Strengthening leadership

Posted Mar 01, 2016 | Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs

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.

Reflecting on our experience with the clergy renewal program, made possible by theLilly Endowment, we feel very grateful for its benefits for our church and our pastor. Our congregation anticipated that Pastor Lee’s sabbatical would bring opportunities for leadership in many individual members. We also looked forward to our lead pastor’s return after a relaxing and extended time for personal renewal. 

These goals were met as planned, with our associate pastor gaining strength from more leadership opportunities, and our lead pastor gaining new perspective and direction after his sabbatical leave. Many other congregation members took on more leadership during weekly worship, and that experience benefited both them and our other members who related or responded favorably to their familiar leadership style.

The impact on the congregation was very positive. Prior to Pastor Lee’s sabbatical, during our Lenten services, we received copies of the book Always We Begin Again, by John McQuiston II. Having this resource to keep was valuable, as we could share with friends and members at church our reactions and ideas about these spiritual disciplines.
We distributed more than four hundred copies of the book.

The impact on our pastor and his family was very positive. He was able to spend more time with his wife and brother during parts of his sabbatical, and strengthen their family identity and family bonds. His travels to Europe and opportunities to see and experience ancient cathedrals and places with historical significance to Christianity energized and inspired him. Those opportunities will stay with him as wonderful memories to share again and again.

Our congregation felt affirmed in the fact that we do have many strong, qualified, and caring leaders in our church. Day to day tasks were managed well . . . . So many stepped forward to share the responsibilities in Pastor Lee’s absence, with Pastor Scott taking the leadership role, providing a valuable new experience for him also . . . 

While Pastor Lee was traveling in Europe, we posted a map of Europe on our patio, tracked his route, and displayed pictures of the many cathedrals and landmarks he was visiting. He sent postcards along the way, also, that were displayed with the map. People were excited to see each week where his next stop was going to be and contemplate where he was on that particular Sunday!

Some aspects of this experience will continue for us. Our pastor started a blog to share his experiences of the sabbatical, and he will continue to write and share through that additional means of communications to us. Our congregation also utilized lay leaders in more parts of our worship, and we have continued doing so since Pastor Lee has returned. It has been a positive change, and has enhanced our worship.

We would definitely recommend that other congregations support a renewal program for their pastoral staff. An extended time away allows both staff and congregation the opportunity to pause and reflect in a new way. It clarifies for pastor and congregation alike what is important, lays groundwork for any new directions, small or large that might be beneficial to all. 

Our experience was very positive because of thorough planning and commitments from congregational leaders who stepped in to share our lead pastor’s duties during the sabbatical. The back-up didn’t entirely fall on one person’s shoulders, and responsibilities were divided among many in our church. The day to day operations of the church went very smoothly in his absence.

This piece has been adapted from the reflections of congregation members from Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church of Chandler, Arizona, served by Pastor Leroy Rehrer.

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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