Leading Well: How to Have a Personal Leader Retreat

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Are you a woman who leads? Maybe you don’t see yourself as a leader, but God has you leading someone right where you are. Maybe it’s your kids, your friends, or the teenager next door. Maybe it’s a Women’s Ministry, a team at work, or a small group. This series—led by our women’s ministry specialist, Kelly King—will help you no matter where you lead and whether you’re leading one or one thousand.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I spent a week in the mountains of Colorado. It’s a special place because his great aunt purchased these forty acres, now known as Tanglewood Acres, in 1936. It’s not just a vacation location; it’s a place where families come to rest and retreat from the daily routines of work and life. I unplug from cell phone service, emails, and impending deadlines in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. It’s also a time when I can remove distractions and seek the Lord in a personal time of retreat.

While you may not have the opportunity to get away to a mountain cabin this summer, as leaders, it’s important to consider how you can develop a habit of taking a personal retreat—an extended time when you consider how the Lord is working in your life and seek direction for any new steps in front of you.

Many leaders find this rhythm of retreat annually. I personally encourage women to develop the following rhythms: daily time spent in God’s Word and prayer, weekly time spent in corporate worship and observation of the Sabbath, and yearly time, a half of a day to a full day, for a personal retreat. I was first encouraged to do this my senior year of college. At the end of several months in a discipleship program, my leaders incorporated a retreat into the curriculum. I still remember those three hours being one of the most intentional times I’ve spent with the Lord, and I still have my journal where I scribbled promises from God’s Word and gave Him my desires for the future.  

If you’ve never considered taking a personal retreat or you have no idea how you might use this time to its fullest, here are some reasons and practical steps on how to incorporate this practice into your life: 

First, consider why a personal retreat is important. Jesus Himself pulled away from the demands of ministry to spend time with His Father. Luke 5:16 says, “Yet he often withdrew to deserted places and prayed.” Matthew 14:23 says, “After dismissing the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. Well into the night, he was there alone.” Jesus serves an example for any leader—there are periods to pull back from the crowds (or social media) and spend time alone with our heavenly Father. 

Second, consider what you hope to learn as a result. Is there a decision you are contemplating? A life change that could impact others or your ministry? A burden you are carrying? In critical seasons like these, developing a personal retreat can be beneficial. I can look back on several of my own personal retreats and trace the important decisions that were weighing heavily on my mind. In college, I was contemplating where the Lord wanted me after graduation. As a single woman, I felt God’s calling to teach students in my local church during a personal retreat. Two of my personal retreats involved job opportunities for which I wanted to seek God’s direction in my life. One of my retreats was on a significant birthday when I spent the entire day retracing steps of my past and recognizing God’s providence in my life. I even took several photos throughout the day and connected the dots of how God had directed my path. 

Jesus spent forty days fasting and praying before His official ministry began. At the end of this time, Satan tempted Jesus and challenged His life purpose. As I’ve heard it said, the forty days of fasting and praying didn’t weaken Jesus’ resolve to follow God’s will. Instead, the forty days He spent with His Father made Him stronger and able to face His enemy. Your personal retreat may be a time to make you stronger in the face of adversity or even a difficulty you are facing.

Third, plan your time purposely. I have never experienced a personal retreat without purposely putting it on my calendar. My days are often full of meetings and responsibilities, so making time for a personal retreat will only happen for me if I put it on my calendar and make it a priority. I’m sure the same is true for you. You may need to consider taking a day of vacation or setting aside a specific day or evening when you can remove the distractions of daily life. Conduct your personal retreat in a place away from your normal routine, even if it is at a nearby park. You don’t have to rent a cabin in the woods to experience a personal retreat (but it is definitely a great option if you can do it).

The most important aspect of a personal retreat is planning out your time or schedule. Some leaders might be able to instinctively know how to spend several hours alone with the Lord, but I feel like my time is more beneficial when I have a plan. If you would like a guideline, here are a few schedules to consider. Adapt them to fit your needs, but if you’ve never experienced a personal retreat, these schedules may be helpful.

Items Needed for a Personal Retreat: Bible, journal, pen, worship music, Bible study or books, snacks, water, any personal items you might need.

Before this time: Prepare your location, gather supplies, and alert family members of your destination and desire to be alone. Ask others to pray for you during this time. Remove any distractions such as your phone or computer. Retreats are also great opportunities to experience fasting if planning a meal is a distraction. If you desire to do this be sure to talk with your doctor about what’s best and safe for your health before fasting.

Three Hour Retreat (from 9 a.m. to noon)

9 a.m.: Get settled into your location and ask the Lord to use this time for His glory. Spend a few moments praising the Lord for who He is. In your journal, list some attributes of God and how He has had made Himself known to you. If you don’t know where to start, read five chapters of Psalms and underline every verse that points to God’s character. Listen to some worship music as a way to focus on praise.

9:30 a.m.: Consider your shortcomings and sin. Write in your journal, expressing your remorse over sin and asking the Lord for forgiveness as you take time for confession. Consider whether you are harboring unforgiveness toward others and you need to ask for their forgiveness. Reflect on Scriptures such as  Matthew 6:14-15Colossians 3:13; and 1 John 1:9.

10:00 a.m.: Spend time writing in your journal. Write out any prayer requests, goals for the next season, current struggles you are facing, etc. Incorporate times of silence and reflection during this time. 

10:30 a.m.: Take a short break for a snack or rest. 

10:45 a.m.: Write out the names of people and situations that you are praying for. Pray not only for the needs of others but ask the Lord how He might want to use you in each situation. Journal how the Lord impresses upon you to pray for others and any actions you need to take.

11:15 a.m.: Spend the next 30 minutes with Scripture reading and journal specific verses. Mark any verses you want to memorize. Consider as you read, What does this passage say about God? Why was this passage important for the time it was written, and how is it important today? Are there actions from these passages I should take, and how can I implement them in my life? Dialogue with God and evaluate the past year or months, considering the next steps the Lord might have for you. What Scriptures confirm those steps? Take time to listen, plan, and reflect.

11:45 a.m.: Finish your time with worship music and praise. Whether you are just listening to music or singing out loud, end your time focused on God’s greatness and goodness in your life.

Six Hour Retreat (Read the schedule above for details but extend this time from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.) 

9 a.m.: Getting settled into your time alone. Include praise, worship, and confession. Pray through several Psalms.

10 a.m.: Goal-setting and journaling. Read through a book of the Bible or use a Bible study resource as a guide. Reflect on people in the Bible or stories that remind you of God’s faithfulness and provision. Examples: Joseph, Job, Ruth, Esther, Daniel, Elijah, Paul, Peter.

11 a.m.: Prayer for others and intercede on their behalf. Take a walk if possible.

Noon: Lunch and reflection time. 

12:30 p.m.: Rest and possibly nap.

1:30 p.m.: Read through Scripture, journal, and highlight ways the Lord is speaking to you through His Word. Work on memorizing specific verses that are important for your current situation.

2:30 p.m.: Wrap up your time with additional reflection, reading, and worship.

When you have finished your personal retreat, take time to debrief with a prayer partner, your spouse, or a friend. Share with them any insights you discovered and how you are going to move forward in your faith. Develop accountability with someone else and don’t forget to plan your next retreat by selecting a future date. Once you are in this habit, you’ll look forward to more personal retreats and extended time with the Lord.

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