Updated: Feb 16
Last month, the Center for Christian Studies led an elders and ministers retreat for the West Side Church of Christ from Searcy, Arkansas. A group of fourteen elders and ministers met at Camp Areopagus, just outside of Conway, Arkansas. Since I drove in after dark, visibility in this sparsely populated area was limited, but I could see enough to barely avoid hitting the skunk that crossed in front of my car, as well as the three impressively large sheep to which I happily yielded the right of way. Yes, it was very dark and very deserted—and only a little scary—the perfect location for a retreat.
Friday night was spent in a time of games, of getting to know each other better, and of worship. After breakfast and worship on Saturday morning, Steve Cloer of Harding School of Theology spoke about “pursuing God’s will together,” moving from merely making decisions to discerning God’s will. Among other things, Cloer stressed that congregational leaders’ meetings should be about seeking the Lord, more about spiritual discernment than parliamentary procedure. He helped the leaders think through their current practices and where there is room for growth in these areas.
Jim Martin, also of Harding School of Theology, led the second session of the morning about habits that can give leaders energy and endurance. Martin spoke about habits related to spiritual formation, self-awareness, relationship, and leadership. His wealth of experience in congregational ministry and decades of mentoring ministers were evident in his wise advice and practical suggestions.
After lunch, I spoke with the church leaders about unity and maturity in Christ, based on Ephesians 4:11–16. We reflected on how elders and ministers can lead the church toward growth and greater maturity. Each of the three main sessions was followed by a breakout session, led by the presenters, that allowed for open, small-group discussion of ideas and applications raised in each presentation. Blocks of time were also provided for prayer, with suggestions for how to pray and what to pray for.
I always love being with Jim Martin and Steve Cloer, and I’m so grateful for their cooperation in putting on this retreat with CCS. I’m also thankful to the ministers and shepherds of the West Side church for the invitation to facilitate the retreat presentations. They benefited from this time together, evident in some of their comments:
“Today the leadership of every church in our fellowship, whether large or small, rural or urban, is under fire and challenged to be what God has intended us to be. We were renewed in our commitment by the inspiring retreat session conducted with our leadership by the staff of the Center for Christian Studies. Bible scholars led pointed and interactive discussions in Scripture that reminded us of the essentials of our role, our impact on others, and the necessity of unity. Organized into a format that allowed for group discussion as well as individual reflection times, all material was presented in a no-nonsense, plain-spoken way. Our fire was lit once again!”
Mike Chance, Elder, West Side Church of Christ, Searcy, Arkansas
“Upon completion of the CCS retreat, I feel like I have drunk out of a firehose! There was still so much to digest. Thank you so very much for your excellent direction and Spirit-filled guidance. Your encouragement and concern for this eldership and ministers was so evident and much appreciated. I particularly appreciated that the direction was scripturally focused. Practical suggestions and use of examples was so helpful. I am so very thankful for the introduction to CCS resources and I look forward to looking closer into these. I strongly believe that any church group could benefit from this type of retreat (deacons, young families, women, etc.). Overall, this retreat provided a time of healing, rejuvenation, and focus that I believe our eldership very much needed. Thank you for this! May God continue to bless this wonderful ministry!"
Steve Moore, Elder, West Side Church of Christ; Professor of Biology, Harding University, Searcy, Arkansas
“Recently, the elders of the West Side Church of Christ, Searcy, AR, participated in a retreat conducted by the Center for Christian Studies (CCS). It was a great experience to listen to the presentations that were made by Dr. Steve Cloer, Dr. Jim Martin, and Dr. Keith Stanglin. The depth of the scriptural lessons presented challenged us to evaluate our decision making to discern God's will, to develop appropriate habits for leading the church, and reaching for maturity and unity in Christ. The time for small group discussions and the prayer walks allowed for reflection on the material that was presented. Dr. Nathan Guy, West Side preaching minister, put together an outstanding itinerary for the retreat. I highly recommend the services of CCS for elders and for those in leadership roles in the church. The time that was spent in strengthening relationships and deepening our spiritual understanding was well worth the effort.”
Mitch Walton, Elder, West Side Church of Christ, Searcy, Arkansas
“Our elders/ministers retreat was an uplifting and informative experience. It was wonderful to spend time in the Word and in prayer with my fellow shepherds as we strive to be the men God wants us to be. Steve, Jim, and Keith presented well-prepared and timely messages and breakout sessions. We were given tools to help us as we grow and lead God’s people.”
Dennis Fant, Elder, West Side Church of Christ, Searcy, Arkansas
In my experience, few churches make time for and devote resources to opportunities for leadership equipping and enrichment. If a church’s leadership team—its council of elders and ministers—spend time together as a group only in called meetings, then their ability to work together and their trust in one another are severely hampered. If, however, they take the time to get to know each other outside of the church offices and share with each other their lives, hopes, challenges, and struggles, and if they take the time to think through, with the help of skilled leaders and facilitators, what it means to shepherd and minister to God’s people, then it will increase the stability and success of their leadership and the congregation they serve.
Wouldn’t your church leaders also benefit from finding a quiet spot—with no Wifi, and maybe a little scary—to reconnect with God and with one another, for the sake of the congregation? To discuss, plan, and schedule a retreat for your church leadership, contact CCS at firstname.lastname@example.org.