The 7R’s of Sancturary

Posted Nov 02, 2015 | Pastoral Excellence Network

By Rev. Dr. Debora Jackson

When I was a girl, I remember the “old folks” saying, “Lord, have mercy.” I would hearthe prayer in response to noisy neighborhood children, “Lord, have mercy!” I would hear the prayer in response to tragic events, “Lord, have mercy!” I even heard the prayer as church women talked among themselves, “Lord, have mercy!”

When I began seminary, I took to saying, “Lord, have mercy.” I was so busy with classes that my prayer life was reduced to “Lord, have mercy.” I was seeking mercy from my classes. Called as pastor while in seminary, I was seeking mercy from the challenges of ministry. And also being a wife and mother, sometimes “Lord, have mercy” was the only utterance that made sense.

While it was gratifying that I was continuing this ancient ritual, declaring, “Lord, have mercy,” as I ran hither and yon was hardly restorative. I needed more: more for myself, and more for my leadership.

I was struggling as a pastor with a congregation in decline. My faithful flock was aging and growing tired. How was I to encourage them to help me build a ministry? How was I to do the work of maintaining a congregation, motivating new ministries, and reconnecting with a community who had lost contact with the church? “Lord, have mercy,” was often the response.

But I learned that if I were to be effective in my ministry, I had to find ways to mobilize my congregation while feeding my spirit so that I could be sustained. I needed to be able to step away from the challenges that were confronting my church in order to gain perspective. And I needed to be able to lead in a way that put shared onus on the congregation because I did not have all of the answers.

This was the beginning of a process that I call the 7Rs of Sanctuary. Ronald Heifetz noted that leaders need to create sanctuary as a means to restore their sense of purpose and well-being. Inspired by this idea, I wanted to learn whether leaders who created sanctuary by taking time apart from their leadership in order to be reflective were more effective. And it was through this research that I could answer the question affirmatively. By stepping away from your leadership context, you create perspective and realize greater objectivity toward confronting challenges. By reflecting, you gain increased well-being. But you are also positioned to learn as you take action, analyze that action, and refocus efforts to recognize future improvements. Additionally, the personal renewal and refocused outcomes which result from sanctuary help us to be self-differentiated, emotionally engaged and energized, yet individually distinct in our leadership. We are positioned to lead in ways that enable us to mobilize congregations, organizations, or teams so that they learn and make progress on confronting challenges. The leader, in the process, moves from leading the charge to facilitating the change. So freed, we are no longer struggling in the “Lord, have mercy” moment.

The 7Rs of Sanctuary was developed to provide a way-of-life process to help you realize greater effectiveness in your leadership while increasing your spiritual well-being. I pray God’s mercy that you might engage this process for yourself.

The Rev. Dr. Debora Jackson is the Executive Director of the Ministers Council, American Baptist Churches, USA, She is the author of the Judson Press book, Spiritual Practices for Effective Leadership: 7Rs of Sanctuary for Pastors

Join Dr. Jackson on November 19, 2015 at 2:00 p.m. (EST)  for the PEN Talk, a free webinar: “7Rs of Sanctuary for Leaders,” (no pre-registration needed):

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