A few years ago, Evergreen Ministries, the congregation I was pastoring, gave me a sabbatical. Over the summer, I enjoyed rest, reflection, and study. The reflection and study led to an in-depth study called “Kingdom Dreams: Building an Alternative Kingdom Community.” The sabbatical of that summer continues to shape and mold my work more than three years later.
Churches, like pastors, need a sabbatical. My sense is that every seven years, your church needs a sabbatical. A sabbatical during which you shut down all but the essentials of your congregation. You take that “unused” time for physical, spiritual, and congregational renewal.
Why a Sabbatical?
Why take a congregational sabbatical every seven years? Because congregations drift.
- We drift away from our vision,
- We drift away from our mission,
- We can begin to forget our missionary calling.
A conscious effort every seven years to ask questions about the why, what, and how of ministry and mission. This refocuses our life together as God’s sacred family.
Some may point to these last couple of years as a season of sabbatical. We were forced to shut down a lot of ministries and ways we engaged in mission. However, a true congregational sabbatical not shutting things down. It is also a strategic decision to ask about the fresh steps God is calling us to take. A congregational sabbatical is a time to map out the next five to six years as God’s sacred family. We discern in this year the difference God desires to make in our congregation. We discern the difference God wants us to make in our community and the world.
We Did it Before and Nothing Happened
Mapping out and discerning are the first steps. An ongoing challenge for congregations is they’ve done this before. They’ve worked through a process, made goals and all the rest, but little happens. Because so little happens the next time someone suggests such efforts, the response is, “We did that before, and nothing happened.”
Truly worthwhile sabbaticals lead to taking fresh steps in ministry and mission. For most congregations, this means mapping out plans and engaging a coach from the outside. This coach checks in with the pastor every month. He/she also checks in with the leadership quarterly to see how things are progressing. The coach also helps as new challenges arise. The leadership, with the insight of the coach, can call any needed audibles.
Imagine if every congregations took a sabbatical every seven years.
- There would be about many churches listening to God, renewing their ministry and mission, and looking to God’s next thing for them in any given year.
- As a church engaged in this, they would know other Congregations are on this journey with them.
- There would be opportunities to connect and learn from each other.
When was the Last Time your Congregation Took a Sabbatical?
When was the last time your church took a sabbatical leading to following God’s call to be different as a congregation and hearing his call to make a difference in your community and the world?