If you were starting your life’s work over, are there certain things you would do differently?
I would! For one thing, I would schedule regular retreats for leaders and potential leaders in the congregation.
You might ask where I got that idea. Maybe it came from some new book I read recently?
No, it comes from Jesus, and it is discussed in our text today.
Jesus was with his disciples on a retreat. The text says, “They (Jesus and his disciples) . . . passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples.”
Our Lord wanted to be alone with the disciples. He had preached to crowds of people telling them who he was and what his mission was on earth. He knew they could not understand all that was being taught to them. But the leaders Ð the Twelve Ð had to be aware of what was going to happen, so this was our Lord’s agenda on their retreat. He told them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But even with time alone, the disciples could not comprehend what he was saying. Our text reads, “They did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.”
It had to be a disappointment to Jesus when, the next day, he asked them what they were arguing about on their way to Capernaum. They were too embarrassed to tell him, as well they should have been. While Jesus had just announced the days of suffering that were before him, these self-centered disciples were arguing about whom among them was the greatest. Jesus gave them an answer: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
You have to feel sorry for the disciples. They just had no understanding yet of what Jesus was teaching them. They had all the head knowledge they needed; however, they had not yet experienced who Christ was or what his death on the cross would mean for the world.
Was the retreat in vain? Not at all, for when those days came and they saw Jesus being falsely accused by the religious leaders and sentenced to die in Pilate’s court, his teachings became reality. When he was led to the cross and they all fled for fear that they too would be crucified, the retreat took on meaning. And when Jesus appeared to them after the resurrection, his mission and their part in it began to make sense.
I dream of what could happen in a congregation over the years if, annually, twenty leaders and prospective leaders would go on one of these retreats. It would be hard workÑno golf clubs or fishing poles would go along. Only Bibles.
We would be giving in-depth training to those who would lead our congregation. These people would be our Sunday school teachers and church council members.
What would be the agenda? The basics.
First, the heart of the Gospel. Who is Jesus, and does he live in you? What is the
mission he has given to us? We would talk about telling this story whenever God gives us an opening and the assurance of salvation. We would come to a place where each one would give his or her faith story to the group. Does each one have the assurance of salvation? (Could you imagine people teaching in our Sunday school and serving on our church council who were not in a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus?) The best-trained teacher and the strongest businesspeople might not be ready to serve as leaders in our congregation.
Also, the retreat would include a biblical study of society focusing on the issues the Church is struggling with at the present time. In the 1950s it was the matter of divorce. In the 1960s we wrestled with women’s place in the church. Today it is the sexuality question. What will be next? Where are the passages in the Bible that deal with a particular subject? It matters not what our culture says. Rather, what does the Word of God teach?
I have been asked many times about the sexuality question. My answer has always been that my answer is not important. What does God’s Word say? Deny or adjust that and you no longer have an authority. Can you imagine leaders in the congregation without a strong biblical conviction on the subjects that are plaguing the Church?
Christ knew that the people who were to hear him say, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) would face hardship. All but one would die for their faith. They had to know him personally. I believe the Church of Jesus Christ is facing difficult times, and they will become increasingly difficult. Our society is moving further and further from God. The Church must have well-trained leaders who have a personal relationship with God.
Where are these leaders? They are right in our congregations each Sunday morning. Many are willing to lead, but they need training. They need a retreat where the biblical teachings can become very personal as they ask themselves where they, as a leader in the congregation, stand in their relationship with God.