When I entered worship ministry leadership, I had spent the previous nine years in student ministry. If you know anything about student ministry, you know we like to spend lots of time together and have lots of retreats, play crazy games and light lots of candles. I entered worship ministry and immediately carried these ideas over into my work with adults simply because I didn’t know any better! But it is an “accident of ignorance” that I thank God for every year. I scheduled our first worship team retreat in 1999 and the fun hasn’t stopped since! It would not be an overstatement to say that our yearly retreat is the highlight of the year for our team. We now take time to “run away with God together” each year. Retreating together has marked our team – and in a beautiful way.
The benefits of team retreats are great. Spending time away together has allowed our team to move to deeper levels of relationship with one another than we can possibly achieve in the busyness of daily life. It has allowed us to refine our musical techniques, to learn more about being worship leaders, to learn new music, and to have extended worship “labs” as we spend large amounts of time simply worshiping together. Retreats have given us opportunities to relax together, laugh together, have lengthy conversations and healthy competition and make memories that we will remember the rest of our lives – and that will hopefully cement our relationships into old age. As we retreat, we are able to completely disconnect from the stress of daily life and come together to worship, to encourage, to play, to pray and to laugh. And we go home changed.
At each retreat I focus on achieving three main purposes in our time together:
1) I focus on helping my team grow in their personal relationship with Christ, thus growing in their capacity as leaders of worship. To facilitate this we have lots of time set aside to simply worship together. I’ve used guest worship leaders and have enjoyed that the years it fit in our budget. For many of our team members it’s easier to express their worship physically in this smaller, safer group setting where it’s easy to get on our knees or even lay face down if we wish. We don’t limit our time so everyone has plenty of time to converse with and respond to God. Space is given to them for their own devotional time alone with God. We always have times of teaching and challenge related to personal spiritual growth as well.
2) I focus on helping my team grow technically as musicians and vocalists. We learn about five or six new songs each retreat, so it’s a great time to experiment, and to set the stage for the coming year. We work on technical issues that are harder to work on in a limited two hour rehearsal. We try new things, and enjoy having fun with the music without the pressure of an impending deadline to perform and be “on”. We also have teaching and learning exercises that helps us grow and develop in this area. It varies from year to year but is always a priority.
3) I focus on building community within our team. I will admit that learning the music is the hook I used to first get people to agree to the retreats. Building community doesn’t seem imperative to most people – until they’ve experienced it, but deeper community has been the biggest result I have seen from our retreats. Those who have experienced our team retreats don’t want to miss another one and for most of them, the deepening of relationships and the chance to just soak in worship keep them coming back year after year. Learning music has just become our excuse to get away! This is probably my biggest area of gifting so I’ve been the most creative in this area – we play games, karaoke, I give out crazy awards, we do a banquet one night, I challenge them to share their hearts, express their appreciation and love for one another, and to actually go to someone and pray with them. We take communion together, have prayer partners and even done a hand washing in years past. Perhaps most memorable, however, is the silly contest we have each year. We’ve written songs about being on the praise team and commercials for a new pastor (we’re in an interim period now) that have been hilarious. Creating just for fun gives us the freedom to try things and work together in ways we never would otherwise. We open the door for spouses to join us and when they do, they become even more dedicated to the ministry. The list could go on and on. The result has been astounding for us. This group of friends has become a family.
So each February or March we head off to the mountains of Tennessee for a little more than 48 hours together and come back refreshed, inspired, and closer than ever. It’s the biggest item in my budget. And it’s worth every penny. It centers and focuses us and reminds us in fresh ways why we do this thing we call worship ministry. This time away has become a true part of who we are as a team.
I encourage you to consider the idea of a team retreat for your worship ministry members this year, even if you start small. I’d be happy to answer your questions or give you ideas. As a worship minister, it’s a discipline I am committed to because I’ve seen the results. I believe it’s an investment with eternal dividends.
What about you? Share your best ideas for helping your team grow and develop together.