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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Greed is going to get you

The other night at dinner my daughter asked Chris is she had ever taken a "sabbatical?" She had not. And probably never will. Let me tell you how I have experienced sabbaticals among pastors recently. First, some history. It is a recent phenomenon that pastors take three months once every six-years to "rest and recharge" your batteries for ministry. And many have. In fact, there are institutions willing to support people who wish to take sabbaticals, and there is a sense where it makes sense.

Imagine you are a pastor all by yourself in a congregation in a small town somewhere in Arizona. Every day you have to be available for your congregation and the community should an emergency arise. You can go to the big town of Phoenix, but could you visit Aunt Myrtle at the big hospital while you're there? You can take a vacation, but if the Council President dies you'd come back to do the funeral wouldn't you? Hi Pastor, I know it's late, but my daughter just got arrested for meth possession, and could you see her at the jail? After six years of that, a three month sabbatical seems like a good idea.

(I remember once when I was a solo pastor, and someone tried to sell me a timeshare condo. After laying out my schedule of the previous two years, she said, "This would be stupid for you to do. Here's your free meal and show tickets." We were in Reno, NV. Good luck trying to find two weeks in a row where a pastor can be gone in a year.)

So although there are legitimate reasons for some pastors to have sabbaticals, I've never had one, and neither has Chris. In my case, I don't stay around in one place long enough to accrue a sabbatical, and I get time off every time I switch a congregation, in many cases. Part of the reason I want to be a regular interim pastor is precisely so that I can set my own schedule. Because I set my own schedule, I don't get into those jams that our mythical Arizona pastor gets into.

You see, in my case, while I might visit Aunt Myrtle, I probably live in Phoenix and commute to the small town. I don't have to take time out of a special day with my family to make a visit, I can just do it on my way home from work. And, yes, I won't be back should the Council President die while I'm on vacation. I will make arrangements for another pastor to do the funeral. (If the Council President really wants me to do the funeral, he or she will wait to die until I return. Remember, I don't know these people, I'm just filling in for a while.) I would still go visit the daughter, some things we just do...

The main reason I will probably never have a sabbatical is that I just don't want to get too greedy. I mean, if I'm pastoring so much that I think I need a break, I'm probably doing the pastoring all wrong. Pastors have the greatest call in the world, and there is no theoretical reason why we should ever need a break for three months from it. Rest and recharging is part of the call of being a pastor. Not once every six years for three months, but every day, every week, every year. Not just vacation but prayer and retreat, study and worship. These are the ways to reconnect a ministry rubbed down to its nub.

Daily prayer, weekly worship, visits to friends will have to suffice for my sabbatical. Maybe some day I will actually retire, and get three months off. But I'll probably get hit by a bus and die two days into it...and then it will be a good thing that I did not wait to rest and recharge.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

2 comments:

Pam Brewer said...

I have to admit I felt a bit resentful when my church's 30 something pastor took a 3 month sabbatical to recharge. I've been a nurse for 30 something years (the last 20 as an oncology nurse) and have had time off for child birth besides week long vacations now and then. i agree with you that as a caregiver its my duty to figure out how to care for myself daily. Not easy!

Scott Frederickson said...

Indeed it is not...may you find rest in all you do. Peace.