Good leaders don’t always advance, sometimes they retreat.
Great leaders retreat really well.
Escaping the pressure of leadership for a time of evaluation and recalibration is critical. Good leaders know this. In my context, the pastors I most respect who have done some of the most profound work for the kingdom are the ones who have learned the art of retreating well. They make it a habit and they don’t violate the practice.
And you should too.
Like you, every summer I strategically plan a time away with family. I take two weeks. No exceptions. That’s what I need to fully decompress. But here’s where most pastors fail: after they take time off, they go back to work. Why is that a mistake? Because the best time to seriously evaluate ministry is when you are fresh, not fatigued. That’s why immediately following my vacation I slip away for a “study break.”
My study break is by far my most productive, most meaningful time of work each year. But it took some time for me to learn how to do it right. Here’s what I’ve learned about protecting that time and retreating well.
6 keys to great study breaks:
Don’t shortchange yourself. Take no less than three days. One day isn’t a break; it’s barely enough time to honestly reflect and evaluate your leadership. Gaining clarity the first day is pointless if you don’t leave yourself time to work, plan and strategize based on that clarity.
Remove distractions. Isolation is key. Don’t bring anyone with you. Don’t make phone calls. Limit the internet. If you want to hear from God, then put yourself in a position where He is the only one you can hear from.
Think about what, not just when. Many leaders plan time away but never think through what they’ll actually do with it until they get there. That’s a mistake. Consider what the biggest issues your organization needs you to focus on before you leave and then plan out how you will tackle those issues.
Plan what you read wisely. Take books specifically geared towards those issues that most need your undivided attention. Don’t do pleasure reading on a study break – this is supposed to be think time and productive for your ministry. Focus your reading on things that will help you see your problems from new angles. Also, be sure to preview new books before you go. There’s nothing worse than ending up on a retreat with the wrong book at the time you most need the right one.
Pray for your church. The best idea I’ve ever stolen was from a pastor who asked everyone in his church to write down one thing they needed prayer for on an index card so that he could be praying specifically for the church while he was away. Every year before I leave, we put index cards on every seat in the auditorium for two weeks so that I can get one prayer request from as many people as possible. These cards give me incredible insight into where people are spiritually, what they are wrestling with and how I can better lead the people God has entrusted to me.
Communicate your time well. If you want to keep the right to take these crucial breaks, make sure your church (or organization) knows how beneficial they are both to you and to them. Again, ask them for prayer cards and tell them how they can pray for you. When you return, give them a sense of how God spoke and led you in terms of clarifying vision and direction for the church. If they see it benefit the church, they will be all the more eager to help you retreat again in the future.
Drew Leaver is the lead pastor at Northeast Bible Church in Garden Ridge, Texas.