Well, beginning on Tuesday, May 28 until Monday, August 5, I will officially be on sabbatical. The elders granted me 7 weeks (one week each for the last 7 years since my first sabbatical in 2006) and I am adding 3 weeks of vacation for a total of 10 weeks. Sheri and I will enjoy a family reunion (Oregon coast), 2 weeks in Vancouver, B.C., where I will take a seminary class from J. I. Packer in II Corinthians, an Alaskan cruise, 4 days at a retreat center, time in Portland with our daughter and her family, and finally a week in Utah with my cousin at their vacation home.
My sabbatical will include rest and recovery, reflection and refocus and finally realignment. I ask for your prayers and your blessing. I am confident in the leadership of Pastor Brandon and the entire staff and elder team to not only keep the ship afloat but to grow spiritually and numerically.
The following article was written by Roy Oswald.
Why should congregational lay leaders want their pastor to experience regular renewal leave? Consider these six strong motivations:
1. The very nature of being an effective pastor involves continual spiritual growth. Spiritual depth does not happen by accident; it takes hard, intentional work. Basically, it is a lifelong process involving big chunks of time set aside for reading, prayer, solitude, and reflection. Clergy will likely need to be in relationship with a spiritual director who can reflect with them on where they are on their spiritual journey, and what issues loom large on the horizon if they are to continue to grow in grace and faith. For some it may involve traveling to a spiritually significant place to gain perspective on their ministry. Trying to do this while working between forty-five and fifty-five hours each week is nearly impossible. If clergy are to deliver deep and challenging sermons regularly, congregations will need to provide opportunities for their pastors to get away for extended periods of time dedicated to spiritual development.
2. Parish ministry today is changing rapidly. Congregations will experience neither numerical growth nor growth in spiritual depth and service when they refuse to move with changing times and develop fresh ways to reach new and younger congregants. Meeting this challenge means clergy must periodically retreat from the congregation to retool or refocus their ministry approaches. Visiting other congregations that are successfully reaching out to new members allows clergy to garner new insights they can bring back to their own congregations. Clergy renewal leave can help ensure that congregations will benefit from the best practices of other congregations.
3. Without such renewal leave, there is a stronger chance that clergy will, over time, demonstrate the key characteristics of burnout-namely, exhaustion, cynicism, disillusionment, and self-deprecation. It has been documented that people in the helping professions tend to burn-out the fastest, in part because the constant intimate involvement with the emotional freight of other people’s lives can be draining. Burned-out clergy are much more likely to leave parish ministry, or seek another call, in order to get out of a place that is wringing them dry. Should that happen, the congregation will, in turn, likely experience a twelve-to-eighteen-month search process for another pastor. If the search committee makes the wrong choice, the congregation will end up with a pastor who is unable to bring new life to the congregation. In fact, it may cost them several years of decline – not to mention a severance package! Even if the search committee makes the right choice, the new pastor will need two to three years to get to know the congregation and develop a significant program. Every pastoral turnover costs a congregation years of progress. Sabbatical leave helps avoid such situations.
4. Another lethal effect of burnout is that it makes a pastor dull, hollow, and uninteresting. Such people are not the best vehicle to bring good news to people! Clergy vitality is the greatest asset in building up a congregation. When congregants feel their pastor is exciting and spiritually alive, they can’t wait to bring their friends to church. When the pastor is burned out, congregants may be somewhat embarrassed to introduce their pastor to friends – there is no excitement left to which strangers feel drawn. The paradox of congregational ministry for clergy is that they are constantly invited to overextend (there is always someone they should have called or to whom they should have given attention) but doing so can torpedo the vitality that drives their ministry. Renewal leave can be a powerful antidote to this kind of debilitating burnout.
5. The pastoral role generally involves long, hard hours without weekends off, or even the occasional long weekend. Pastors are rarely afforded the luxury of having two consecutive days off every week that most laypeople enjoy. Every weekend involves a major output of energy on Sunday. Friday and Saturday are often consumed by sermon preparations, wedding rehearsals and weddings, and so forth. Congregations too often assume that clergy can remain vital and healthy and maintain a sound family life with only one day off per week. This is a crazy norm. We don’t know where it comes from, but it permeates every denomination on this continent. When you add up the time off clergy miss that most lay people take for granted, it becomes clear that a three-month renewal leave every four years is a reasonable proposal that helps make up for that loss.
6. We need also to examine the ways in which congregations become overly dependent upon their clergy. For some congregations it is almost unthinkable to have their pastor away for three months. There is something quite unhealthy about an attitude that says, “We simply couldn’t manage without him/her.” How can a congregation develop skills in self-sufficiency if their pastor is never off the scene? Or learn how to manage their own life together effectively without him or her? If, as Loren Mead predicts, we move so deeply into a “post-Christendom” era that congregations would be forced to pay property taxes, over half the congregations on the continent could no longer afford to employ a full-time pastor. They would need to learn to thrive without on-site pastoral leadership. Clergy renewal leaves can help congregations develop self-sufficiency skills that will be invaluable in the event of such a scenario.
I look forward to returning in August refreshed and renewed. I pray that each of you will grow and come alive as Christ followers through this summer.
With love and affection,