Last month I had the privilege of meeting up with thirteen other nonprofit leaders from across the country, each outstanding in their fields. It was the fifth year we gathered under Montana’s big sky to fly fish on the Bighorn River, but this is not just a fishing trip. It is a pilgrimage. “A pilgrimage is a way of praying with your feet. You go on a pilgrimage because you know something is missing inside your soul, and the only way you can find it is to go to sacred places, places where God made himself known to others. In sacred places, something gets done to you that you’ve been unable to do for yourself.”1
I make this pilgrimage every year because I need God to do something in me through the wisdom and vulnerability of that community. Our time together is a sacred blend of laughter, rest, competition, feasting, and deep conversations. From the quiet early mornings through the day on the river and late nights around the firepit, we enjoy a sacred space of freedom and safety where God makes himself known to us.
On our first trip, most of us only knew Mike, the trip organizer. He took the initiative because he was certain of a couple of things: He knew he needed to get away, and he knew that some of his close friends needed to as well. He also had a hunch: His good friends would become good friends with each other. Mike was right on all accounts, and thus a community was born.
I wish I had time to tell you about each of the leaders who attended, how they’ve impacted me, and share some of the significant (and hilarious) things we’ve experienced together. Since I don’t have space for that, I will leave you with a few observations that may intersect your life and leadership today.
Pay attention to your need for rest. There is a story about Elijah in 1 Kings 19, and he says, “I am the only one left….” I’m the only one carrying the banner. I’m the only one trying to move this enterprise forward. I am the only one working my heart out. I am alone. “I am alone,” is the cry of a weary heart. It is a signal that you need to get away, and chances are, some of your close friends need to as well. Why not take the risk and convene them for an evening or a long weekend?
Rest doesn’t necessarily mean inactivity, but it does leave a margin for it. An old adage says, “If you labor with your mind, then sabbath with your hands, and if you labor with your hands, sabbath with your mind.” In other words, if your work consists of reading, writing, and looking at a computer all week, it may be refreshing to spend your day off mowing the lawn and trimming trees – and the reverse is also true. Many leaders say, “I love to work, and I can’t sit still,” but don’t miss that even God chose to sit still. I’m sure He enjoyed His work. I’m sure it gave Him great delight. I’m sure He could have thought of other things to do, and yet He modeled to His image bearers the beauty and necessity of stopping. (See Genesis 2:2, Genesis 2:3, Exodus 20:8-11, Hebrews 4:4)
Don’t underestimate the power of an annual gathering. For a long time, I’ve said, “Proximity + frequency + authenticity = community.” Typically, we think of experiencing community in weekly gatherings that last an hour or two. That’s great, and you might need that, but I contend that spending 72-96 hours sharing your meals, sharing your hearts, and sharing your lives creates an equally life-giving community. This trip has become an indispensable component in the rhythm of my life. I challenge you to consider who would be in a group like that for you, where you could go, and when it will happen.
Resist the temptation to over-program. Leaders are notorious for complicating things. So, when we arrive at the lodge, there is only one thing scheduled that we hope everyone will participate in: the evening meal conversation. Little more is needed than asking a thoughtful question in a sacred place where people can honestly respond. For me, this is the fertile soil for hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit, growing transformational relationships, and being a better person.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me, and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me, and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)
1. Ian Morgan Cron, Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale, (Zondervan, 2006)