Sabbaticals for the Ministry

If you care truly for your pastor and are concerned about vital Christian preaching, you will want to read this brief article. In it the Rev. John A. De Kruyter, pastor of the Seymour Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, offers a practical and fruitful program for our ministers, consistories, and congregations.

The Seymour Christian Reformed Church recently adopted the following recommendation of its Council: “That the Seymour Christian Reformed Church establish as a policy that its pastor, having served the congregation for a period of not less than five years, and having served in the ministry for fifteen years without a previous sabbatical, be granted and given a six months leave at full salary with option for an additional six months at half salary, for study and/or travel to broaden his theological education, or serve in some field of missionary endeavor, conditional upon the final approval of the ruling Council.”

In a sense there is nothing new in the program ventured by Seymour. Not a few churches have in the past granted their particular minister the privilege of time off for study or travel related to the ministry. Churches have done this for various reasons. Some have extended this privilege to their minister because they felt the wear and tear of the ministry was taking a heavy toll on him and such a program would be a welcome relief. Others have offered such a program because the minister involved himself felt a need for replenishment and stimulation. So churches have been most gracious to meet the existential needs that have arisen.

That which is new to the Christian Reformed circle in this proposal is that now a church has made this a policy. Any minister who comes to this church and meets the qualifications stipulated may take advantage of this opportunity. It is a plan proposed not to meet a particular situation in one man’s ministry, but it is a plan to meet a needy situation in the ministry at large. What is that need which is envisioned?

The work of the ministry is unique in that it constantly demands that a man stand before the same people to pour forth his mind and his soul One can only pour forth that which is fresh and vital when he takes time to drink in and store up. However, the pressure of the demands of the modern ministry are such that there is very little time for such enrichment. Most ministers will tell you that they cannot keep-up on the current periodicals which enter their home and study, let alone books whose subject and material looks to be beneficial. Time is needed. Time away from the obligations of the catechism class, the Bible study society, the committee meetings, the pressure of sermonizing, etc. The sabbatical intends to provide that time.

Not only is the work of the ministry taxing from a time stand-point, for this has always been so. But today’s pastor has many more challenging and exacting duties to perform. Take the area of counseling alone. Not too long ago, the average parishioner considered it somewhat of an embarrassing situation to be counseled by his pastor. He felt it to be somewhat of a reflection upon himself. Today the relation between pastor and flock is such that the average parishioner with readiness consults with his pastor. This is good. This is to be encouraged. But it demands that the pastor be conversant with the best in pastoral and counseling techniques. It means that he be completely up on the problems of his day. The sabbatical provides an opportunity to fit oneself better for the contemporary ministry.

Another factor that argues for the wisdom in this kind of a procedure is the fact that the contemporary Christian audience is more enlightened than its forbears. Education is everywhere. Almost fifty percent of the high-school graduates go on to college. Then add to this the fact that the science a minister learned in college fifteen to twenty years ago is outmoded and irrelevant. How can he speak to the educated of his day unless he become contemporary through a furthering of his education? The sabbatical would help to provide for a contemporary and relevant ministry.

With a little vision one can see how such a program, embraced by many if not all Christian Reformed churches, would make for a more enlightened and inspired ministry in the Christian Reformed Church at large. The pulpit is central in the ministry of our churches. We would do all to make it loyal to the Word, relevant to the pew, and as effective as man can make this tool of the Lord. Here is a program of follow-up to our fine theological training offered to our ministry at Calvin Seminary. The church as a whole will be richer and more blessed through this program of sabbaticals.

Sometimes we need to watch the world as it pursues the goals which it deems important. Our Lord said: “The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.” Industry with regularity sends its key personnel for further education and inspiration. Modern education provides this same kind of experience for its teachers. Shall we provide less for those who are engaged in the greatest task and the greatest responsibility entrusted to man?

Many times we judge the worth of a program in terms of what it will cost us. This is a proper concern. True, one can never measure in dollars and cents the results which the Church of Jesus Christ will reap from a program such as is here envisioned. But let us consider just the bare cost factor. What will it cost a church to allow its minister a sabbatical of six months? On the surface some might be inclined to say it will cost the church six months salary. Not so. It will cost the church what it must pay for pulpit supply and for catechism instruction and necessary sick calling during the sabbatical. Suppose a church should pay $30 a Sunday for pulpit supply. A six months vacancy would cost it $720. Certainly another $280 would cover the cost of necessary catechetical teaching and sick calling. The exact cost to a church would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,000.00. If the minister elects to take advantage of the second six month period at half salary, the savings the church would realize from only paying one half the minister’s salary for six months might even pay for the entire cost of pulpit supply, catechetical supply, etc. for the year’s sabbatical. It would seem obvious then that financially the program is within reach of most if not all churches.

Another consideration which any Council might have in evaluating this program might well be that of pulpit supply during the sabbatical. Certain areas of our denomination would have no problem at aU. Other areas because of their geographical location might have a greater problem. But this too is not without solution. Some possibilities are these: the engagement of a retired minister for the interim, involvement in a program of internship with the Seminary.

The door is open for a more enlightened and inspired ministry, through a program of sabbaticals. The more churches that engage in the program, the greater the contribution there will be toward a more enlightened, relevant, and inspired ministry in the Christian Reformed Churches as a whole.