Last week I addressed the question of what I do on an extended break. My post revolved around what God does in and through me as a result of taking time off. But this week, I want to answer the same question from another angle. Basically, what are the benefits for the congregation when the senior pastor is on a mini-sabbatical? There are at least a couple…
1) A mini-sabbatical reminds us that this is God’s church.
In general, American churches are too dependent on their pastors. As a result, senior leaders often get too much credit when things are going well for the church and too much blame when things are not going well. Furthermore, people in the church can subtly take their eyes off Jesus and place an unhealthy dependence on their spiritual leaders, even living their faith vicariously through their pastor(s).
I have often heard people express concern over pastors taking extended breaks by saying, “But what will happen if ____________.” There are a millions ways to fill in the blank, but the bottom line is that if the church cannot handle a crisis, perform a funeral, provide counseling, or fill the pulpit without the lead pastor present, then that church is overly reliant on a single person.
Jesus told us that He is building His church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). Ultimately, Christ is the head of the church (Ephesians 5:23). Yes, God uses people to accomplish His purposes, but an extended break can remind us that the body of Christ is bigger than one person and that the church can continue to be the church without key people being present.
2) A mini-sabbatical empowers others for ministry.
The modern day small group movement came about as a result of a senior pastor taking an extended break. David Yonggi Cho collapsed from the weight and responsibility of his ministry and took an extended break. Everyone wondered what would happen in Pastor Cho’s absence. The leaders decided that the best way to handle it was to disperse caregiving by breaking people into small groups and empowering lay people to minister and care for them. Today, David Yonggi Cho’s church is the largest in the world, and the small group movement has changed countless lives.
In the Old Testament, the Lord told Moses to share the load, and God placed His spirit on 70 elders to help minister to the people. In the New Testament, Jesus sent the disciples out two at a time to speak, teach, and do miracles before many of them were even fully convinced He was the Messiah. This is what is meant by the New Testament principle called the “priesthood of believers”—everyone can do ministry, and God wants to use more than just an isolated few.
Too often we are scared to empower others, and sometimes others are scared to step up because they would rather defer to those who appear more gifted. But when a need arises, people often step up and find they can be used more than they thought. After all, you can read all the books you want, but if you’re ever going to learn how to swim, you must dive in at some point. The same is true in church ministry.
When the lead pastor takes an extended break, other people must step up and take on responsibility. Suddenly, people in the pews realize that others in the body can be used more than they thought. And the people being used often find they have more to offer Christ than they ever dreamed.