Pastors need Mondays

For many years prior to retirement from pastoring I took Mondays off. I generally took a long walk, did some banking, and pretty much crashed. Since retirement, of course, most days are “days off” so Mondays are pretty much like any other day of the week.

Right now, I’m filling in for a friend who is taking Sabbatical leave so I’m back “on the clock” at least in part. My only real responsibility is preaching the Sunday morning sermon although I’m “being the pastor” in a few other ways as well. I certainly don’t have the full pastoral load.

The interesting thing to me is that that old Monday weariness has returned. It has to be the preaching and maybe interacting with a number of people throughout the day because I’m not doing much else. I confess that I’m not much of a people person, so spending a large part of the day chatting and “being nice” does wear me down a bit. Still, I think the preaching is the biggest part of it.

It’s not as though I’m a high energy, pacing, pulpit pounder. My style is conversational, considerably thought through, and much prayed over. To most non-preachers I know that that doesn’t sound like much and some may accuse me of whining or maybe just of getting old and more easily tired. Honestly, there may be some truth in the second accusation and hopefully none in the first.

However, I think that there’s a least a reminder here that pastors work harder on Sundays than most people think they do, even if all they “do” is preach a sermon for 30-40 minutes. The preparation, both academic and spiritual, takes a toll. The energy spent, even with Spirit anointing, is considerable.

I don’t think I’m just whining or wimping out. Pastors carry a burden that takes a toll and they both need and deserve a Monday day of rest.

Preparing the church for a pastoral sabbatical

The value of a pastor taking a sabbatical leave after a number of years of service to a local congregation is gaining more and more recognition.  In this post I’m not going to attempt to make a case for sabbatical leave, but am going to talk about how a church can prepare for the pastor’s absence for an extended amount of time.  This subject needs careful consideration and it’s important for the pastor as well as for the congregation.  Outsiders might think that all the pastor does is preach a sermon every Sunday morning, but as they say, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Generally speaking, the pastor not only does “spiritual things” like making hospital visits and carrying a burden of prayer for the church family but also functions as a sort of CEO who makes constant on-the-fly decisions concerning how the church calendar is organized, what is emphasized in the church announcements, and what “extra” features are included in a given Sunday’s order of worship.

If the pastor just walks away, off to enjoy a month’s long sabbatical a power void will be created in the church.  Well-meaning people will sense that void and step into fill it and some, who maybe aren’t so well-meaning will see it as an opportunity to reshape the church as they see fit.  The pastor who has happily ridden off into the sunset may return to find such a mess that all the relaxation of the sabbatical will drain away as they have to deal with the destruction that the power void has created.

With all that in mind, a wise pastor and church leadership will firmly address leadership issues before the pastor leaves town.  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Don’t just engage a sabbatical interim pastor and toss it all in their lap.  There are levels of trust and responsibility that an outsider, or even an insider lacking sufficient experience, can’t address.  Make a list of exactly what that person will do: preaching, administering the sacraments, praying the pastoral prayer.  The interim will basically do the “tip of the iceberg” stuff that outsiders think is the only thing the pastor does.
  2. List all the other things the pastor normally does in a week and assign each portion of that to a different lay leader.  Who will initiate the church prayer chain?  Who will visit the sick in the hospital?   Fill every position with a willing layperson.
  3. List all the organizational responsibilities of the pastor and assign them.  Different churches have different organizational flows, but if the pastor signs off on the music, what goes into the church bulletin, etc. name the person who is going to have that authority.
  4. Name a person who will serve as “service platform manager” – they will do the things in the service that the pastor normally does: do the call to worship, offer the benediction, call for the ushers, welcome visitors, etc.
  5. Commit to the current structure of the church during the sabbatical.  There will be no changes to the order of worship, the makeup of the praise team, or the leadership of the church.  The sabbatical will not be the time when things will be changed because someone with a big voice insists that the offering should be taken differently or the announcements should be done at a different time in the service.
  6. Having prepared for all the expected things, prepare for the unexpected.  Create a “pastoral committee” of three trusted lay leaders in the church.  Grant them “pastoral authority” in the church.  When a decision has to be made that would normally be made by the pastor, refer it to the committee – any two of the three can decide.  Some churches think that they will just give the interim pastor that authority, but that’s a mistake.  That person won’t have the knowledge of people and past practices of the church to make decisions as the pastor.  If the church names just one lay person their decisions will be subject to doubt and disagreement.  A committee of three will carry a sense of authority and fairness.

All of the above can be done in just one board meeting if the pastor has done the necessary homework to list all that they do in a given week.  Having made the appointments, publish them in the church bulletin prior to and then during the duration of the sabbatical.  It will remind the congregation that the church isn’t adrift while the pastor is away.  It will remind those who have an agenda of their own that there is already an agenda in place.  Not only that, but developing lay leaders is a Biblical model for the church.  The returning pastor might just find that some of the things that have been occupying his or her time really was never his or her job in the first place!


Plugged and unplugged

A friend of ours, I’ll call her “TB,” looked over my Miscellaneous writing and found that I have been rather inconsistent in my observations.  Following Hurricane Ike I waxed eloquent about our twelve days without electricity.  However, looking a bit farther back in my ramblings, she found my sanguine thoughts on camping unplugged and how peaceful it is.  What can I say?  Sitting beside a beautiful mountain stream with nothing more important to do than start the campfire for the evening is more fun than sitting in the garage hoping for a whisper of a breeze on a hot September Texas Gulf Coast day!

Still, I get the point.  A lot of things just depend on our perspective.

Sabbatical Journey #21

Sunday afternoon turned into a real blessing. We met Susan, Scott, Cherie, Matthew, and Sarah at Gringos to celebrate our return home and also to celebrate Scott’s birthday. It was special to return and have as our first “we’re back” activity a get together with our family. I can’t think of a better way to come back to real life than that! We spent over an hour just being together and catching up before making our final 15 miles to home.

One thing that always comes to mind on a long trip is that something might have gone wrong with the house, etc. Well, no worries on this one. Everything was just great. son Scott had even mowed the lawn. My original plan was to park the camper on the lawn for a few days while we unloaded. However, once we got started the unloading went faster than expected. Really, it doesn’t take much more stuff to go out for three days than it does to go out for three weeks. Within three hours the camper was cleared out and ready to be parked in its accustomed spot. I moved it and then unhooked once more. I must admit to some sadness as I removed the hitch and extended mirrors from the pickup. That was something I hadn’t done for over three weeks and it had a sense of finality to it. Officially, I am not back to work for the rest of the week, but emotionally, I’m home.

All the photos from this trip are here.

Sabbatical Journey #18

We picked a pretty spot at Paul B Johnson State Park, but didn’t realize we were right beside a fishing pier and swim area. There was a constant flow of kids walking right by our camper. I could have hooked up and moved to another spot, there were plenty. However, we aren’t into swimming and fishing, so after enjoying the lake yesterday afternoon and evening, we decided to relocate to south central Louisiana. My original destination turned out to be a bit of a dud. It was one of those “parking lot” RV parks snuggled right up against the freeway. We made a quick decision to move a bit off the beaten track and try one of the RV parks in the Abbeville area. We ended up in another parking lot, but at least not in a huge field of campsites. This is a small, 14 unit spot that only has five or six campers in it right now. We’re under a huge oak tree off to one side, by the main entrance. We’ve come a long way down the ladder since we were backed into a spot next to a beautiful mountain stream, but it’s not bad as a landing place for a couple of nights while we rest, look around, and gather ourselves for a return to reality.

We drove over to Avery Island and checked out the Tabasco plant there. Sadly, the factory wasn’t in operation today, but we did the walk through and watched the video anyway. There is a Tabasco store there that is very neat. There are lots of free samples to try and lots of products, ranging from sauce to coffee mugs to tee shirts and caps. We opted out of the wildlife tour as it was getting pretty hot by then. Instead we headed up to Lafayette to the mall. The traffic was pretty bad around the city and it really wasn’t worth the trouble to get to the mall. However, we went to a local po-boy restaurant for lunch. It was real good. After a bit of shopping we headed back to our campsite for an afternoon of reading and watching a real old movie on TV.

We leave tomorrow for Texas. We’ll drive around 200 miles which will bring us to Port Bolivar and another RV park. I have no doubt that it will be another hot spot, but we’ll enjoy the beach for our last night out. One small advantage is that this RV spot will be in actual driving distance from home for a quick get-away sometime in the future. On Sunday we’ll go to church somewhere, then hook up and take the ferry into Galveston and then on home.

All the photos from this trip are here.

Sabbatical Journey #17

We woke up to the sound of rain early this morning. We closed down camp and got ready to roll without getting too wet. It’s a good thing we didn’t try to wait it out because we drove in steady rain for several hours before breaking through to dryer conditions around 11:00. The drive across Alabama and Mississippi brings us to Paul B. Johnson state park near Hattiesburg. We are camped on a finger of land at a nice, tree lined lake. However, as we arrived in late afternoon it was about 90 degrees and we are feeling the humidity. Still, it’s a pretty spot. We’ll probably use the air conditioner in the camper tonight for the first time since the first day or two of our trip.

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Sabbatical Journey #16

We still have a week to go, but in a sense this was turnaround day. It was with a sense of sadness that we hooked up the camper and drove out of the GSMNP. Leaving that beautiful place is difficult enough, but it also marked our first step toward home.

It was just a small step though. Just south of Chattanooga in Georgia we arrived at Cloudlands State Park. I don’t know how much elevation we gained as we left the town of Trenton and began to climb but I did see the outside temperature drop from 87 down to 79 by the time we got to the park entrance. Cloudlands is a good way to ease one’s way out of the magical Smokies. We gave up an awesome place, but exchanged it for a nicer campground with water and electricity (including a bathhouse with hot showers if we want to use them instead of the camper’s). All the while we are in a deeply wooded, mountain park. We’ll look around more tomorrow, otherwise, we’re going to spend a couple of nights relaxing and maybe, just a little, start looking to reentry into real life.

All the photos from this trip are here.

Sabbatical Journey #15

Sunday morning we headed into Townsend, TN for church. We spotted a Baptist church up on a hill with a large cemetery and decided to visit there. It was a good service. There were patriotic songs in observance of Memorial Day, but then the choir sang a worshipful song and the pastor brought a solid salvation message about Jesus being the Living Water. Of the three churches we have visited thus far, this one was the most satisfying to me. There was a freedom and genuine flavor to the service that made me feel at home.

After church we returned back to the park via a longer scenic route. We drove up to Tremont Institute and then took the trail up to the Spruce Flats Falls they told us about. The trail was just a mile, but it was rougher than we expected, with scrambling over rocks and roots. Once we got to the falls it was truly beautiful. By the time we got back to the pickup we were ready to call it a day. Since this is a holiday weekend the park is packed. We had to wait through a traffic jam just to be back to the campground. Since it is full, things are pretty much the same here with lots of noise from kids playing. I have no complaints about that because it is happy noise.

All the photos from this trip are here.

Sabbatical Journey #14

We arrived in Cades Cove Campground here in GSMNP on Thursday afternoon and are set up in a nice site. It isn’t as spectacular as the one in Elkmont was, but it’s another good spot. Since this is Memorial Day weekend we have plenty of company. The ranger told me they have a “full house” this weekend. Yesterday we drove the Cades Cove loop, an 11 mile loop that features homesteads and churches from the old community and also large open fields which are good for viewing wildlife. We got up this morning and drove the loop again and saw deer, turkey, and bear. It was pretty neat. Our purpose in getting out this morning was to hike the trail to Abrams Falls. It is a 5 mile round drip and considered to be a “moderate” trail. The hike was a good one and the falls are impressive. It is a truly beautiful spot.

Sad to say I got back to the campground with a bad headache. I took some pills and lay down. That helped but I still had a headache when I woke up. After more pills and some supper I feel I am back to 75% or so. Tomorrow should be a pretty low key day for us.

All the photos from this trip are here.

Sabbatical Journey #13

Tuesday was a wonderfully lazy day. We went out to eat good BBQ for an early lunch, stopped off at the store for a few items, and then came “home” to take a nap and read a fiction book. It was such a “do-nothing” day that I had to remind myself not to feel guilty.

Today, we looked through a couple of outlet malls, ate a Krystal’s hamburger (almost as good as a White Castle!) and then rode the trolley over to Gatlinburg. We strolled through town then rode back. Jackie is doing some food preparation for the next few days and I’m keeping an eye on the laundry.

We’re preparing for another sojourn in the wilderness. We’ll leave the comfort of full hook ups and the crowded conditions of the RV park to set up in Cades Cove in the GSMNP. We’ll be back to our own devices, relying on the camper’s resources for the next four nights. Two of my purchases today were in preparation for this jaunt. First, I purchased an old fashioned coffee pot – last week we boiled water and then poured it through a filter. Now, we’ll be able to make coffee on the stove. Second, in preparation for more mountain cold nights, I bought a catalytic heater and fuel. I couldn’t resist it when I saw it in the Coleman outlet store for just $23. Normally it would run $35+. So, we should stay warmer in the “between sleeping bag hours” of evening and early morning.

Of course, this means no Internet for awhile. I’ll keep writing and will post updates as I can. Meanwhile, we’ll focus on enjoying the beautiful mountains. That’s what brought us here in the first place.

The expense of living like this constantly takes me off guard. We intend to keep this as light as possible on the bank account, but money flows at every turn. As I just described, I made a couple of purchases in preparation for the next few nights. Right now I am doing three loads of laundry. The cost will come in just under $10. While we are camping, we want a camp fire each night. That means we purchase firewood. The cost of that is around $3 a night. Even doing stuff like this on the cheap is expensive! I’m not complaining though. We are thankful we can stretch a bit and enjoy this, our first major break in over eight years.

All the photos from this trip are here.