Friday, August 31, 2007

A sabbatical and the small church pastor: Possible funding and final thoughts.

Dahlia of the day: Hamilton Lillian..

Small churches may have a difficult time funding the pastor’s sabbatical. Obviously, the church is only on the hook for the pastor’s normal compensation, plus any study leave that the pastor uses during the sabbatical. Additional expenses for the church would include the expenses of temporary pastoral leadership and any other tasks that the church might need to hire out.

Lilly Endowment, Inc. funds grants to assist churches and pastors with sabbaticals. Check out their web site. Lilly funds as many as 120 grants each year, up to $45,000 per grant. I know a pastor that has received a Lilly grant. He is using his sabbatical to write and record worship music. He is a fabulous guitar player and vocalist. With the grant he is building a small recording studio behind his house. Another pastor I know is trying to receive a Lilly grant—he’s still waiting.

The Lilly web site has the following:

“Lilly Endowment seeks to strengthen congregations by providing an opportunity for pastors in 49 states to step away briefly from the persistent obligations of daily parish life and to engage in a period of renewal and reflection. Renewal periods are not vacations, but times for intentional exploration and reflection, for drinking again from God's life-giving waters, for regaining the enthusiasm and creativity for ministry. The Endowment administers a separate program for Indiana congregations.

Life-giving experiences - strengthening relationships, renewing a sense of call, meeting and serving neighbors in a new way, finding joy and purpose in a simplified life, traveling to new lands and unfamiliar territory, creating opportunities where members of the congregation can exercise their gifts for ministry - all are common themes of the program. Profound discoveries that pastors and their congregations describe as "life-changing events" occur as they participate in this program.”

The Lilly grants may be perfect for some people. Some people want to work on a D. Min. while on sabbatical. Others, like my friend, may want to write Christian music. Still others may want to travel to historic sites in Scotland to draw deeper into their Presbyterian heritage. These types of things may be just what some pastors need for renewal—they must aren’t what I would need for renewal. I am not sure if a Lilly grant would be the ticket for me.

There is a new funding source for sabbaticals for small church pastors—the Board of Pensions of the PCUSA! I share this information with my readers with some hesitancy—I may want to apply for one of these grants! The program was recently approved by the Board of Pensions. They have not worked out any of the details. They plant to release all pertinent information this fall. Keep your eyes open—but please do not tell too many people about this new program until you and I have chance to apply for one of the grants. ;-)

What would I do if I were to be granted a sabbatical for three months? First, I would not let it be called a sabbatical; it would have to be called “A Time of Refreshment.” (I will keep calling it a “sabbatical” for this posting on the blog for simplicity’s sake) “Sabbatical” is too tied to study—I need a break from studying. The one thing that refreshes me is sailing. That’s the BIG catch. I don’t own a sailboat. I belong to a sailing club in Seattle and have access to a fleet of boats. Still, it would be prohibitively expensive to have to rent a boat for an extended period of time. We are not able to afford to buy an appropriate boat. The other catch has to do with my wife, Brenda. I wouldn’t want to be away from her for three months of sailing—that would be worse than not having a sabbatical. We have talked about cruising the Great Circle Route after we retire. This would probably be done on a power boat (I would have to go back to the “dark side” according to true sailors). I could do part of the Circle Route during a sabbatical. We could begin the trip together in Florida while Brenda was on vacation. Her employer (World Vision US) has offices in Washington, DC, and New York (she has been back at those offices this week). She might be able to work out of those offices for a while and join me on weekends for the part of the Circle Route that goes through the Chesapeake Bay and on up through New York State. This could be a possibility—a slim one. The boat is still the problem but an appropriate powerboat would be much less expensive than an appropriate sailboat. It would still mean that I would be away from Brenda for extensive amounts of time. A third option would be to cruise the canals of England. We spent a week on a canal boat a couple of years ago. We could cruise for a month for a very reasonable price. There is a timeshare company that has several canal boat bases. We could trade two or three weeks of our timeshares for cruising in England. It would only be for a few weeks. We could pay for an additional week or two. The problem remains—Brenda’s work. A final option for a sabbatical would be to cruise in England for a couple of weeks and then spend the rest of the time at home expanding my dahlia operation. Within a couple of years I plan on beginning to sell dahlia tubers. The problem with this plan is that the planned expansion may be completed before I go on sabbatical, if not; it would not take two or three months to complete. Then what would I do?

Concluding thoughts:

The idea of a sabbatical has me very conflicted. Here are some of my reasons:

  1. I struggle with a “sabbatical” for theological reasons. I firmly believe in spiritual gifts. Every Christ-follower has one or more spiritual gifts. It is the gifts given to me by the Holy Spirit that allow me to be a pastor. My gifts are no more important than any of the other gifts—they are different, that’s all. I don’t wear a preaching robe for this very reason—the robe says that my gifts are “better” than your gifts. (If you disagree with me on this point please read the relevant passages in the New Testament that talk about spiritual gifts). I don’t think that it is “fair” for a pastor to get a sabbatical because of his/her gift set when all of the rest of the folks in the congregation do not get one because of their gift set.
  2. It can be crippling for the small church to have the pastor gone for such an extended period of time. Is this the wisest thing for the good of the church?
  3. A pastor can get “refreshed” if vacation, study leave and weekly time off are used appropriately. There are times when the pastor has to work seven days a week. When this happens the church should make sure that the pastor takes additional days off to “make up” for the missed time off.
  4. (Those who read my blog from my church need to skip this section because I don’t want to be accused of “asking” for this) A church can surprise the pastor with “special” time off. I know of pastors who have been given the use of someone’s condo at the beach for a few days. I know of pastors who have been given the use of a mountain cabin for a few days. The church could give the pastor a weekend off (not vacation), expenses paid, to go away for a romantic weekend with his/her spouse. There are creative things that churches can do to help the pastor stay refreshed.
  5. (Those who read my blog from my church need to skip this section because I don’t want to be accused of “asking” for this) One pastor in our Presbytery goes to the clergy/spouse retreat every year—he is on the leadership team for the retreat with me. “Someone” at his church sneaks a gift basket into his office prior to the retreat each year. He never takes it for granted that the “gift” will be there. Yet, each year he knows that some of the folks in his congregation want him to know that he is appreciated and cared for. Little things like this keep the pastor refreshed—without having to go away for an extended time.

I hope that my ramblings on the topic of “sabbaticals and the small church pastor” have contributed to the dialog of keeping the small church pastor healthy and refreshed for ministry. In days-gone-by a pastor would move every two or three years. This was unhealthy for most churches. What it did do though was to unintentionally provide a “fresh start” for the pastor every few years. This fresh start was usually accompanied with the “honeymoon” year for the pastor at the new church. Today, longer pastorates have been healthier for small churches but have resulted in more pastors burning out. Something has to be done to keep our pastors healthy and refreshed. IT IS UP TO THE LOCAL CHURCH! We cannot depend on the Presbytery to do this. In eleven years at Evergreen I have NEVER had a person from Presbytery come out to visit me (or my church) to see how I was doing. Fortunately, I serve a fabulous church! If the local church truly wants its pastor to stay for the long haul then the church must find appropriate ways for the pastor to find rest and refreshment.


At 2:01 PM , Blogger Red_Cleric said...

I've read this series with interest because I feel the same way. A few years ago I sought an extra two weeks for vacation. Not so I had the Sunday's off but rather to keep COM happy. My compensation was below the Pres. minimum. I also did it so that if I chose to work ahead a few weeks in bulletins and sermons I could take a Sunday night thru Tuesday and get away.

Like you, 3 months without my wife would not be refreshing, for me. She might like it Sometime we need to compare notes on our timeshares and maybe start a lectionary group at the coast...


At 1:29 PM , Blogger Jon said...

I think a lot of it depends on the congregation also. In some congregations (rare), the pastor is the highest paid; in rural areas or more depressed regions pastors may have much better benefits than many in their congregation.

But in many congregations, people have chosen a career that allows for periodic refreshment. Teachers get summers. I know many corporate types that take amazing vacations. I know government workers that retire at 55. There are tradeoffs. I think it's better to take more time and stay healthy if you need it. And "sabbatical" is not such a bad word afterall, seeing as how it derives from sabbath.

At 9:35 PM , Blogger Pastor Lance said...

Great thoughts...

At 1:50 PM , Anonymous Matt Ferguson said...

Like you, I have never taken a sabbatical. I have been in my current place of call for 17 years, 2 months, and 18 days---but who is counting :-) I have been asked about taking one, so it isn't out of the question.
A solo pastor has many strains that a staff position does not due to the variety of demands placed upon us. I am becoming more and more convinced that taking such a time might do some good for the church as well as for me. When my wife (Cathleen) was recently sick and I had to give up some of my duties, the way the elders and deacons picked up the challenge during those months was amazing. It also gave them a greater appreciation for all that I was doing but often not fully appreciated. If Brenda can get 3 months off for personal leave---go for it and I think you will find some good come from it that you cann't see now.

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