The Benefits of Planning Ahead

December 9, 2014

I am not by nature a planner, but rather I find that I am a strong responder.  To be absolutely honest, I am a procrastinator; one who relies on her God-given abilities to get her through not only challenges but also weekly and daily responsibilities as they arise rather than to prepare for them ahead of time.  So when my friend and colleague, Carter Ellis, invited me to join her for a sermon/worship service planning retreat, I was willing to join her.  This was because I knew that it was something I should do, planning, that is; but at the same time, I was doubtful that it would be fruitful.  Boy was I wrong.  I came away from that first retreat with a good outline of what I would be preaching and ideas of how the worship space would be set up to visually reinforce the message for not only the next few weeks; but for the next three months.  I discovered that time apart with the added benefit of an accountability partner to keep me on task and to also share ideas with was just what I needed to release all those great and graced thoughts from the jumbles of my mind to a concrete plan.  And so when Carter, once again, invited me to join her for an Advent (and into the New Year) planning retreat, I was once again “in.”

Our retreat times, thus far, are loosely formatted.  We do enjoy meals together and walks to stretch our legs and minds; however, these times of respite are always surrounded by much time with our Bibles, books, computers and conversations about what we have discovered, what appeals to us and does not, our respective congregations and their needs spiritually and traditionally, the events and missions that the season will entail and the worship services and sermons we plan to preach.   What is missing are meetings, visits, administrative duties and constant interruptions and distractions that are all part and parcel of a minister’s daily work life.

Some of our accomplishments this go round were to determine that neither of us wanted to and would not preach about John the Baptist two Sundays in a row during Advent; and, on a more serious note, the realization that our congregations would benefit from a Covenant Renewal Service and a focus on health early in 2015.  We used lectionary texts, commentaries, Mary Lou Redding’s While We Wait, ideas from, United Methodist Communications and Ministry Matters.  We leaned into our learnings from our respective and fairly recent divinity school educations, and borrowed from trusted colleagues who had passed on to us their ideas and successes.  And in the end we came away with a plan into January that would sustain and stretch us and our congregations, but at the same time a plan that would give us a sense of peace and an opportunity to enjoy the most wonderful time of the year. Needless to say, planning retreats are now scheduled on my calendar as they only serve to make me a stronger leader.

By Rev. Eileen Ayuso, pastor, New London UMC
Leadership Development