Wise pastors and loving churches make time for the pastor and their family to get away from the overwhelming pressures of ministry. When Jesus and his disciples were so busy they didn’t even have time to eat, he said, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). However, this can be a challenge for pastors who are living on a tight budget.
This guide is designed to help you identify what type of retreat you or your pastor needs. There are options that vary in price from free lodging and meals to expensive structured retreats. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you look for the optimal retreat experience.
Questions to ask before scheduling a retreat
- What kind of retreat do I need? Options include: prayer retreats, silent retreats, family getaways, guided retreats, intensive counseling retreats, and extended times of sabbatical or recovery.
- Where do I want to go on retreat? How far you can afford to travel or how far you need to go to truly get away may factor into your choices.
- What are the rules for this retreat experience? In order to offer free retreats without tax implications for the pastor, the IRS requires a minimum number of educational hours in the retreat.
- What are the restrictions at this retreat location? Check the statement of faith. Some retreat centers require that you agree with their theology. Others may have rules about use of alcohol, sugars, or caffeine. Some will be open to female clergy, others will not. Children may or may not be allowed, depending on the type of retreat.
- Who else will be at the location during the retreat? Some camps may have large groups of children or adults. In some cases you may be the only ones there.
- Are there any hidden costs? Some places may require a security deposit. Others may offer a limited number of free days but charge for additional days. Some provide all your meals, some just provide breakfast, and many provide no meals at all but may offer a kitchen for you to use.
- How will this retreat be funded? Churches, denominations, private foundations, or nonprofit ministries often offer grants to help with some or all of the cost. These may not be advertised, so don’t hesitate to ask. Even the most expensive retreats may be an option if there are scholarships available.
The following retreat options vary in cost, comfort, and convenience. Please check out the pros and cons of each before scheduling your retreat. Under each category I have listed options that either I have personally used or that were recommended to me by other pastors.
The article 7 Ways Pastors Can Take a Vacation on a Budget recommends swapping houses as a cheap option for a vacation. There are several house-swapping apps and websites. Do your homework and know the risks and rewards before you commit to anything.
Cabins or Seasonal Homes
This may be one of the best options for pastors and their families. Do you have church members who live in another part of the country for several months of the year? Ask if you can use their house for a week in the off season. I have a friend who has offered his rustic hunting cabin for prayer retreats. There are many couples and small ministries who want to offer free lodging to pastors and their families. Here are a few:
Beulah Land Retreats is located near Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes – voted one of the most beautiful places in the country. They have two guest houses that pastors and their families can use for up to two weeks each year. One house is free, the other has a small cleaning fee. I highly recommend staying with them, but you will need to book in advance if you want to go during Michigan’s delightful summers. Winter is more open, and if you like to ski, there are slopes and trails not far away.
Eagles Rest in the Finger Lakes region of New York is a place of rest and renewal for pastors, music ministers, Christian artists, youth ministers, missionaries, and their spouses and families. Lodging and breakfast are provided free of charge.
Shalom Home – A Pastor’s Retreat Home for Pastors, Ministers and Ministry Leaders for Refreshment and Rest
The Lamb’s Tale Selah Ministry offers ministry leaders a free two-night stay at The Haven River Inn (no strings attached!).
The Walt Crow Center for Pastors in Oklahoma City provides free retreats to pastors and families. The only cost is getting to and from the center. They provide money for food, lodging in a fully furnished 3 bedroom house, a meeting with a spiritual director, therapist, and pastor/mentor.
Many Christian camps have a guest cabin for pastors to use as a prayer retreat. Some will allow pastors and their families to stay at no charge for up to a week. Most camps are booked for the summer, but they often have fall, winter, and spring openings. You might just have the whole camp to yourself for a week. These can be a great way to get some peace and quiet at little or no cost.
Trinity Pines is a Nazarene camp in Cascade, Idaho. They offer pastors free lodging on weekdays (when they aren’t full).
LeTourneau Christian Center offers two days free and an option to purchase two additional days at a low cost. The accommodations are not luxurious, but the area is breathtaking and the sunsets are amazing!
Christian retreat centers usually cost a little more, although some are free. They often (but not always) have better accommodations and provide options for meals. There are lots of options all over the country, but they fill up fast. Staying at a retreat center may require advance booking of up to a year or more.
A Quiet Place – Located in the heart of Bluegrass country in Central Kentucky, A Quiet Place is a non-denominational Christian ministry where those in full time service can retreat, relax, and rest.
Redeeming Grace Ministries Their mission statement is “Strengthening Pastors and Leaders who can build healthy churches and advance God’s kingdom.” Every retreat they conduct is tailored to the needs of the individual or group. They operate on a pay what you can basis so that money is never the reason someone can’t come.
If you are in need of spiritual renewal and not just a vacation, a guided retreat is the way to go. Taking time for a yearly prayer retreat can be a great way to recharge your ministry. Many of these retreats are led by spiritual directors who will help you listen to the Holy Spirit on your retreat.
Broom Tree Ministries provides spiritual retreats for pastors and their spouses. These totally free retreats are designed to provide uninterrupted time with God in rest, reflection, and beauty. They provide good food, comfortable lodging, and lots of time with spouses. My wife and I used one of these week-long retreats right after our vacation to create a low-cost mini sabbatical. I highly recommend this ministry.
The Hermitage is a retreat community in southwest Michigan that specializes in personal silent retreats.
Sonscape Retreats offers 7-day retreats. These retreats may be just what you need if you can afford the cost.
Most monasteries are run by Roman Catholic orders (Benedictine, Ignatian, etc.), but there are other options. Protestant groups often have monasteries too, especially in the Anglican and Lutheran traditions. You don’t have to be part of one of these traditions to benefit from a stay with these orders. For a small fee you will be provided with a room and meals. You will be able to participate in the daily office – regular times of prayer throughout the day. In some monasteries you will be expected to maintain silence (except for corporate prayer). Pete Scazzero, author of The Emotionally Healthy Leader, found great help by visiting various monasteries during his sabbaticals.
Early in my pastoral ministry I knew my family needed to get away for a vacation, but we couldn’t afford to travel. Someone introduced us to Quiet Place Ministries. They paid for a week’s lodging in a Tennessee mountain cabin. We just had to drive there and provide our own food. It was exactly what we needed – a great gift from God. There are several ministries that will provide low-cost vacation homes, cabins, or cruises for pastors and their families. Occasionally, I’ve known pastors to receive a grant to go on a tour of the Holy Land! Some of the resources listed at the end of this article contain links to these types of ministries.
Counseling and Recovery Centers
Pastoral ministry can be traumatic, and maybe you need more than time away. There are ministries designed to help you through the emotional, spiritual, and mental problems you may be facing. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. A good church board will recognize that these opportunities are good for their church. Ask your church to pay some or all of the cost to send your pastor on a counseling retreat.
Peace Haven Ministries offers a variety of services, including coaching and counseling.
Alongside is a Christian retreat center offering professional counseling and shared community, designed to specifically help leaders emerge from burnout or breakdown. They offer a 3-week retreat for renewal and growth every month. The cost can be quite high (One person: $4,650; Couple: $6,350), but when you factor in what the fees include (14 individual counseling sessions per couple, 14 group counseling sessions per person, assessments, client intakes, over 30 hours of wellness seminars, and housing) it is actually quite reasonable. Meals are not covered, but each suite is equipped with full kitchen facilities for convenient meal preparation. Ask about scholarships if the cost is prohibitive.
What if you are beyond needing a retreat? If you are being forced out of ministry, you may need six to twelve months to recover. A refuge church may be just the option. Pastor-in-Residence Ministries offers a great program to help exited pastors and their families:
“A Refuge Church is a grace-based church that understands the importance of extending hope to those who are wounded in life. It is a place of protection and security in time of trouble, instability, and loss. In this environment, terminated pastors feel the freedom to be vulnerable and honest. Here, the exited pastor and family can work through their sense of loneliness and rejection. . . It provides a haven where spiritual strength and stability are recovered, and a safe place where the journey into the next chapter of life and ministry can begin.”
Several people have compiled lists of getaways, vacations, and retreats for pastors and their families. These lists may not be up to date, but they are worth exploring. With a little work you can find the rest you and your family need to minister effectively. (If you know of resources for pastors similar to those listed above, please leave a comment with a link and a short review of the ministry.)
From Ed Stetzer’s blog The Exchange, free or discounted getaways for pastors