Comings and Goings is a blog written by Theology, Worship and Education Director Charles B. "Chip" Hardwick as he travels throughout the church. God is on the move out and about in the world, working to redeem all things in Jesus Christ. As we join this mission, by the power of the Spirit we see God on the move. This blog contains glimpses of how Chip finds this to be true in his comings and goings.
This past weekend I traveled to Bethlehem, PA, to preach at First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem. It was terrific to see four different vibrant worship services—three contemporary and one traditional. As I traveled from one service to another to the three Sunday morning services, I was amazed by the richness of the worship, although I did feel a little bad for my host, who was listening to my sermon the second, third, and fourth times in less than 18 hours!
The reason that I was there to preach is because the pastor/head of staff of FPC Bethlehem (Rev. Alf Halverson) is on sabbatical. After a number of years of service at the church, the Session granted him time away in order to recharge spiritually.
One of the strategic directions of the Presbyterian Mission Agency is to encourage transformational leadership among teaching elders (pastors) and ruling elders. I’m grateful for the chance to participate on the leadership team for this goal. We have quickly realized that absolutely foundational to transformational leadership in a church is a close connection with Jesus Christ. Without emphasizing discipleship in this way, it doesn’t matter what gifts and experiences of leadership a person may have, they cannot be an effective leader for the church.
Sabbaticals are one way for pastors to work on their discipleship. Day in and day out pastors are structuring lessons, writing sermons, and leading Bible studies thinking about how the Gospel speaks to those who will be listening to them. During a sabbatical, pastors can reconnect with what the Gospel says to them—they can rediscover how much Jesus loves them, and what it means to join his mission to the world.
It is often larger churches with greater financial resources which offer sabbaticals, but it is more often pastors of smaller churches who feel greater burn-out and who needs these sabbaticals more. The Board of Pensions funds a Sabbath sabbatical program to help small church pastors fund time away; you can find out more about it here.
My prayer is that churches, presbyteries, and the Presbyterian Mission Agency will expand the ways for smaller churches to invest in their leaders through sabbaticals. Creativity is a gift of the Spirit, and I’m praying that gift will come.