Pastoral Retreat with Men: Should I Go or Not?

“Call me old-fashioned, man! But if you think this is okay, then you are an idiot!”

I couldn’t believe my ears. What just happened? These words weren’t directed at me, but they might as well be since I was the “cause of the tension.”

Everyone at the table was getting ready to wrap up our routine weekly pastoral meeting. The last item on the agenda for the day was about a pastoral retreat. Typically, we place important items on top of the list, so I didn’t expect this one to turn into another 30-minute discussion; I mean a heated-discussion. I was expecting to cross this bridge someday, and I was glad the time had come finally.

Before you read on, I want you to know that I didn’t write about this experience prematurely because I didn’t want it to be a place of venting. I took time to think, pray, and talk about it before I felt like my feelings weren’t getting in the way of sharing such a wonderful lesson with you. What you are about to read isn’t something you will learn in school or in a book (though I should probably write one someday).

As women in ministry, we face various kinds of difficult situations. I’m sure each of you have your own stories to tell. Yet, there are unique challenges that come with being a female lead pastor. I hope my story encourages you to stay faithful to God’s call.

So, back to the shock of me hearing the comment I will never forget…

I thought we were going to talk about when and where to meet on the day of the retreat, what to bring, how we would carpool, and etc. Instead, we ended up talking more about whether or not we should even go on the retreat because I was the ONLY female attending the retreat. The conversation went something like this:

A: So, is any of the wives going with us?

B: No. My wife is working and she’s with the kids.

C: Yeah, mine, too.

A: Well, if no wife is going, then I think we have an issue here.

Me: What issue? It’s a pastoral retreat. When my husband was a lead pastor, I wasn’t asked to come. So why are we wanting the spouses to join us at this retreat? I am a lead pastor just like you guys.

A: It’s not about you. I have daughters, and I think it’s smart to protect them from any danger.

Me: What danger? I trust you guys, and we should trust each other. I wouldn’t be sitting in this room if I didn’t. You guys celebrate and support women in ministry. You welcomed me to the lead pastoral table. Then, I expect to be treated as your equals in all circumstances.

A: (Turning to men) Would you guys go on a retreat with other women as the only man?

B: Yeah, I would. In fact, guys drive vans for women’s events all the time, traveling together and staying in the same hotel (not the same room). So I don’t see a problem.

C: Saehee will have her own room with a separate bathroom.

A: Well, call me old-fashioned, man! But if you think this is okay, then you are an idiot!

The conversation went on like this for the next 20 minutes. A talk about human sexuality was briefly tossed around the table. I chuckled inside because I sensed a panic in the room as if I was a predator. I was thinking, “Don’t worry about it, guys. I am NOT attracted to any of you. Nothing will happen. I promise!”

I knew the concern was multi-faceted. One of the guys could have done something to me (though I could have overturned him with my 3rd degree blackbelt TaeKwondo moves). Or I could have been the bad apple and caused an issue (but really, they are like my brothers… so…). And the other potential issue was about how the church would perceive this retreat.

I thought about not going to make it easy. After all, if it weren’t for me, this type of talk would have never happened. But I CHOSE to go in the end; not to make a point that I, too, am a lead pastor like they are, but to pave the way for the next female lead pastors. I needed to go to see what it is like to be the only woman at the pastoral retreat.

Looking back, I am so glad I went for many reasons:

First of all, we all had a great time cooking, eating, talking, playing games, praying, worshiping, and visioning together. I’m sure my presence changed the dynamic of “once-all-male-retreat.” But our time together helped us grow together and behave better around each other.

Second, it showed them that I truly embrace this role of lead pastor and am equally invested in this team. I didn’t sign up to be a partial lead pastor. When I’m in, I am ALL IN!

Last, I went to the retreat for you. I chose to go because I wanted to be your voice in all spheres of ministry. If I didn’t go, then I would have made another sad statistics and become bitter. But since I went and had a wonderful time connecting with my peers, I can now share my experience with you and say, “Pastors, be at the pastoral retreat! You belong there!”

I look forward to next year’s lead pastoral retreat! Whether I will have a female roommate or not, I’m committed to growing with my fellow brothers in Christ! We can’t do this Kingdom work alone; we need each other!

So, don’t let our gender dictate what we can or cannot do. Let God’s calling determine that. Of course, we need to use common sense and wisdom in every circumstance. But when God places a ministerial call upon you, you are not just a female-pastor; you are a PASTOR who is a woman.

God bless you, my friends! Love your calling and live it out fully! It’s not easy, but it sure is exciting!