The Evangelical Retreat
I just returned from a retreat this weekend. It’s a standard, Evangelical practice: go to the woods or wilderness where you will spend the weekend getting, not one sermon in the midst of a church service, but several sermons sprinkled throughout a number of pseudo-church services. Include some sort of activities on Saturday afternoon including shopping, sports, or the nebulous free-time, and there you have it.
I suppose this fits the definition of retreat, though I guess I question what it’s actually accomplishing. The only thing spiritual that happens tends to be the morning devotional time and the worship and sermon times. This has always felt strange to me because it feels like it’s just church in a new location and more of it. It’s different in some ways, but at the same time, it’s not different at all.
I was in charge of the devotional and speaking parts of the retreat, and everything really did go strikingly well. Given the structure I was handed and the people attending, I look back with no regrets, though perhaps I do look back with a little bit of concern for the retreat mentality we have. I want us to understand retreat differently. Is giving the people more information really that helpful? There is unquestionably a place for information, but we get such a glut of it all the time that I feel like there are potentially other ways of organizing retreats that could be more beneficial to growth and process.
Those churches a little more towards Roman Catholic bells and whistles and whatnot and a little less towards Southern Baptist stripped down Bible is all you need have silent retreats, and I think this could be helpful to integrate more into Evangelical retreats, though it may be too much of a shock and too unstructured for many. I used to take the occasional silent retreat with no structure on my own, and I sometimes found them frustrating. I needed more of an idea of what I could do and what activities or means of exploring things about God or myself or whatever it was that I wanted to focus on.
Less barrage of information, potentially more silence, and some kind of structure including activities. This, to me, seems ideal for future retreats that I plan on handling. And I’ve been on a couple that have had something more akin to this. Retreats, I think, are good spaces for processing, not merely absorbing and escaping. Both are needed, but both can also be found in other means. I’d like to see the Evangelical world work more of this kind of thought into their standard retreat model.