By George Bullard
Congregations need a hopeful learning season that will help them see the same things they have seen for many years in a different way. This gives them insight into what it will take to continually transform congregational life. Likely this is a God-inspired season that comes during a time they are open to the new things God is saying to them. This may come during a time of sabbatical or jubilee.
I am in a season of new learning as one who has sought to come alongside congregations for the past almost 40 years. At times in doing the same things over and over again a new insight comes to a Bible passage I have read many times, congregations I have observed with regularity, and learning presentations I have delivered hundreds of times.
One of those happened during a recent weekend as I prepared to teach a Bible study on Leviticus 25 that talks about sabbatical and jubilee. This scripture suggests the idea of a sabbath or sabbatical every seven years. The symbol of seven is foundational to the biblical story. One of many examples is the creation story which is presented as a story of seven with the seventh day being a day of rest.
Your Congregation Needs a Sabbatical
Many years ago I had an interesting encounter with a congregation where in the seventh year of a pastor’s tenure the congregation granted him a six month sabbatical. At the same time they hired me as the sabbatical gift to the congregation. I helped them assess where they were as a congregation while the pastor was assessing his ministry and pursuing a study topic of deep interest to him.
It was a life and ministry transformation experience for both the pastor and the congregation as they faced the reality of their ministry. Major shifts occurred for both the pastor and the congregation.
The idea of a sabbath or sabbatical for a congregation every seven years fits perfectly the strategic insight I have offered to thousands of congregations, including this one, suggesting they need to re-envision their spiritual strategic direction every seven to nine years. My experience has taught me that congregations who do this have the potential to soar with faith. Congregations who do not tend to experience a waning of their vision and passion for prophetic and disciplemaking ministry.s
I actually backed into this biblical understanding based on decades of seeing of the organizational development and sociological patterns of congregations through the vehicle of a life cycle model for long-term congregational life. [Click HERE to view/download the life cycle model.] Congregational redevelopment through revisioning, revitalization, renewal, reinventing, or resurrecting all imply a multiple year journey forward until a congregation reaches a hinge point for a sabbatical experience.
What would a sabbatical look like for your congregation? What would you do during this season? How could it renew the ministry of your pastor, staff, lay leaders, and the congregation as a whole? What would a new spiritual strategic journey that is launched with a sabbatical year look like for your congregation?
Your Congregation Needs a Year of Jubilee
Even congregations who effectively experience a sabbatical year every seven years may need a total reset of their ministry every 50 years during a year of jubilee. [See Leviticus 25:10-12.] Certainly many congregations would be well served by rethinking their foundational story in light of the current realities of ministry, the context in which they serve, and the people they are best gifted, skilled, and have a preference to reach.
At 50 years old many congregations are at the point where they may fully institutionalize their patterns and practices and declare them sacred to the life and ministry of the congregation. This is often their most significant step in moving from movement to monument or museum. Wouldn’t be great if instead of taking this institutionalization step congregations could reset their ministry through a year of jubilee?
What would be the impact of a year of jubilee on your congregation? What would be involved in a reset of your congregation’s ministry? If you could start with a clean sheet of paper, how would you restart your congregation? How do you keep the patterns and facilities of the past 50 years from weighing down your congregation and boxing in your thinking about the next two generations of life for your congregation until the next year of jubilee?
This article first appeared in an earlier form as a blog post on the ABP News Blog at http://www.abpnews.com/blog/leadership/congregations-need-sabbatical-and-jubilee-2013-11-01/#.UoUU0-Kik7c