Jun 252012

Charlie Peacock sings, “Cheer up, Church, you’re worse off than you think.”

Many churches are feeling a money crunch, due to the economy.  Take our congregation, for example.

There is no way our church could afford to provide a clergy sabbatical–apart from taking a creative approach to our life and our ministry together.  In fact, there are lots of things our congregation would not have done–or be able to do–if we just relied on the offering plate to finance what we believe God wants us to do.

Fifteen years ago or so, we took steps to begin developing a church endowment fund.

Three years ago (in 2009), our congregation invested funds from our endowment to purchase a condominium so we could launch a Guest Pastor program,  We needed additional staff, but we couldn’t afford them.  So, we created a program where pastors could live in our condo in exchange for very light pastoral duties at our church.

How did this program come about?  Like everyone else in our community, we were suffering from the housing market bust and world-wide recession.  It dawned on us that the price of a brand-new condominium had suddenly deflated by about two-thirds its value of only a year earlier.  Also, we noted that churches all across the land are encouraging their pastors to take a sabbatical.  Our Guest Pastor program emerged.  We provide pastors “rent free” housing so they can pursue a sabbatical.  In exchange, we have been blessed by an influx of exceptional pastors who spend a month or two alongside us in ministry.  For more information, visit Pastors2Go.com.

When it came to providing our own pastor with a sabbatical, we needed a different approach.  We do not know of any other parishes that offer a Guest Pastor program like ours.  Still, our pastor is taking a sabbatical this summer.  Our pastor will spend a month of his sabbatical, living in England “rent free” by doing a home exchange with another pastor who wanted to come to the USA with his family for their summer holiday.  Our pastor and his wife are going to swap houses with this English pastor and his family!

So, cheer up church.  Be creative.  Life is more exciting when you believe the future is in God’s hands.  We belong to the God of abundance, not scarcity.

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May 042012

It’s not about the money–well, maybe it is.

OK.  You have a sabbatical policy at your church.  You are ready to start planning your first ministry sabbatical.  You have your congregation’s blessing to take a sabbatical, but the funding is up to you.  No problem, you’ll just go to a foundation that distributes clergy sabbatical grants and tell them all your wonderful plans.

I am not about to discourage you at this point.  Please, by all means, move on with your proposal.

For now, let’s skip any speculation about the “odds” that your proposal will be accepted or rejected.  Instead, let’s just say that it might be prudent to have a back-up plan.  And ask yourself, “What am I going to do, if my sabbatical grant application is passed over by the grant selection committee?  Would that mean that my aspiration for a sabbatical was ill-advised?”

Well, first of all, remember the time-worn maxim: It is better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all.  Feel better?  Maybe not.  So, what about that back-up plan idea?

Here’s a thought.  Ever hear of those people who swap homes so they can travel on a budget they can afford?  They do something called a “home exchange.”

A home exchange is where you live in my home while I live in yours.  Each of us pays our usual mortgage payments and utitities bills and so on.  But, someone else is looking after my home while I am staying in their home.  And both of us have rent-free lodging.

Could a home exchange solve your clergy sabbatical grant blues?  In fact, what if you negotiated a home exchange before you even began the grant application process?  Do you think you might feel empowered to withstand some bad news that, “There just wasn’t enough money for all the worthy grant proposals we received”?

And what do you have to lose if you hear the happy news that your grant application was approved?  Nothing.  It’s like you heard from two foundations.

You made the home exchange the “foundation” (pun intended!) for your sabbatical–and granted yourself an affordable sabbatical in the process.

Plus, you’ve heard from another “foundation” that they want to give you another grant as well.  In your heart of hearts you knew you weren’t entitled to this other foundation’s money.  But, should that become available to you? It is a gift–it’s all “Grace.”  Now there’s a happy thought for a clergy person to ponder!

So, take my advice.  Get off the merry-go-round.  Don’t be a victim of a grant selection committee–or your own feelings of entitlement. Weave a home exchange into your plans for your sabbatical.  Skip the clergy sabbatical grant blues.

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