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I ran across this post about a church sponsored weekend retreat at His Daughter His Child,  I am still struck by how my perspective has changed as I look back on the things I experienced in the charismatic church/prophetic movement.

In the post a woman penned as Pauline tells about a weekend retreat which was very popular among her church membership. It seems to me her church is not charismatic and I began to wonder how common these retreats are across the American denominations. I know the weekend ‘encounter’ was almost obligatory in my CLB.

Part of my response to her story was…..

“Attendees were told to fill out a form revealing their deepest darkest secrets including incest, sexual assault, physical assault, pornography, etc. The idea, they were told, is that the Holy Spirit wants to ‘deal with’ these issues to set them free, but the reality is that people are pressured by the tight knit group atmosphere to divulge these things …. It would be different if a person willingly approached a brother or sister in Christ and asked for help, or wanted to confide a certain thing, but the facilitator/attendee relationship is chosen by the leadership, not the attendee.”

In my case the ‘facilitators’ were completely untrained in counseling and had no business knowing these private experiences.  The only requirement was that they themselves had attended a retreat of the same program, and were seen by leadership as conforming to the program mature.

It frightens me to think how many people are walking around with knowledge about their fellow church members which they have no business knowing. It puts them in a place of power over another person.

Looking back on my experience with the weekend retreat, the whole thing was manipulative and twisted. Like Pauline, my weekend was exhausting. Sessions were long-  hours of sitting and listening to teaching; hours of repetitive worship choruses; no alone time. Days full of what was called the dealings of the Holy Spirit, but I suspect was a whole lot more about human navel gazing and contrived soul searching.

It is very difficult to resist following the program when you are in a group of people who all look like they are just fine with it. In my experience the ones who showed any resistance (called rebellion) were considered troubled (the term often used was “having issues”), ganged up on by multiple facilitators, and if not compliant, marked as someone who needed to re-attend the retreat.

Yes, there is a very cathartic feeling as the forms are burned at the end of the retreat and the attendees give glowing testimonies to a packed out sanctuary of  often weeping church members, but in hindsight I think it is a  sort of initiation that then makes the attendee have a very hard time resisting future intrusions by ‘leadership,’ and furthers the culture of silence when questionable teachings and practices are pushed by the leadership.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, Heb 12:1

I won’t discount everything that happens on those weekends, because, yes, we are told to cast aside all sin which entangles us, and I believe some people recommit themselves to this on those weekends.

…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. vs 2

But we would be wise to understand that the Holy Spirit does not need group pressure to speak to us about sin, or group practices/rituals/acts/retreats to set us free. The casting aside of entangling sin is not a one time affair: It is daily, and we are set free from our past by believing in the sufficiency of Christ Jesus, His work on the cross, and His authority over all things.

And if you are one of those people who resisted, or had a bad experience, I hope you will see that you are not somehow damaged or rebellious. Jesus alone is the author and perfecter of our faith, not a program or time table devised by men.

For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. vs3.

I wanted to say something about how a retreat is not wrong in and of itself, and one should just be wise if attending, but down in my gut I have to wonder if putting oneself in such a position where you need to be on the defensive, high alert is really a good idea at all. If attending means you put yourself in a passive listener mode for three days, I have to question it.

Wouldn’t we be better off learning how to live by the Spirit and be led by the Spirit daily, instead of conforming to a pattern where time out of our busy schedule must be ‘set aside’ to let Him ‘deal’ with us?