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Top Pastor Retreats to Avoid Burnout

The slippery slope to burnout for you as a pastor, missionary, or other leader serving God is not a mystery — it’s real and preventable.

Barna found that one-third of pastors are burned out right now. In Christian work and ministry it’s hard not to over-work and get over-stressed. The expectations and needs of people are endless — as are the opportunities to help others and expand your influence.

To avoid burnout in your work you need to learn how to care for your soul through spiritual retreats. There are many retreats out there to choose from but often they do not provide the deep and lasting change that is needed to replenish when you’re in stress-overload or in danger of burning out.

In this article you will learn the top causes of pastor burnout and how to renew your life and ministry through my best tips for creating your own soul care retreats. These pastor retreat options are great for all kinds of Christian workers. Plus, you’ll find a compelling vision for taking a Sabbatical and the key steps to get started.

Tips for a Great Soul Care Retreat

Probably you’ve been on a retreat that provided fun with friends, learning from the Bible, and worship. I’ve been on retreats like this too. They are good but usually don’t go deep enough to foster lasting spiritual renewal and growth.

After I burned out as a pastor and psychologist in my mid-thirties, I learned how to design retreats that cultivated the emotional health and deep soul satisfaction in God that sustains fruitful ministry. Through my experience of recovery from burnout God has enabled me to help thousands of pastors and leaders in need of rejuvenating soul care retreats. The top retreats for pastors to avoid burnout are effective because they focus on the care of your soul by helping you grow in your intimacy with Jesus and emotional-relational health.

A great soul care retreat includes these features:

  • No information overload!
  • Solitude and silence
  • Being unhurried
  • Customized coaching
  • Scripture meditation
  • Emotional honesty
  • Shared empathy
  • Enjoying nature
  • Practical spiritual tools
  • Real rest for your soul

Top Pastor Retreat Examples

 man relaxing on beach retreat

Most pastors and missionaries tell me they learned the Bible, church history, and theology in college or seminary but not how to care for their soul. Then they go to Christian conferences to learn about leadership and church growth, which are valuable skills to learn, but it’s not addressing their inner life, soul health, or relationship with God.

Sadly, in ministry it’s easy to become like a cook preparing tasty and costly dishes of food for others but not even taking time to lick your fingers! Periodically taking time for personal retreats strengthens your soul so you can be a healthy and joyful spiritual cook for others.

Here are examples of soul care retreats:

Soul Care Training

Henri Nouwen taught that a spiritual discipline is making space to hear the Father call you the beloved (see his book, Spiritual Direction). The best retreats will activate you to open your heart to God in soul care activities like Scripture meditation, quiet prayer, and journaling.

To help you plan a retreat and pick some soul care activities to experiment with you may want to peruse our “Spiritual Disciplines List.”

Spiritual Direction Retreats

A great way to deepen your relationship with God and emotional health is to ask a spiritual director to guide you on your retreat. For instance, you can go on a private retreat at a monastery and ask to meet with one of the monks for spiritual direction. Kristi and I have done this at the Prince of Peace Abbey in Oceanside, CA. (To learn more about how Benedictine monks can welcome you into their home, liturgy, and lifestyle on a retreat read my article, “Benedictine Spirituality Retreat.”)

It’s easy to arrange a private retreat day in a quiet and beautiful location near your home. Before and/or after your retreat it’s good to meet with a spiritual director for empathy, discerning Holy Spirit’s invitation, and receiving prayer. If you need help check out our Spiritual Directors Directory.

Extended Retreats

You can’t take a shower with a few drops of water at a time but need a continuous spray that gets you dripping wet! It’s the same in your spiritual life. Little snacks of devotion are nice, but they’re not enough. We all need relational experiences with God and others on retreat that are immersive. A day retreat of four or five hours is a good start. From there, try stretching into a few days or a week.

Multiple times each year the Soul Shepherding Institute offers 5-day retreats for pastors, missionaries, spiritual directors, and others on these topics:

  • Spiritual Formation
  • Spiritual and Psychological Development
  • Soul Care Ministry
  • Relationally Healthy Leadership. 

Soul Shepherding Institute Retreats

Sabbath Days

The ancient rhythm of the Hebrews in the Bible was for Sabbath to be the first day of their week. First they rested to worship God and join his work on their Sabbath day and then they began their work week. But 40% of pastors do not have a weekly Sabbath day to prioritize their soul and relationship with God. Pastor Eugene Peterson gives an inspiring model for enjoying God, nature, and friends on the Sabbath, which I summarized in my article, “Sabbath as Praying and Playing.” Practicing Sabbath helps you to live in the rhythm of abiding in Christ personally and bearing fruit in your ministry and work (John 15:1-17). That in turn helps you to live and work in Jesus’ easy yoke (or “rhythms of grace”) in all you do (Matthew 11:25-30 MSG).


85% of pastors have never had a Sabbatical (see “Pastor Stress Statistics”). This is a major cause of burnout for pastors, missionaries, and others in ministry. If you’re in ministry I recommend you take a Sabbatical of at least 30-days, every 5 to 7 years.
A Sabbatical is different from a vacation — though it may include fun activities with family and friends that are done with a spiritual purpose. It’s not a time to plan sermons, write a book, renovate your home, learn best practices from another church, or read a stack of books on church growth.

A Sabbatical is a long spiritual retreat that strings together Sabbath days in which you abstain from working or doing projects in order to rest and worship God (Hebrews 4:1-11).

On our first Sabbatical Kristi and I had to be very intentional to resist temptations to work, be productive, or distract ourselves with entertainment. We set boundaries to focus on intimacy with Jesus, soul care, and renewing our marriage. (You can read my blog here: “Learning to Rest on Sabbatical.”)

For your Sabbatical it’s important to plan ahead by:

  • Discerning a Sabbatical theme and goals
  • Getting approval from your elders or supervisor
  • Balancing personal soul care, marriage, and family
  • Communicating with your staff and/or donors
  • Arranging to meet with a spiritual director or coach

To help you experience a great Sabbatical Kristi and I created an all-in-one Sabbatical tool kit of short videos, check lists, tools, and customized coaching in our Sabbatical Guide.

Resources For Pastor Sabbatical

Further Reading

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