By Robert C. Saler
Since becoming director of the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs at Christian Theological Seminary, I have been struck by the number of applicants who have told me—without any prompting—that one of the most valuable aspects of the program was the congregation’s process in discerning whether to submit an application, as well as the process of actually crafting the application once the decision was made to submit one. Indeed, I hear this as often from congregations whose applications are NOT chosen for funding as I do from congregations whose applications are selected!
Why might this process be so valuable to congregations? I have some thoughts.
One of the gifts of the Clergy Renewal Programs is that it invites pastors to ask the question “what would make my heart sing?” As a theologian and pastor myself, I believe strongly that the most effective pastoral ministry comes about when the pastor is feeling spiritually grounded. When the pastor has regular access to whatever it is in life that keeps her or him spiritually vitalized, then the work of ministry (preaching, pastoral care, worship leadership, administration, and so on) all proceed on a more excellent basis. Thus, the pastor having the chance to reflect on those sources of spiritual vitality in life already serves the purpose of increasing the pastor’s mindfulness of them.
Moreover, once the pastor is ready to share these identified sources of spiritual nourishment with the congregation, then that act of sharing facilitates a shared conversation around how a congregation can go about keeping both the pastor and congregational members connected to whatever it is that feeds them spiritually. Congregations, after all, should be prime places where people can have open and frank conversations about what helps keep them grounded in awareness of God’s love and mission, and the process of naming renewal leave activities for both the pastor and the congregation can be a powerful catalyst for such discussion.
Finally, the congregational process of discerning whether it is the right time in the life of a congregation to apply for a Clergy Renewal Program grant can be a valuable space for spiritual growth within the congregation. Discovering the biblical roots of “sabbatical” and thinking about how that biblical concept might look in the twenty-first century can be deeply resonant with the lives of congregation members; moreover, as the congregation thinks about what sort of themes and activities would best suit its needs, questions of the nature and mission of the congregation can emerge in fresh ways.
Thus, it truly is a joy to be a part of programs that not only grant congregations the funds to support renewal leaves, but also commends a process of spiritual discernment and exploration that has proven time and time again to be beneficial in its own right. Regardless of whether your congregation chooses to apply to the programs in this or future years, I commend the process of discernment to you and invite you to continue sharing stories of the benefits of that discernment with us here at Christian Theological Seminary.
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 email@example.com.