Several days of hiking on the Appalachian Trail would leave many individuals feeling exhausted.
Marty Shadoan said it had the opposite effect for him and the other pastors who recently hiked part of the trail while participating in the “Off the Grid” ministry sponsored by the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board’s conference centers.
“Off the Grid is a unique opportunity for pastors to rejuvenate, both body and soul,” said Shadoan, pastor of First Baptist Church Rockwood. “There is nothing like spending three days on the trail with one’s fellow pastors. We hike with one another, share with one another, learn from one another and encourage one another.”
The “Off the Grid” ministry — which officially launched in 2020 — was developed by Kevin Perrigan, camp manager at Carson Springs Baptist Conference Center. Perrigan said he wanted to have a ministry that would enable pastors to discover an outlet to get away from the pressures of ministry while also forming new friendships with other pastors from around the state.
“What started as a discussion with a pastor friend — about the idea of a backpacking trip just for pastors, with the purpose of allowing them to disconnect from the stresses of the ministry — has transformed into the ‘Off the Grid Project,’ ” he said.
‘Refreshed and renewed’
Perrigan had been toying with the idea of having an “Off the Grid” ministry for many years. The fact that the idea came to life during the pandemic — when many pastors were struggling through some of the most challenging days of their ministry — was just good timing. Or, more accurately, God’s timing.
“Only God knew He would utilize this idea to place pastors into an atmosphere where they can be refreshed and renewed,” Perrigan said. “The pandemic seemed to be the catalyst that set this program in motion.”
Perrigan said the ministry is doing just what he hoped it would.
“Throughout all the ‘Off the Grid’ trips, I’ve seen pastors become relaxed, share stories, struggles and concerns,” he said. “Many have become avid hikers since their trip to help them structure a time away to decompress on a weekly basis. It has been an honor getting to know these incredible men and their desire to be used by God.”
Rocky Sickel, pastor of FBC Woodlawn, said the hiking trip was advantageous for him and the other pastors in a variety of ways.
“Three days on the trail is better than three weeks of vacation,” he said. “The benefits (were) physical, spiritual, personal and motivational. … The physicality of the trip coupled with the fellowship of other pastors resulted in a complete mental reboot.”
‘Source of joy and strength’
Adam Q. Cutshaw, chaplain and evangelist for Audience of One Ministries, said the trip was “a source of personal joy and strength for me.” Cutshaw is currently serving as interim pastor at FBC Tullahoma.
The TBMB conference centers plan to host three or four “Off the Grid” adventures each year. In addition to hiking, fly fishing trips are also scheduled. Those interested in going can contact Perrigan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A place to withdraw and think
Cutshaw added, “The ‘Off the Grid project’ addresses critical needs of pastors. This (ministry) promotes pastoral encouragement and stress reduction while providing a time and place to think unhindered.
“Kevin Perrigan does a fantastic job providing a three-day adventure that produces an environment for healing and time for prayer that proves to be a catalyst for much fruit in personal life and public ministry,” he added. “Fellow ministers are able to connect with each other in an environment that facilitates healthy conversations.”
Jeff Vanlandingham, pastor of FBC Lawrenceburg, helped Perrigan develop the concept of the ministry. Vanlandingham has gone on two of the trips and has seen firsthand the benefits of the time away for himself and the other pastors.
“Getting ‘off the grid’ is vital (for pastors), with our 24/7 ministry demands,” Vanlandingham said. “Luke 5:16 shows us the perfect example of Jesus: ‘Yet he often withdrew to deserted places and prayed.’”
Vanlandingham said he was excited to see the positive impact the ministry is making.
“This (was) my second trip and I’m ready for the next,” he said. “I am thankful for Kevin, the Carson Springs staff and our TBMB for ministering to ministers.”