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Healthy congregations need healthy leaders—but all too often, church planters find themselves on the brink of burnout. This fall, Resonate Global Mission gathered church planters for a spiritual formation retreat so they can thrive in their ministries long term.

On the Brink of Burnout

“[Church planters] are typically hardwired to be involved in a number of different things, to go really hard. It’s difficult for them to stop, to slow down, to experience their own Sabbath,” said Kevin Schutte, a church planter who leads Resonate’s church planting initiative.

He notes that church planters tend to work 50-60 hours a week, if not more. They are often responsible for every aspect of the new ministry, from finances and administrative tasks to preaching, pastoring, and developing leaders. But it’s not just the time and tasks that church planters are giving to the ministry that can burn them out. Invested in the physical, emotional, and spiritual health of people in their communities, a church planters’ own spiritual health can sometimes be placed on the back burner.

It’s not good for them, and it’s not good for their new congregation.

“To lead people to a place of health, healing, and transformation, we need leaders who are healthy, healed, and transformed through the power of the Holy Spirit,” said Schutte.

Through discussions with church planters, Resonate found that there was a need and desire for church planters to take a step back from their ministries in order to develop practices that will help sustain them and grow them spiritually. Resonate committed to fill this need.

A Need to Take a Step Back and Reflect

Church planters who partner with Resonate join Cultivate, a year-long program that brings together a network of church planters for teaching and training. Three years ago, Resonate added a spiritual formation dimension to Cultivate; they invited planters to the Abbey of the Genesee in upstate New York.

The retreat is only three days long, but in those three days, church planters develop spiritual practices and disciplines that they will continue when they return home. 

Far away from the demands of their ministries and daily life, church planters soak in the Psalms and silence. For some pastors, it has been years since they’ve taken the time away from ministry to rest. Even if they were out of town or on vacation, they still checked email or made phone calls. But at the spiritual formation retreat, they unplugged and spent time journaling and reflecting on how God has formed them and how God is working through them.

“The scenery itself encouraged peaceful reflection,” Andy Littleton, pastor of Mission Church in Arizona, wrote in a blog post on the retreat. “I found myself open to the prompting of God’s Spirit in ways I often don’t experience.”

Spiritual Disciplines and Practices

Littleon said that during the retreat this year, he memorized a Psalm that “continues to speak deeply to the longings of [his] soul.”

Other church planters, like Samuel Lee from The Tapestry: Mundy Park in British Columbia, said that because of the retreat, he’s started spending time reading and memorizing the Psalms each morning.

“This practice has been extremely grounding,” he said. “It has helped me hold every thought captive before getting carried away with all the ‘to do's’ and ‘must get done's’ of life and ministry.”

These spiritual practices and disciplines don’t only benefit the health of the church planters. Aaron Au, pastor of Avenue CRC in Alberta, said that he is a better husband, father, and pastor because of the retreat. “I am emotionally more available, more patient and more discerning,” he said.

Au said that he also felt convicted that the practices he formed on the retreat were important for all followers of Jesus—not just pastors and church planters. He’s currently praying about how to form discipleship groups at his church plant that will invite believers to develop practices of spiritual discipline in their own lives.

Resonate is committed to supporting church planters in their new ministries. Sometimes that support is through financial grants, social connections, or training—but sometimes it’s through ensuring that ministry leaders’ own relationships with Jesus are growing and thriving.

“Our doing for Jesus needs to come from our being with Jesus,” said Au. “If we hope to be on God's mission, we need to be with him.”