Spiritual Leadership of the Zion Retreat Center

By Lizbeth Johnson, Gift Planner

Pastor Chris Markert
Pastor Chris Markert

Pastor Chris Markert will provide spiritual leadership at the Zion Retreat Center in Galveston soon. His background and open, friendly nature make him natural for this role. Before settling in at Zion, he is serving as Interim Director for Evangelical Mission (DEM) at the synod office. Prior to this, he served at Celebration Lutheran Church, a local mission in northwest Houston. In addition, he also has previous experience serving in New Orleans.

A member of the Order of Lutheran Franciscans, Chris is one of the most affable individuals serving the synod office. I recently had a conversation with him, where he revealed his aspirations for the spiritual development in Galveston.

Pastor Markert, what is your interim title at the synod office and what will be your future title as you transition into a new role later this summer?

Currently my title is Interim Director for Evangelical Mission. This is the person who helps the synod think through its strategy of starting new missions, revitalizing existing congregations, growing ethnic specific ministries, etc. This fall, I will be shared staff with Lutherhill’s Zion Retreat Center in Galveston, where I will serve as Director of Ministries, and with the new Lutheran Franciscan mission, where I will serve as Mission Developer/Pastor.

You seem to be drawn to unique positions and roles in church service that are new, atypical, or groundbreaking. Has the Lord given you specific skills and interests that make you tolerant of the ambiguity of “unchartered” ministry?

I enjoy serving on the “’fringes!’ I’m not afraid of experimenting, taking risks, making mistakes, and learning from them. I also believe one of my primary spiritual gifts is as visionary, one who is able to push clouds away and see a preferred future, helping others see it too. Living with ambiguity is not always easy but I believe for me; it is a way to allow God’s direction to prioritize my own inclinations.

What have you learned in recent roles that will help you build a strong foundation for the retreat center in Galveston?

Serving as the Interim DEM has helped me better understand the complexities of relationships we share in the ELCA, between congregations, the synod, and churchwide. I’ve enjoyed seeing how each entity really does care for the future of the Church. I also have learned how important it is to get as many things out of the way of mission as possible. Systems and organizations tend to drift into complexity, which creates undue burdens of bureaucracy. If I can remember to build in natural ‘resets’ for those times when we become overly complex in our new ministry, I believe that will allow more movement of the Spirit.

What do you hope to accomplish for Lutherans who will experience ministry at the retreat center?

Well, spiritual direction, rest, renewal, and Sabbath are often missing in the very busy lives of pastors and other church leaders. I hope to provide opportunities for people to experience a setting where they can encounter God the Beloved, who desires to be in a deep, abiding relationship with each one of us. An opportunity for them to re-charge will benefit their congregations too.

The long-range vision of others often helps to build great ministries for future generations. With the gifts of Park Place Lutheran Church and others who understand the potential of the retreat center, how do we thank those donors of the past and encourage others to participate through the Mission Endowment Fund for the synod?

Church congregations can make commitments where their heart leads and use available resources to make the connections for congregation members. We are so fortunate when individuals understand the value of ‘paying it forward’ for the next generation of Lutherans to thrive.

The Lutheran Foundation of the Southwest has a gift planner assigned to our synod who can help with legacy gifts that will make a big difference to the center and other ministry causes. The gift planner, Liz Johnson, is available to all churches and congregation members. She can facilitate these support gifts for ministry.

What expectations should others have for the retreat center? How can it further God’s love among us and extending from us?

We will be providing a variety of opportunities for hosted and facilitated retreats and meetings. Learning and service opportunities in and around Galveston will be part of our responsibility. We will provide spiritual support and direction for those at the retreat center and within the community. I look forward to sharing Christ’s love with others through this exciting initiative.

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