[Upcoming Dates for LoveFirst Coast Gatherings: Healing and Intercessory Prayer Service November 11 at Nicholl’s Barn, (3445 SR13, 32259). Worship Gatherings October 8, 22, and November 19 in the St. Johns Room at FCC (3450 CR210, 32259) All gatherings are at 6:45pm.]
It is so vitally important to pull out of the regular routine and spend some extended time as a community on mission. Jesus did with his disciples, so if we affirm that he is our example to follow then “withdrawing” (Matthew 15:21) and getting away from time to time is not an option. It’s worth noting that the Greek word for withdraw can also be translated “take refuge”. Where is your place of refuge?
I’ve been feeling the need to withdraw and spend time with LoveFirst Coast’s leaders, but that shifted. I just wanted to enjoy some purposeful but unhurried time with others who have been on the journey with LoveFirst Coast. We are pretty busy people. It takes effort to get together. But we set a date and I trusted the Lord to pull together the group he desired. We met this past Saturday for about six hours.
Our purpose felt pretty weighty. We wanted to know what the Lord was saying to us at this juncture. It feels like we’re at a milestone, at the edge of breaking through something. Facebook reminded me that I started this journey four years ago. That’s pretty exciting. Four years ago, I didn’t know if I’d still be leading a church focused on mission and discipleship – but here we are!
In the process of preparing, I went on line to look for guidance for planning a half-day retreat with a missional community. Google wasn’t able to help me find much. But people were making commitments to be there. I wanted to be a good steward of the time. So I took an approach that I’m learning to take with many things: I stopped asking Google and asked God instead. I prayed for guidance and paid attention AND, I asked others to pray for us. I even put the general invitation to pray for us on Facebook. Sixteen people “liked” it. And I’m going to guess they prayed for us. I kept inviting other people to pray, too.
And when we pray, things start happening. God drew my attention to one of our tools: the learning circle. Following the points on that circle provided a straight forward way to plan and stay focused during our time together.
Here’s the Outline for the Retreat
- Purpose (Kairos Moment)
- 9:30 Gather trusting that God will bring who is supposed to be there.
- 9:45 Prepare: Time for Up-In-Out
- 11:00 Observe: Where have we seen God at work? – 10:45
- 11:30 Relaxing Lunch:
- 12:30 Reflect: Review and consider: What do we think these observations are pointing? What does it mean?
- 1:00 Discuss: What might God be saying to us?
- 1:30 Seek Agreement: What do we believe God is saying to us?
- 1:45 Consider next steps: What will we do about it?
- 2:00 Prayer and sending.
Let me unpack what happened.
1) Our reason for gathering had become clear before we met: God has come near to us during our season together at LoveFirst Coast. We are having a collective “God-Moment”. God has brought us and kept us together for four years, and it feels like we are at a milestone. So we gathered for the purpose of discerning 1) What is God saying to us now? and 2) What we’ll do about it.
2) 9:30 We gathered at Jim and Rita’s. It’s their personal home and has been a wonderful little retreat center, too. We generally hold our stewards meetings there.
3) 9:45-11:00 was set aside as a time for spiritual preparation. I used the Discipleship Lifestyle tool – Up-In-and-Out.
The decision to add “Out” to the time for spiritual preparation didn’t fall into place until the week before the retreat. I had some conversations with Anne that helped me discern that we needed to add a prayer walk – which can be an out. Our total time was 4-1/2 hours, so the would be a big investment. But it seemed pretty clear that this was something God wanted us to do. This is how it went.
Up: We sang one song and I shared a light biblical teaching about Elisha’s ministry. I did a short teaching on shalom based on the questions Elisha asks the Shunamite in 2 Kings 4:29. The questions are: How is it with you? How is it with your family? How is it with your work?”
In: I put us all in groups of 2 or 3 and sent them out the door on a walk to ask one another those three questions, listen to one another, and pray for one another (Listen-Love-Pray).
Out: I asked them to look around and pray for the surrounding homes while they were walking.
We sang again when we reconvened. I think everyone came back encouraged, having experienced a little grace and love from one another. After a little time to process their experiences, we moved on. With hindsight, I cannot overstate the importance of that Up-In-and-Out time. Without it, there likely would have been tremendous obstacles to working together to discern the voice of God. Also, I have learned that people need to be experience being loved whenever we gather, and that’s exactly what happened. We had a shared experience of God’s love and mercy and that’s a good place for beginning to seek God together.
4) 11:00 – 11:30 The Observe step was driven by these kind of questions: Since God has gotten our attention, what do we observe? What’s happened? What do we do? Who are we when we get together? What do you notice about our church? Kent recommended that we break things into Up-In-and-Out, and that proved to be very helpful. I got out one of the big pieces of white paper and Heather wrote down our observations.
At the end, there was a collective “wow.” Things that were said: God is good and God has been at work in us and through us. We’ve grown closer to one another, more confident in our faith, and have a presence and a ministry that reaches across the First Coast. A key observation: prayer showed up in our Ups-Ins-and-Outs. We’ve grown in our ability to praise God and listen for him in prayer (Up). We’ve learned better how to pray for one another and spur one another on to love and good deeds (In). And we’ve learned how to pray missionally, praying with and for others, releasing heaven’s resources to address people’s needs. (Out).
5) 11:30 was lunch time, and I invited everyone relax over the meal. The food, well, the food was so good! Rita had fixed us an awesome meal. After about thirty minutes or so, more folks showed up – still in time for lunch. I invited the group to give a report on the morning so we could all be at the same place moving forward. It turned out to be a good review of the morning, and helped us focus. Then it was time to go back to work.
6) 12:30 was the time to reflect and try to pull some things together. I began to ask: Do you see patterns? Do you see connections? What do you think all these things mean? I think reflection is the toughest step. But things began to come out and Heather wrote them down. We began to notice and celebrate connections. God really is working on us and at work through us. That’s simultaneously humbling and hope-giving. We recognized how important it is that so many of us have a sense of call and purpose in our daily lives. It seems clear that God has a purpose for us and delights to be at work through us wherever we go. However, (and this isn’t really captured on the big sheet of paper) we began to express a need to be together on mission and to grow deeper in our love for each other.
7) 1:30 Discussion and prayer (which is discussing this with God) were next. We broke into groups for prayer (with dessert following) and then came together. Prayer is important here – because it seems wrong to talk about what God is saying without speaking with him about it first. (I should mention that some of the feedback on the retreat was that perhaps we should have taken this time to pray all together.) When we gathered up again, I asked the question. So what do we think God is saying? There wasn’t quite as much to write this time, but words began to flow. Reading from God’s words to the seven churches in Revelation helped. God sends a message to the churches to celebrate what is good, and then adds: “But I have this against you…” I asked, “what do you think God might have against us?” That’s a sobering thought, but I sensed the Holy Spirit was getting our attention. What might God have against us? We are busy, active, rushed, hurried and often tired. We need to do some pruning of our disjointed activities and spend time together. We need space to love each other and know one another better. But what about going out together?
As the conversation went back and forth and Heather wrote things down, Dan eventually spoke up. He noticed that two phrases happened to be underlined in separate places on the sheet. Put together, they read “Work on “in” while going “out” (together). Very clear. Seven words when you put “together” on it.
8) 1:45 Confirmation: did we agree that God is saying this to us? After a little conversation, everyone seemed to agree. The answer was yes. “Work on in” – spend time together, get to know one another, love one another deeply and from a sincere heart – “while going out” – and if possible do so with others “together”. It’ll be an adjustment. But responding to God’s invitation always takes and adjustment.
So we’re going to work on that. Our next steps were pretty clear. The Stewards talked right after the retreat ended. We agreed to affirm Andrew in the steps he’s taking to bless a family and provide hurricane relief – and when the work day comes, we want to go with him, because work days done together create space for us to “work on in while going out.” Also, we want to keep on affirming and encouraging one another in our personal missions. We hope to head to DOTZ in St. Augustine to spend time together and to learn from and encourage Sam and Ann. And lastly, we want to keep on praying.
9) Back to the retreat – So we sealed our time with prayer and the reminder that Christ who lives in us by the power of the Holy Spirit has something he desires to do in us and through us wherever we find ourselves.
It was a really good retreat. I’m looking forward to the season ahead with a lot of hope! And may the Lord bless you as you seek him wherever you may be.