Assessing the value of Kerith Retreats: Summary of a doctoral study

By Steve Witmer

The demands that are regularly experienced by pastoral leaders can be overwhelming and soul draining. Studies have shown that the past three to four years have been particularly difficult for most ministry leaders. Today’s leader may find him or herself weary, discouraged and joyless. Yet this is not a post-pandemic phenomenon – King David modelled a godly appeal for divine assistance (a model we attempt to highlight as part of the Focus on the Family Canada’s Kerith Retreats).

In Psalm 86:1-4, we read: “Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. Preserve my life, for I am godly; save your servant, who trusts in you – you are my God. Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day. Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.”

Based on his covenant relationship with God, and his steadfast devotion, David cries out to Abba with a confident prayer that seems graced with a touch of desperation: “for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.”

He presented, without fear or reservation, his concerns, his heartache, and the leadership challenges that he encountered while guiding a nation. Too often, perhaps because of incessant demands, we may neglect the condition of our soul. We may get caught up with the expectations – often unrealistic expectations – of both ourselves and others. Consequently, we may find our soul depleted and weary from attempting to carry a load that is far too heavy for us to bear on our own.

The psalmist inspires us to run into God’s caring presence, with a confidence clinging to our Father’s committed faithfulness and unending love. In his presence we find the soul care that we desperately need. He is the one who knows our needs before we ask; the one who never slumbers nor sleeps; and the one who watches over us with full attention and delight. He is ever poised to come to our help – if we invite him in.

Making space in our overburdened schedules for time with God and our spouse is the essential first step of the rest and restoration that our soul craves. Focus on the Family Canada has recognized that ministry leaders need a place to temporarily disconnect from the pressures of life and to reconnect with their Master. The weeklong Kerith Retreat is designed to provide soul rest, encouragement, and the gift of time to discover new and unforced rhythms of grace for ministry leaders.

A recent follow-up survey of Kerith Retreat participants demonstrated that the principles taught and the time spent with the Heavenly Father have yielded a lasting positive benefit. Respondents (attendees who have experienced a Kerith Retreat within the past several years) have gained significant stability and an increased sense of resiliency, even through the challenging global pandemic. Here’s a sampling of the survey questions and responses:

  • “The incessant currents of life and ministry are easier to recognize now.” 78% said they agreed or strongly agreed.
  • “I have become more intentional in finding ‘eddies of rest’ in the busyness of life.” 85% said they agreed or strongly agreed.
  • “I have been able to recognize and better manage both the stressors and energizers in my life.” 79% said they agreed or strongly agreed.
  • “I am implementing a meaningful time of Sabbath into my regular routine as much as possible.” 76% said they agreed or regularly agreed.
  • “I am actively working to schedule regular times for self-care.” 83% said they read or strongly agreed.
  • “I am more aware of the causes and effects of vocational and emotional overload, and how they contribute to depressive thoughts and behaviours.” 87% said they agreed or strongly agreed.
  • “I am more inclined to listen for the approval and affirmation of Jesus, my ‘Audience of One’.” 87% said they agreed or strongly agreed.
  • “I aspire to more consistently sense God’s favour and value as his much-loved child.” 92% said they agreed or strongly agreed.
  • “I left the Kerith Retreat with practical tools to engage family, life, and ministry in a healthier and more sustainable way.” 90% said they agreed or strongly agreed.
  • “I found the Kerith Retreat to be a place of safety, peace and rest.” 100% said they agreed or strongly agreed.
  • “The physical setting of the Kerith Retreat lends itself to rest and spiritual refreshment.” 100% said they agreed for strongly agreed.

The Kerith Retreat model has been designed for you and your fellow ministry leaders! Kerith brook was the place where the Prophet Elijah found rest, solitude and strengthening after his strenuous encounter with the prophets of Baal. His successful efforts brought national revival, yet he found himself exhausted and in need of the strengthening that only God can provide. Focus on the Family Canada’s retreats for those in ministry was named after Elijah’s experience at this sacred place. We invite you to experience Kerith and to encounter afresh our faithful God who is committed to restore our souls through his devoted love and diligent attention.

Visit KerithRetreats.ca to learn more about this week-long retreat for ministry leaders, missionaries and para church leaders.


Steve and Becky Witmer have served together for more than 35 years in a variety of ministry roles. After five years with YWAM, they served in roles such as senior pastor, missionary director, and pastoral care coordinator for their associated network of churches. Sensing that they were entering a new season of life after 14 years as senior pastors in their church, Steve and Becky transitioned to the role of associate pastors for the same congregation. This new role enables them to invest time and energy into both missions and the care of pastors and emerging leaders. They serve as contract retreat leaders with Kerith Retreats, a ministry of Focus on the Family Canada.


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