Drs. Mike and Kari MacKenzie of Marble, Colorado, are the directors of Marble Retreat Center (www.marbleretreat.org) specializing in “pastor care” through intensive counseling for Christian leaders.
What is “pastor care”?
Mike: Pastor care is ministry that focuses on the spiritual, mental, emotional, and relational healthiness of Christian leaders. The ministry of Marble Retreat is to help bring healing, hope, and restoration to those in vocational Christian ministry.
What led you to this ministry?
Mike: We each had some influences before we were a couple. I was first sensitized by seeing some of my brother’s ministry struggles. When I went to Lincoln [Christian University] for my counseling degree, I began to see that this was an area where work really could be done.
Kari: Before I went to seminary, I had been a missionary in China. I saw long-term missionaries “burning out” with no idea of where they could get help. I also saw one of my best friends in youth ministry leave professional ministry when he hit a low point and could not find help.
Early in my seminary career, I met Mike, then a graduate who was already counseling. There was a lot we liked about each other [she smiles], but we shared a passion for this area of ministry. Before we were married, I did an internship at Blessing Ranch under Dr. John Walker’s supervision. He was great in modeling both therapy with pastors and showing the complexity of running a retreat center. When Mike came to visit me in Colorado near the end of the internship, he asked me to marry him.
Was pastor care part of your “prenups”?
Mike: Almost. It was clearly a mutual concern. After we got married, we went as a couple to work at Blessing Ranch for two and one-half years. That gave us full exposure to both the direct pastor care ministry and all the support activity that empowers it: hospitality, maintenance, public relations, etc.
Kari: Our next steps moved us closer to our distinct ministry calling. We moved to Longmont, Colorado, where we were on staff at LifeBridge Christian Church, doing family ministry together. We also operated a Christian counseling practice. It was during this time we each did our doctor of ministry degrees in pastor care.
You are sounding like twins in your professional development.
Kari: Ha! We’ve traveled the same trails, but one of our strengths is our differentness. We complement each other.
Can you illustrate?
Kari: In counseling couples, Mike is sometimes the more gentle shepherd who uses stories to help people disclose their own stories. I may respond with more directive teaching and application as the story unfolds. Of course, sometimes we reverse the patterns, but we are both better when teamed with each other than we could be alone.
Is your joint ministry style rooted in your genders?
Mike: Maybe, but it does not fit the stereotype. Kari brings the looks and brains, while I bring whatever is opposite. [Kari chuckles] In counseling, I am often pursuing an intuition, while Kari is gathering data and forming a plan. Both with couples and with groups, we find that different people relate more readily to one of us than the other, but the fact that our differing styles produce harmony rather than discord is often redemptive.
You’ve recently been named the directors of Marble Retreat Center. Tell us about that.
Mike: Louis McBurney was a Mayo Clinic psychiatrist who saw a great need among “burnt-out” pastors who were his patients. In 1974, he and his wife, Melissa, started this ministry as a safe place for leaders to get intensive care and rest. Dr. McBurney instituted the group therapy portion of the Marble Retreat model based on his experience at the Mayo Clinic. It has consistently proven to be effective. Steve and Patti Cappa have led for the past 10 years. We worked with them part-time for the past six years and are following in their tradition. More than 4,000 Christian leaders have sought refuge here since the 1970s.
What role does the setting play?
Mike: The beautiful natural setting both provides anonymity and a bit of a playground for the free time that is part of every retreat. Our retreat is a lodge at 8,000 feet elevation near Aspen, above the Crystal River, surrounded by snow-capped mountains where outdoor recreation abounds.
How does it work?
Kari: Each retreat is an eight-day event that includes a powerful combination of group and individual counseling. The two-day weekend in the middle is completely free, but we encourage guests to play, rest, and reflect during this impactful time. Most guests come in very weary, but by the time the retreat is over, we see newness of life and energy.
Are there certain patterns that bring people to Marble?
Kari: The words echo: “I’m just so tired and exhausted” . . . “I used to love ministry, now I dread it” . . . “I cannot believe what I have become” . . . “I never thought I would do what I have done.” Often there is a significant trigger event that precipitates their call: a transition in ministry or life, a death of a colleague, a tragic loss, a revealed sin or addictive pattern.
Mike, can you add to this?
Mike: Marital issues are often the presenting problem, but they are often more the symptom than the cause. Expectations, perceived or real, in ministry often produce the stress that leads to painful problems. People know they are hurting, and they follow the culture in pursuit of feeling better. Often the pastor simply comes to the point of saying, “I cannot fake it any longer.”
Must one be in crisis to enter a retreat with you?
Mike: No, some come because they want to avoid crisis. They may be entering a new phase of ministry and need to “regroup.” Missionaries on furlough may plan this as part of their sabbatical. We love doing preventive work. The groups are not set up with a particular set of problems or life situations. We feel like God puts the groups together and much of the ministry is done as participants minister to each other. We also open our facility for other activities: staff retreats, women’s conferences, spiritual formation seminars, etc.
Can “lay people” get involved in your ministry?
Kari: We have several groups that come each year to do volunteer work around our campus. They get a fun time volunteering as a group while also enjoying the recreation the area has to offer, such as hiking, fishing, skiing. We also really like when people “scholarship” their leadership friends for a retreat.
Are you in this for the long haul?
Both: We are. We think we are where God wants us. And we love it.
Paul Boatman is chaplain at Safe Haven Hospice in Lincoln, Illinois.