It is a wonderful gift for a congregation to provide their pastor with a sabbatical. It has been my experience that both the pastor and the congregation benefit from this sabbatical experience. Often congregations both learn about their own gifts and have a renewed appreciation of their pastor and his or her gifts. But there comes a time when the sabbatical ends and the pastor and congregation resume their relationship. It needs to be recognized that in this three or four-month separation everyone has changed to some degree.
As congregation and pastor make that transition, having experienced both personal sabbaticals and helped others return from their sabbaticals, I would like to offer some observations to the congregation.
FIRST of all, it is not easy to transition from a fairly relaxed time with normal hours to the pressure of being pastor of a congregation. Please offer your pastor some time to ease into meeting all the expectations of a congregation.
SECOND, when a pastor returns to a congregation, there is an uncertainty on both parts as to what has occurred and what it all means. It is a mistake to assume that now that the pastor is back, everything will pick up and continue as normal.
THIRD, when someone we care about has been away from us for several months, it is important to recognize that we all have changed. It will be important for both the pastor and the congregation to share with each other what you have missed in each other’s lives. What has happened in each of your lives that has affected you? There will be events the pastor will want to share, but s/he will also want to know about you. What has happened in your life that has affected you.
FOURTH, a pastor wants to hear what has been happening in the congregation. He doesn’t need to hear the latest gossip, but it is enriching to know what the leadership of the congregation has accomplished and what you look forward to now that he has returned. You might also want to ask what new ideas for ministry and new possibilities for Maximo has occurred to him or her during this time away.
FIFTH, because several things have been put on hold while the pastor is away, it can be overwhelming to have multiple expectations placed on you all at once. Relationships are more important than immediate decisions. It would be fun and rewarding for several people to arrange some small group social events in which the pastor and family can come to reconnect with their friends.
SIXTH, you all need to hear the enthusiasm you feel for what the church can accomplish as you resume your ministry together. Inviting someone with skills in group leadership to guide a congregational dinner in dreaming about the future can be a fun and energy building experience.