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Framework for Discernment Retreats By Dr. Gary G. Hoag

Discernment Retreats to Align Your Ministry to God’s Plan

We can’t plan travel or program retreats as we did in the past. This has led us as church and ministry workers to set aside our desires with fasting to discern God’s heart. We have had to rethink how we do what we do. This has made us more diligent in prayer. Boards have confessed their dependence on God like never before.

Many have abandoned strategic planning processes and called for help. So, this post offers a tool for discerning direction at your next in-person meeting. At Global Trust Partners (GTP), we call it the discernment retreat. It positions the Spirit to guide participants with unity and clarity over 3 days. The output is a Discerning Direction Document or 3D.

Day 1 – What has God done in the past?

Start the day with fasting and prayer, confessing dependence on God to guide your group. Read Scriptures like Psalm 66 or 136. Discuss one question: What has God done in the past? Give everyone a chance to comment. You will learn new things about each other and celebrate God’s faithfulness together.

In so doing, you discover afresh why God has brought you together. You get a glimpse of a bigger agenda, a bigger story unfolding. Enjoy it. After hours with no food, enjoy a good meal, and do a fun activity to deepen your relationships and build community. End the day by getting good rest.

Day 2 – How is God working in the present?

Follow the same pattern with fasting and prayer, confessing your reliance on God. Read texts like Acts 13:1-5 or 14:21-28. You’ll soon see the biblical roots of this practical tool. The Apostle Paul and his companions had ministry activities they practiced in each city, and yet, to discern direction, they engaged these practices.

On the second day, consider this question: How is God working in the present? Get ready to learn things you did not know as you listen to each other. God works in mysterious ways. Only when you let go of your plans do you begin to discern God’s will. Follow the same pattern as the first day regarding fasting and fellowship.

Day 3 – Where is God leading in the future?

Repeat the rhythms of fasting and prayer, confessing your need for the Spirit to direct you. From there, soak in passages like Acts 16:1-10 or 18:1-17. You will find that God will guide you, even in dark times, and give you confidence to change directions or press on, just like the Apostle Paul and his companions.

Sit with this question: Where is God leading in the future? While your board chair or CEO may speak last on the first two days, this is the day for that person to lead by simply sharing what they have heard. A new vision surfaces, and let everyone respond to it. Then, again, invest some special time and feast together.

Output: Discerning Direction Document (3D)

What does the output from the retreat look like? It’s a list of faithful activities that a CEO, a staff member, and/or a team agrees to pursue over the next year. Click to see a sample of a 3D for a CEO, a 3D training video, and a 3D slide deck to help you use this tool at your church or ministry. Why utilize these free tools?

In the Old Testament, Esther called God’s people to fast for three days. God used that practice to unify His people and to take them from destruction to deliverance. We have found that the discernment retreat saves us from ourselves and our proclivity to take control. The Spirit unites us and charts a clear course for us. 

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Gary G. Hoag, Ph.D., serves as President & CEO of Global Trust Partners (GTP). In obedient service to Jesus Christ, GTP multiplies faithful stewards and mobilizes peer accountability groups to build trust and to grow local generous giving to God’s work.


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