Twenty-eight years ago as a young church leader trying to figure out how to build a team of church artists, I took our worship/arts staff on a retreat to my brother’s tiny blue house which he graciously agreed to vacate for a couple days. There were about 10 of us crammed into this little lakeside cottage, with the tiniest of kitchens and only one bathroom! We cooked our own food, laughed over every meal until our stomachs hurt, learned one another’s stories, dreamed of how we could create moments to move our church, and began a journey together that lasted a couple decades. Somehow God helped me stumble on a fabulous way to do ministry while forging a family. From that point on, we held two retreats faithfully every year. What a joy to come away together to celebrate the highlights of what God had done among us, to affirm the unique contribution of each individual (with our version of the Academy Awards only even longer!), and to create memories over broom hockey, sledding, tubing, cooking, foot washing, and opening up about our lives. My most treasured moments in ministry were not the large impactful events we created, as wonderful as those were. No…what I most delighted in were those intimate gatherings around tables or back decks, just being together.
So this past weekend…some of us gathered again! None of us work together any more, and we all worship in different communities. But one team member now owns a lovely home in Wisconsin, right on Lake Michigan, and invited us for another retreat! Once again we laughed at ourselves until our stomachs hurt. Once gain we went deep together - celebrating one another’s victories and mourning one another’s losses. We have done life together for three decades – witnessing the loss and decline of elderly parents, the birth and raising of our children, wedding dances, graduations, and other major milestones. And it was beyond good to look into the eyes of these teammates who have become some of my closest life friends, to know we will walk together until the end.
I am a huge advocate of retreats. If you lead a team – any kind of team – one of the most significant ways you can build that group is to get away together, make some memories, reflect on your work and your relationships and your dreams, laugh and pray together, even work through conflict and messy stuff, and learn how to be a family. Some would argue that this kind of team/family merging is far too risky. Yes, it is risky. But it is more than worth it. Truly, this team is one of the greatest joys of my life. Put a retreat on the calendar. Plan it with great care and prayer. And just watch, over the years, how God will knit your hearts together.