After seeing pastoral families struggle for years, Pat and Angela Kilby were given a vision to help pastors and their wives by offering them respite and encouragement. That's how Anapauo Group Ministries was born.

Pat and Angela Kilby understand well the stresses that come with pastoral ministry. For the past three decades, the couple has served together as pastor and wife in churches in North Carolina, Oklahoma and Georgia. 

“Being called to pastoral ministry is an honor and a privilege,” said Pat Kilby, who currently serves as senior pastor of Cary First Baptist Church in Cary. “But pastors, ministry leaders, their spouses and families are real people, experiencing real issues in real time. Ministry has many challenges that can lead to stress, anxiety, depression and burnout.”

While ministry has always had unique challenges and stresses, 2020 brought them to a new level. For example, a March 2022 Barna Research Group report noted that 42 percent of pastors were seriously considering quitting ministry, which was up from 29 percent in January 2021.

As he watched the struggles of pastoral families around him, Kilby came across a passage in Scripture that jumped out at him.

“When I read Mark 6:30-32, where Jesus tells the disciples to ‘Come away by yourselves to a remote place and rest for a while,’ the Holy Spirit really wrecked me,” Kilby said. “I knew God was calling me to help encourage pastors and their wives.”

That’s when God birthed a dream for Anapauo Group Ministries, a young nonprofit ministry in North Carolina that provides one-of-a-kind getaways for ministry couples free of charge. 

Anapauo is the Greek word in Mark 6:30-32 that means to cause someone to gain relief from the toil.

“After I shared this with Angela, we began praying,” Kilby said. “God gave us a vision to create a ministry to help pastors and their wives, to encourage them and strengthen them.”

Anapauo Group Ministries has held about 12 retreats since starting in 2020, with most of them being in North Carolina. Typically, three ministry couples take part in each retreat.

At the moment, they don’t have a permanent location for these retreats, so they host them at various bed and breakfasts around the state and beyond. Another couple, Jimmy and Jenny Millard, prepare incredible and unforgettable meals for the couples during the three-day experience. 

The structure of the retreats is built on four principles, organized upon the acronym REST. 

• Rest and relaxation: They provide plenty of time for naps, reading, recreation and great food. 

Encouragement: Pastors and their wives spend time sharing with and encouraging one another.

Spiritual development: The retreats include intentional and meaningful times of prayer and biblical teaching.

Transformation: Everything is built with the hope that the three days of rest will have a lasting impact on the couples. 

Every couple who attends gets their own private suite, a stipend for travel expenses, a gift basket and the costs for all the recreational activities. 

“We really just want to lavish God’s love on these people and give them a pause for just a few days, just to let them know that we love them,” Kilby said.

All of this comes at no cost to the ministry couples.

“Anapauo Group Ministries also has generous donors who love, care for, and desire to invest in the health and well-being of pastors, ministry leaders and their spouses,” Kilby said. “Because of the kindness of these kingdom-minded people, we are able to provide this special and vital ministry cost-free to every couple who attends.”

The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina is one of those sponsors that makes it possible for ministry leaders to take part in these retreats at no cost. 

“The health and spiritual condition of pastors, ministry leaders and their spouses has a significant impact on the effectiveness of the local church and the advancement of God’s kingdom,” said Todd Unzicker, executive director-treasurer for N.C. Baptists. “Pastors and ministry leaders are serving under stressful conditions that can lead to discouragement, frustration as well as burnout. These issues can cause pastors and ministry leaders to consider walking away from ministry.

“N.C. Baptists endorse the effort and desire of Anapauo Group Ministries to provide meaningful times of rest, relaxation, and encouragement for pastors, ministry leaders and their spouses.”

The retreat came at just the right time for Timothy and Jocelyn Gore. Their son, Caleb, was among nine soldiers killed when two Black Hawk helicopters crashed near Fort Campbell, Kentucky, during a nighttime training exercise in March.

This devastating news followed the death of Timothy Gore’s mother in December and an emergency stomach surgery in February. 

Keith Hudson, the executive director of the Neuse Baptist Association, saw the pain the couple was experiencing and recommended the Gores participate in an Anapauo retreat. 

“For us, it was a time to restore our lives a little bit, our marriage – because it had certainly taken its toll on that – and honestly, our sanity,” said Timothy Gore, the pastor of Fremont Missionary Baptist Church in Fremont. “All three factors were motivations for us to participate. We just needed a moment, because at that point we were just going through the motions.”

Pastor Gore calls the Anapauo retreat a turning point in his life.

“Going into this, I have friends who told me that I needed to stop and sit with it all,” Gore said. “I’m not that guy – I’m a Type A plus personality who doesn’t like stopping, ever. But we needed it, so we stopped and we reflected.

“Looking back now, that was the moment we began to heal a little bit. It was the beginning of a journey to healing, even if I’m not perfect and everything isn’t settled. I don’t know that it will ever be fully settled on this side of heaven. But that pause was vital.”

EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry is a freelance writer with more than 20 years experience writing about faith and ministry. This article originally appeared in the October 2023 issue of the Biblical Recorder magazine. To learn more about Anapauo Group Ministries and their retreats visit anapauogroup.org.