Trade Your Preacher for a Better One!

how to get a new preacher without renting a U-Haul™

I get tired of hearing the same preacher Sunday, after Sunday, after Sunday. In two years (from 1998), I’ll have been at Berry’s Chapel seven years. In the year 2000, if I could have three months off to travel, listen to other preachers, rest, and do some special study, it’d be a great blessing to me.”

That was my answer to a question one of the elders asked me a few weeks before: “Jerrie, what could we do besides giving you a raise that would encourage you?”.

It was my second request for a sabbatical. Several years before I asked for a month off to spend some dedicated time with my family. The elder leading the meeting replied, “That’d be nice. Does anyone have anything else to say before closing prayer?” That was the end of that.

The elders at Berry’s Chapel announced in a family meeting in January 2000 I’d be taking a sabbatical during June, July, and August. In my absence, John Parker preached at morning services. Jim Bill McInteer spoke at evening services.

Besides three meetings and another speaking appointment already scheduled, I didn’t preach or teach classes during the summer.

While I was off, Gail, Mother, Daddy, and I traveled West, something we’d been discussing for years but never took the time. We carried our oldest granddaughter on her 12-year-old trip, a special treat we the did with the rest of the grandchildren in the coming years. We had a family vacation in the Smokies. Childhaven had their fifty-year reunion. We rented a van and traveled with Jerrie Wayne and grandchildren to Gail’s home where she grew up.

August 11-18 I rented a cabin at Natchez State Park for a week in isolation. I didn’t turn on a radio, tape player, or TV. I made one call a day to Gail to check on her and the family. After rising at 6:00 a.m., the rest of the day, 8:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m. was spend reading, studying, praying, and thinking. I worked on presentations for a lectureship. I learned more than in any conference I ever attended.

A treat I anticipated and enjoyed was worshipping with 29 different congregations. With the exceptions of the three meetings I held, we only visited two congregations twice.

I get tired of hearing the same preacher (me) Sunday, after Sunday, after Sunday. — Jerrie Barber Click To Tweet

Observations on my Sabbatical

  1. The rest-break was valuable. I averaged eight hours sleep per night for June, July, and August. Back and sciatic pains which had bothered me for some time disappeared. I told the church, “I thought I was getting old, but I just needed a few nights of good sleep.”
  2. I enjoyed being unorganized. We only made one reservation in advance on our trip to the West. Daddy would often ask, “Where’re we going to spend the night?”. My answer, “I don’t know. We aren’t there yet.”
  3. I wouldn’t want to do what I did that summer continually. It was fun and relaxing, but I didn’t get many jobs marked off my to-do list until I started setting the clock and making specific plans. I could get stressed traveling all the time. I learned what I already suspected. I don’t want to retire as long as I’m healthy. I enjoy what I do. I realized that in 2000 at the end of my sabbatical. I still feel the same way after nine years of interim ministry. Gail and I take mini-sabbaticals between interims.
  4. I like to be organized. I like to-do lists, a time to get up, and specific responsibilities
  5. I studied some during the summer: reading, memory work, and typed forty sermons on my computer to continue to develop later.
  6. I looked forward to returning to my regular work. The first Sunday morning back, I awoke at 3:30 a.m. excited and anxious about the day.
  7. I experienced an alternative to burn-out or moving, which is often from overload without seeing an alternative. It’s my observation many preachers move because they see no other way for relief and renewal. It’s harder to preach for a congregation the longer you stay. Old sermons are depleted. More activities and tasks are accepted. There is less time to do more.[tweetthis]It’s my observation many preachers move because they see no other way for relief and renewal.[/tweetthis]

    The break is a way to start over. It occurred to me that some members may go to another congregation for similar reasons. They’re active and take on more and more jobs. They don’t know how to resign or rest without guilt. The only way they know to get relief is move and start over. I believe there’s an alternative – take a break.

Following the summer of 2000, we had elders and deacons who took seasons of rest from three-six months. They reported similar feelings of renewal.

The most cost-effective way I know to get a new preacher is to send your present preacher away with a plan to refresh and renew. Suggestion: consider this every five to seven years. The plan needs to be his, not yours. You may make suggestions. But you can’t tell another person how to relax.

What has been your experience with rest and renewal?
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4 thoughts on “Trade Your Preacher for a Better One!

  1. I have to say that the Berry’s Chapel elders showed wisdom in their action and concern for the well-being of their preacher. They also saw your value to the church. I have known of preachers taking sabbaticals, but that usually meant quitting preaching for a while and having to look for work again. I’m not sure that’s the best way. Interesting how you worked while on a sabbatical.
    Good article!

    • Roger, Some things that made this work well:
      1. The elders were the leaders. They wanted to know what would encourage me. They thought the best way to find out was to ask. They didn’t “make a decision” on what would be helpful and then tell me.
      2. We started planning early. It was two years from the time the idea of the sabbatical was suggested until it happened. A year from the time it was introduced, they asked for reading material on what it was, what was the purpose, and how it might be helpful. I gave them a book and several web sites that were informative.
      3. They made good plans for the congregation to receive a treat as well as me. When I returned, several said, “We missed you, but we had a good summer.” Jim Bill McInteer and John Parker did excellent work preaching.
      4. I had a kind and helpful staff who took up slack for those 3 months.

  2. I think that perhaps even being permitted to combine the two weeks’ vacation once every 5 years would be beneficial. The one week at a time vacation is good, but of course, because of the nature of our work, we rarely get our minds detached enough to really relax or recreate. I don’t need more than 2-3 days to get my head really clear. But by that time in a typical vacation, the mind starts to anticipate its return to the vocation. Another 5-7 days to produce or recreate freely after that initial respite would work well for me. A two week vacation seems, to me, to have as much potential as a month’s leave. I wonder if I wouldn’t get stir crazy on a sabbatical. Unless I had some serious travel plans… 😉 Thanks for these interesting insights.

    • Rick,

      In my early years of preaching, we took 2 weeks in the fall. It was refreshing. We often spent a week vacationing with my family and a week in Alabama visiting Gail’s family.

      When I was on sabbatical, I had been preaching 39 years. We planned 2 weeks with my parents traveling to the West. The week in isolation was one of the most intense periods of mostly disorganized study I have ever had. I had one lecture series I worked on. The rest was miscellaneous reading.

      Another purpose was to experiment with “retirement.” I didn’t think I wanted that if I was able to work. I was convinced at the end of the summer. I was ready to get back to the regular routine.

      One book I read on preachers retiring suggested a planned sabbatical seven years before retirement. The preacher comes back rested and ready to finish strong. I had not read the book in 2000, but that is exactly what happened with me.