Amy Carroll » Sharing Deeply » Leading a Retreat– How to Set Boundaries

Leading a Retreat– How to Set Boundaries

As I said in the first of this retreat series, leading retreats is my favorite kind of speaking. The reason is primarily relational. The highly relational setting of a retreat can create some challenges, however.

As a retreat speaker, it’s important to know our limits and set some healthy boundaries. Here are two challenges I’ve experienced.

You’re Not a Counselor

I guess I should qualify that statement. You’re not a counselor–unless you are! Most of us aren’t, but attendees often mistake us as one. We’ve stood on a stage all weekend looking put together and talking about things we know about. Those two elements sometimes create the illusion that we know how to handle everything; however, it becomes dangerous when we buy into the illusion! We should do all we can to dispel the illusion and operate within healthy boundaries that protect both us and our audience members.

In my early years of speaking, I often made the mistake of trying to step into a counseling role when an attendee wanted to seek my advice in between sessions. My heart was in the right place, and I wanted to help. I found that I quickly got in over my head, though, and I’m sure I did more harm than good.

Now I find myself using one of two strategies.

  1. Prayer– I’ll listen and then say to the woman, “I’m not a counselor, so I can’t help that way. We can pray, though!” And then I pray with her right there on the spot. This is also a way to gently end conversations or confessions that have gone on far too long. It’s a way to truly help by going to Jesus, the Wonderful Counselor, together.
  2. Scripture– If the woman is asking me something specifically addressed in the Scripture I’ve been teaching on, I’ll turn there with her and try to guide her to follow the wisdom there. I actually got to see amazing fruit from this after one conference. I led a retreat for a group two years in a row. During the first year, a woman approached me when God convicted her about living with a man outside of marriage. I was able to point to the Scripture about God’s provision and pray with her that God would provide a new place for her to live. The next year that woman was the first to approach me. She was so excited to tell me about how God had given her a new home when she became determined to live in righteousness. I was as excited as she was!
  3. Resources– When a woman asks for help at a retreat, it’s an opportunity to connect her to resources back home, primarily her church. If she agrees, pulling the women’s ministry director into the conversation can help her to plug-in to Bible studies or other groups where she can find friends who will surround her. For serious problems that will require long-term support, I often refer women to Focus on the Family’s counseling services and referrals.

You’re Not Tireless

Every speaker has a different capacity. The spectrum runs from high-energy extroverts to low-energy introverts and everything in between. It’s important to know yourself and how much rest you need during a retreat in order to do your best.

I always advocate for emptying yourself during a weekend and taking Monday off. Leave everything on the field!

Having said that, you’ll have to find where your body reaches “empty” and conserve your energy to be able to be “on” all weekend. For me, I usually stick around for at least an hour or two on Friday night after the session is over. Planning teams usually have games, crafts, chocolates and other feminine delights scheduled during this time. I don’t stay up until the wee hours with the fun crowd, but I use the time to chat, connect and be one of the girls.

On Saturday afternoon, however, if they have free-time scheduled, I usually head to my room for a nap. Speaking in the morning and interacting during lunch usually take it out of me. I need to refuel to be ready for the evening session.

Each of you is different, so you’ll have to gauge your own energy level. Once you’ve received the weekend schedule, communicate with the event planner ahead of time about times that you’ll be available. She’ll appreciate the time that you’re giving to spend with her attendees.

If you’ve got a retreat coming up, I’d love to do Written Message Evaluation with you! Click here to schedule a free consultation to talk about your needs and discuss the fees for this service.

What’s your best advice for leading a retreat, Speakers?


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  1. Great advice, Amy, thank you! The one retreat I’ve done gave me good insight into these circumstances. There’s definitely a persona that is assumed, and when women did confide in me during the breakouts, I had to fight going into advice mode. God showed me it was best to just listen, empathize, and pray with them.

    1. “I had to fight going into advice mode…” Me too! That’s exactly my temptation, but like you, I’ve found taking them to Jesus is so much better. (Plus most attendees don’t then form an unhealthy attachment/dependence to us that’s hard to deal with later.)