Lately I have been giving thought to my sabbatical. This is something most parish ministers receive every 5 to 7 years. This is my second at Eliot Church. If you were to ask me 10 years ago whether or not I was going to have even one sabbatical at Eliot, I would've claimed that the odds were long. I had just finished a very short productive – but – difficult first settlement. The idea of staying in one place for an extended time, while appealing, seemed highly unlikely to me. Yet, here I am in my 13th year at this congregation.
Last year when I was thinking about this topic I posted on the old Burbania Posts I talked about best practices for a long settlement. I will re-post that here sometime soon. However, an article has been floating around Facebook that addresses the same issue. The article (linked below) lists eight "steps" or maintaining a long ministry. Some of them feel a little obvious. The first one “never stop learning" reminds me too much of "don't stop believing" to be of much use. Besides, it's pretty obvious.
However, there are others that are useful. Being willing to change, empowering others in the congregation to do their own ministries, and keeping a regular Sabbath are all good ideas and ones that I try to follow. My favorite, though is the concept of “reverse mentoring”. The author suggests that we practice the habit of learning from the young and innovative people in our lives. There are few things in my ministry that I love more than hanging out with the youth groupers. The opportunity for me to learn and grow is a big part of that.
All of these specific suggestions point to a more general stance of flexibility. I remember at my long-ago "candidating week" (when finalists for a position and the congregation they hope to serve spend a week checking each other out) telling folks that an average ministry lasts for around 5 years. A long ministry, I believed then (and still believe now) is a series of 5-6 year ministries where the staff remains the same. Sabbatical (a form of Sabbath) obviously helps to keep minds open to what that new ministry might look like.
Anyway, here's the article. I found it interesting and a worthwhile read for those who hope to have a long stay in whatever congregation they happen to serve. For those of us who have had long ministries it is useful to find a language to explain what it is that we have done. Again, tomorrow I will add a "Flashback" to this page with the article I posted last year.