Opportunities and cautions for ministers and congregations planning renewal programs

Posted May 07, 2013 | Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs


By Ronald J. Allen

Ronald J. AllenI have been involved with the Lilly Endowment’s Clergy Renewal Programs for a number of years. During this time, some opportunities and possibilities common to ministers and congregations have become clear, as have some cautions. In this post, I first list what I perceive to be the major benefits and then turn to some things about which to be cautious. Neither the benefits nor the cautions are universal: All are contextual. Some of these items are interrelated.


  1. A renewal leave gives the minister an opportunity to disentangle from the congregation and to step back and look at ministry and the congregation with fresh eyes.
  2. A renewal leave gives the minister and members of the household an opportunity to spend sustained quality time together.
  3. A renewal leave can give the minister an opportunity for sustained time alone.
  4. A renewal leave gives the minister an opportunity to pursue in depth and in an uninterrupted way a subject about which the minister is passionate.
  5. A renewal leave gives the minister an opportunity to get outside the ministerial box and to explore things that are sometimes difficult to explore in ongoing ministry.
  6. A renewal leaves gives the minister an opportunity to jump-start new life rhythms and is long enough to let those rhythms become habits (such as daily exercise or new ways of eating).
  7. A renewal leave gives the minister time to catch up with that list of things outside the church that the minister has been postponing.
  8. A well-planned renewal leave allows a minister to experience a little bit of what life is like for a layperson—especially when visiting new congregations, or having weekends, or a whole week of evenings that are not scheduled.
  9. A renewal leave gives a minister an opportunity to just hang out.
  10. A renewal leave is best when the congregation is healthy and when the minister and congregation are in good relationship.
  11. A renewal leave gives members of the congregation opportunities to assume some aspects of ministry ordinarily performed by the clergy. Members thus get a little bit of a window into ministry. The priesthood of all believers can become more concrete for laity.
  12. A renewal leave can help ministers experience grace—the unmerited favor of getting to do things that a minister never imagined she or he would be able to do.


When planning a leave, ministers and congregations might take account of these cautions.

  1. Some ministers try to schedule too much into a renewal leave. The leave becomes too busy.
  2. Some ministers do not have a real focus or theme for the leave. They just lump together a bunch of things that sound like fun.
  3. Some ministers have too much focus on continuing education. While some continuing education may be useful to the minister, the best leaves typically provide a variety of activities that contribute to the minister’s holistic regeneration.
  4. Some ministers do not leave enough time at the beginning and end of a leave to make an appropriate mental adjustment to leaving the congregation or for returning. The best leaves often have buffers at the beginning and end.
  5. Some congregations are not adequately involved in planning and approving the leave. The best leave proposals usually arise from truly shared planning, with the congregation fully informed and with official congregational approval.
  6. Some proposals from congregations plan too much for the congregation to do while the minister is away. The minister returns home refreshed only to find an exhausted congregation.
  7. Some proposals ask the grant to pay for things that the church budget should pick up. For example, the cost of painting the fellowship hall is not typically an expense for the grant.
  8. Some congregations plan to do things when the minister is away that should really be done in consultation with the minister. For example, some congregations have proposed doing long-range planning while the minister is on leave.
  9. Some ministers want to use a leave as a three-month escape from on-going congregational issues. A leave is not a time simply to escape. Such issues should be resolved before a leave is proposed.

Ronald J. Allen is Professor of Preaching and Gospels and Letters at CTS, an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and author of the recently published Acts of the Apostles, a commentary on preaching from the Acts in the Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentary series.

The Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs at Christian Theological Seminary (CTS) seek to strengthen Christian congregations by providing opportunities for pastors to step away briefly from the persistent obligations of daily parish life and to engage in a period of renewal and reflection. To request permission to repost this content, please contact clergyrenewal@cts.edu.



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