Joy not just permission

Posted Jul 03, 2013 | Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs


By Robert C. Saler

Rob SalerPeople are often curious as to what distinguishes excellent proposals to the Clergy Renewal Programs from others. There are a few ways of answering that question.

The first is to point to the document featured on this site, “What Makes for a High-Quality Proposal?” This guide has some great tips from past recipients on how to craft a compelling proposal.

The second is to emphasize nonconformity. Different pastors find very different activities to be renewing, and one of the joys of the programs is to observe the sheer variety of activities that pastors and congregations can (and have!) undertaken as part of their three–four month renewal periods. Travel, study, activism, pilgrimage, acquiring healthier habits—all of this is possible, and no two proposals look alike. Creativity, imagination, and self-knowledge are key.

That being said, there is one attribute that I can, without reservation, say is shared by all excellent proposals, and that is this: the proposal demonstrates that the congregation is not just allowing the pastor to leave for renewal but is enthusiastic about the proposal—both for the sake of the pastor and her/his activities and also for the sake of the benefits to the congregation itself.

It is deeply significant that proposals to the Clergy Renewal Programs come, not from pastors, but from congregations; likewise, grants are awarded directly to the congregation for disbursement. This is not simply a practical matter; rather, it reflects the conviction of CTS and the Lilly Endowment that a successful renewal leave will benefit the congregation by benefiting the individual pastor.

What that means, then, is that the most compelling proposals will not simply state that the congregation has given “permission” for the pastor to be away on leave. Rather, the best proposals will demonstrate the congregation’s joy and enthusiasm at the prospect that its pastor will be re-energized and refreshed for ministry

Now, don’t get me wrong—this doesn’t meant that we want congregations to be “glad” about the pastor being gone! It’s natural for congregations that love their pastors to miss them. However, in the same way that we might miss a child that we’ve sent to camp even as we’re grateful and excited about the opportunity for that child, congregations can be joyful about their pastor’s renewal even as they eagerly anticipate the pastor’s return. And congregations can look forward to whatever activities they might have planned for themselves in conjunction with the pastor’s leave.

Truly great proposals have this in common: the congregation’s excitement about renewal is palpable on the page, which means that some of the most important work leading up to the application process is not simply crafting a well-thought-out and exciting set of proposed activities, but also the congregation’s members dreaming together about what renewal could mean and how the shared ministry between the pastor and the people might be revitalized. Many applicants have told us that this process alone makes the application period valuable, regardless of the outcome of the proposal.

When the congregation and the pastor share the excitement of what’s possible, when members are as excited as the pastor about what might lie ahead—that’s when it’s time to apply. We look forward to reading and to sharing your joy!

Robert C. Saler is Research Fellow and Director of the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs at Christian Theological Seminary. He is an ordained minister of Word and sacrament in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

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



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