Get Your ACTS Retreat Together
The scent of redwoods during a quiet hike on a hidden trail. Crispy, gooey, scorched s’mores smoked just right. Shouts of triumph…and anguish…while playing ultimate frisbee over a grassy field. These are some of the memories that come alive when someone mentions the word: “retreat”. But retreats aren’t just about what we do when we’re there. They’re also about what we do when we get back. One of the challenges that retreats face how to avoid the mountaintop high and come back refreshed, ready to engage with normal life in the valley. A really great way to address this challenge is to think about what your retreat emphasizes. An ACTS retreat can help!
For those that come from a Catholic background, you may already be familiar with an ACTS retreat. ACTS is an acronym that stands for Adoration, Community, Theology, and Service. An ACTS retreat helps its participants think and focus on these ideas to help foster spiritual growth. No matter what church background you come from these four ideas can be helpful in shaping your retreat and helping your guests extend the truths embraced at retreat back to their lives at home. (If you’re interested learn more about the history of these retreats!)
I love You, O LORD, my strength.
The psalmist in Psalm 18 unapologetically proclaims his adoration of God. At the center of the Christian life is the worship and adoration of God. We declare that He is the most worthy person to spend time with, to reflect upon, to rely upon. At retreat, we can engage in music, in the study of the Word, and in communion together. It’s at retreat where we can get away from the urgency and anxiousness of normal life to focus on Him. But should adoration of God be limited to retreat time only? Of course not! But laying down a foundation to extend that adoration from mountain-top to valley-low can be difficult.
One way to help your guests continue the practice of adoration is to remind them that the joy that they’re experiencing in adoration at retreat doesn’t exist only at retreat. Build events into your retreat that they can replicate at home. For example, you can have a set quiet time for 15 minutes a day and then remind folks that this is something they can do at home too. It can be easy to think that the experience of adoration can only be had at retreat. But by building in simple practices of adoration, you can encourage your guests to practice adoration at home too!
We often think of our spiritual life as just that: ours. Ours is a self-centered individualistic society. But the Christian life speaks of something completely different.
Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this.
It’s interesting how Dietrich Bonhoeffer defines our faith specifically in terms of community. In our faith, we aren’t just connected to God through Christ but we are connected to each other. It is a common but sad truth that despite having attended our own communities of faith for years we often know very little about one another. But while some may see this as a tragic reality, retreats can turn this into a significant opportunity.
As we connect more deeply with one another, we connect more deeply with Christ; each of us, as Christ bearers, express a specific uniqueness that illuminates a special part of God’s creativity. Getting to know one another is part of living and growing as believers. At your retreat, give your guests the opportunity to know one another. Try to accommodate those who may not be as naturally outgoing by creating spaces where people have to engage with one another: this can be done through meals, discussions, games, etc.
One big reason for not having a deeper, closer-knit community is that people find themselves too busy in their every day lives. But if the experience of community is rich at retreat you can use this to challenge people to make time for it as they return home.
Theology is one of those words that make people’s eyes glaze over. But the truth is, theology touches every aspect of life. How we think about our purpose, how we live our values, who we go to for comfort. All of the most mundane of our life practices all rest on the assumptions of the answers to these deepest of life questions. In other words, what we do is how we think about God. Retreat is a great time to not only answer these questions but also to challenge assumptions we have about our lives.
Studying the Word during retreat helps give insight into living our lives. But not only our individual lives but also our life as a community. Again, the challenge with a retreat is that the knowledge learned won’t just stay at retreat, but will become a part of your guests lives as they come back from retreat. Typically, retreats have a speaker or teacher, but consider also having discussion groups where your guests can engage with theological ideas as well as practical ways to live out those ideas. Challenge your guests not just to know God more deeply, but to live out that knowledge and serve Him more deeply.
And this brings us to the final principle of service. As Christians, we want to connect to the life of those around us. But oftentimes we just focus on only ourselves. Service moves us just from knowing about God, to actually living life in Him and through Him. Quite frankly, one might wonder if a life without the marks of service is evidence of a life with poor theology. If our theology reflects the richness of Scripture we ought to be motivated to serve, just as Christ did.
Making service an emphasis in your retreat is a great reminder of Christ. One of the enduring marks of Christ was His love and that was expressed through His service. Service is putting action to the values we have in adoration, community, and theology. Without a devotion to service, we risk looking like we truly don’t value those things. Throughout your retreat, challenge your guests to think how they will serve when they return.
It’s easy to get caught up in the details of retreat planning. Similarly, it’s easy to get caught up in the activities of retreat and forget how these things apply back home. Whether or not you have an ACTS retreat, ACTS serves as a reminder to you and your guests to create a retreat experience that extends beyond a few days to a lifetime. As you dream and plan for your own retreat, how will you use these principles to bring life and encouragement to your guests?