Right now, more than 500 Alabama Baptist churches are looking for a pastor.
“Serving as a pastor just takes a toll, and many say they can’t do it anymore,” said Robert Mullins, the longtime pastor of Crossroads Community Church in Elmore who was recently called as executive director of the Madison Baptist Association. “And the ones who are retiring or quitting, we’re not seeing them regenerate through the younger generation.”
He said he believes a lot of that is because the pastors have burned out and “the younger generation sees that and doesn’t want any part of that.”
But Mullins, who also leads PassionTree Network, a group that “exists to encourage and equip men to fulfill their calling from the Lord as disciple-making pastors,” said he believes that toll could be countered in many cases with one thing — real rest. It’s always been a need, but the need was ramped up during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even now, “for whatever reason, there’s still a lot of stress and pressure,” Mullins said, adding that the tension in the Southern Baptist Convention also isn’t helping anything.
That’s why he believes time for retreat is necessary.
“I think now more than ever pastors need an opportunity to step away from their normal, everyday routine, to step into a different perspective — maybe even a different place — and rest,” he said. “Jesus is the model for this. He often withdrew to the wilderness to pray.”
Mullins said Scripture teaches that Jesus did that to connect to the Father and that at times a group of men would go with him also.
“Retreating for rest is a very biblical model, but most pastors do not practice it,” he said. “However, most pastors really need it deep down in their core.”
That’s why PassionTree held its first retreat for pastors in 2014 and has continued to hold one every year since then in partnership with the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.
“We started with seven pastors in a cabin in North Carolina, and this year we had 30 pastors from all over the country,” Mullins said of the retreat, called The Summit. “Rest and refreshment are cornerstones of the retreat. It’s not a conference; it’s not about tips and tricks. It’s about you connecting with God and other pastors.”
In the afternoons, there’s nothing on the schedule — pastors can go for hikes, take naps in hammocks, go fishing, whatever they want to do. Mullins said the setup is intentional; he wants to create an environment for pastors to completely unplug.
“The encouragement is just not to do any work — sermon writing isn’t allowed,” Mullins said. “It’s a little difficult at the beginning for first-time guys, but they almost race back after that first time.”
He said he’s heard pastors say the experience was life-changing and reset their view of the importance of rest. He’s felt the same thing — he said it has reignited his passion for ministry.
“If Jesus had to do it, then we certainly have to do it,” Mullins said.
Larry Hyche, who focuses on men’s spiritual development at the SBOM, said The Summit is a “very unique type of retreat” because it focuses on rest gained through relationships.
“It has been a huge encouragement to me personally and to several others I know,” he said. “In ministry you end up with lots of stories and scars and all kinds of stuff. To be able to have a group of guys you can confide in — it’s extremely valuable. We’ve prayed over each other; we’ve all taken turns encouraging others and being encouraged.”
Brandon Fomby, pastor of East Tallassee Baptist Church, said for him, the retreat is a “reset button.”
It’s made up of “some life-giving realities that pastors need that oftentimes they don’t realize they need, and if they do realize they need it, they might not know where to find it,” he said. “It’s a wonderful thing.”
For more information, visit passiontree.org/events.