Ensuring the success of the sabbatical

Posted Nov 20, 2013 | Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs

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By congregation members of Concord Baptist Church of Christ, Brooklyn, NY


This blog post is part of a series that features guest posts from members of congregations that have received Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal grants. We wish to highlight the ways in which these grants are blessings, not only to the pastors who go on renewal leaves, but to the congregations themselves.

Gary V. SimpsonOur goal was very simple and clear. We wanted to provide our senior pastor, who has been our congregation’s guide, model and friend for 20 years, with a sabbatical to rest, refuel, and reconnect with his immediate and extended family. Our goal was met in that our pastor was afforded the opportunity, time, resources, and permission to explore what we know is at the heart of his life and ministry: the loving and nurturing family.

Over the years, our pastor has nurtured a strong core group of leaders—lay and clergy—who were instrumental in the success of this sabbatical. The chairs of the lay boards (deacons, deaconesses, and trustees), who were diligent in the execution of their responsibilities, worked very well with our senior associate pastor and honored the pastor’s sabbatical by their faithfulness. They were also very protective of the pastor’s sabbatical tie and that commitment was demonstrated in their proactive leadership over matters that normally would have been tabled for the senior pastor’s attention.

The congregation grew in its understanding of the “priesthood of all believers.” In our congregation, the locus of leadership has been centered on the senior pastor’s position. During this sabbatical, we had an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the leadership gifts of the associate pastors, the lay leaders, and lay members. This was particularly satisfying to witness and affirm.

We acknowledged and celebrated the fact that the senior pastor was able to honor his sabbatical. He trusted the leaders and the congregation to move the ministry forward, and we believe he has developed an even more profound sense of “partnership” with us.

The most significant learning from this experience was more about the value of sabbatical for pastors. Our congregation has always provided a vacation for our senior pastor. This was the first intentional sabbatical in our history as a congregation. It was not in place of the vacation—it was in addition to the vacation. We want to be a congregation that supports clergy health and the precedent has been set for the way we will value and support a healthy pastorate. The surprise was a delightful one: we more than survived the sabbatical. We had strong associate pastors and lay leadership, and we thrived.

The above has been adapted from the reflections of congregation members from Concord Baptist Church of Christ, Brooklyn, NY, served by Dr. Gary V. Simpson.

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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