlier. Often, I discover questions for which I haven’t yet received specific guidance. So I continue to think and then record these thoughts, too. Because God has prepared me, I am able to do my clearest planning during this time.“
Step 11: Receive counsel from wise, godly people.
Trying to listen to God has its landmines. You could be wrong. Even after repentance and submission, your motives could be impure. You could be hearing what you want to hear. Counsel from wise godly people is a solution to this pitfall.
“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22).
Run your guidance from God through the grid of wisdom from godly leaders. The counsel you receive might be through mentoring, conferences, books, internet research, visiting other churches and ministries, etc.
Step 12: Plan to communicate your thoughts and delegate tasks.
As you consider your thoughts and decisions, ask yourself, “Who needs to know?” If God has given you a vision for your church, your ministry, or a church planting movement, who among your trusted counselors and friends should you share with first? Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, taught a great lesson in delegation in Exodus 18. His point? We wear ourselves out if we try to do everything ourselves. We need to get organized and entrust ministry to reliable people whom God is calling to do their part in it. So, plan whom you need to communicate with and whom you need to delegate to after you return from your retreat. Who needs to do what? How will you communicate this to them?
How to Ask God to Direct Your Ministry
During your prayer retreat, answer these and more questions that the Lord will give to you:
- What is the Holy Spirit communicating to you about this church plant or church planting movement?
- What kind of leaders do you need?
- Do they have a Kingdom perspective?
- Are there other apostolic-style leaders whom God wants to join your vision?
- How will you find these leaders?
- Who do you love and trust?
- 8What are the geographical boundaries of your vision?
- How will you include reproduction in your recruitment and training?
- Where are the financial resources going to come from to fuel the church plant or church planting movement?
- How will you use your resources?
- What bold faith-step you need to take?
Through prayer retreats, many ministers, movement leaders, and church planters like you have been able hear clearly from God about what He wants them to do in their church, ministry, and life. One of our 12 Biblical Principles at DCPI is “The Boss Principle.” It states that God is the boss, and since He is the boss, we should ask Him before we plant a church or follow a course of action in our ministries. What is it that you need to ask your Savior and Boss? A prayer retreat is an excellent time to ask!
One of our DCPI Biblical Principles is this: God’s vision must lead to prayerful planning, the result of which should be a comprehensive TaskList set out upon a TimeLine. No matter how organized you may be, if God is not in it, if the Holy Spirit is not working, you will not have an effective church plant or church planting movement. The way to assure God’s guidance, presence, and empowering is prayer. This may seem to be understood, but we need to emphasize it lest we neglect the most important thing. It starts with you praying for your church or movement, but you can’t be the only one lifting up this venture. You need a group of men and women committed to praying alongside you for your church plant, ministry, community, and, if God is calling you to start one, church planting movement.
So, as you go on your own prayer retreat, organize, strategize and determine your Task List and TimeLine. Make sure to bathe it all in prayer. When you get home, make sure that your Prayer Team is also covering everything in prayer. Not just your own, but the prayers of a Prayer Team, also. They must continue to uphold the movement in prayer. Perhaps you have a structure for this prayer base already in place. If not, make it one of your first priorities. Continue to increase your prayer support as well. You cannot have too much prayer. But, you can certainly have too little.
Your Prayer Retreat Challenge
The Lord Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” As a Christian leader, how can you best use the gifts, experience and passion He has given you to advance His kingdom?
Our challenge to you is to schedule and write into your calendar, and take at least two personal prayer retreats every year. Make time to get away and get with God. Take time to listen, plan, and obey. If you do, the Lord will give you the guidance and vision you seek. As He gives you direction, you will have more internal conviction about implementing His vision. You will have more confidence that you are doing the right thing. You will have a greater potential to succeed in your personal, family and ministry life. You will see your vision come true!
For a more detailed guide to your personal prayer retreat, download Paul Becker’s ebook How to Experience an Effective Personal Prayer Retreat here.
If you would like more information about planting a healthy church, sign up for one of our free Church Planting Essentials trainings!