Let me explain a bit about the mandatory one-year sabbaticals and the continuing education and elder training for our shepherds at GCR. As we are restructuring our eldership and selecting additional shepherds to serve, I’ve received a couple of questions about these two new pieces.

First, regarding the sabbaticals. Our shepherds are going to begin serving three-year commitments. We are no longer ordaining elders to lifelong appointments. (I’ve already detailed the reasons behind these three-year cycles in earlier posts.) An elder can serve two consecutive three-year cycles, but that seventh year is a mandatory one-year sabbatical. This 12-months is not just a break. It’s not a year in which the elder doesn’t have to attend meetings or read the minutes from those meetings. The sabbatical is an intentional time for development as a shepherd and spiritual renewal.

The way we’re structuring things, the elder about to take his sabbatical must present his sabbatical plan to the rest of the shepherds for their approval. I’m planning to attend this conference or this retreat; I’m going to read these two books on spiritual leadership; I’m going to re-engage this certain ministry; I’m going to attend a new weekly Bible study; I’m traveling to the mountains for a two-week spiritual retreat. Whatever the plan, it should be intentionally designed so that elder can be renewed spiritually and equipped to be a better leader of the flock.

One elder will be assigned to walk with that shepherd during his sabbatical, to pray for him regularly, to check in with him periodically, to meet with him quarterly to get updates. Then, when the sabbatical is over, that elder will give a report to the rest of the shepherds. This is what I did. This is what I heard from the Lord. This is what I’m thinking now. This is what I see more clearly now. This is what convicted me during my time away. If that elder wants to step down after his sabbatical, he’s good to go – he served two three-year cycles, he did what he said he would do, he did what the church asked him to do. He leaves with our gratitude and appreciation. If he wants to continue serving as a shepherd, he must be approved by the rest of the elders to come back.

Again, this mandatory sabbatical allows an elder to get away from the urgency of the position to evaluate their continued calling in a healthy way.

Second, we are placing an expectation on our shepherds that they will continually seek training in spiritual leadership. They will attend ElderLink conferences and seminars on church governance. They will go to ACU Summit and/or Pepperdine Harbor. They will participate in spiritual leadership training at GCR, the details of  which are still being worked out, and work outside our GCR bubble to experience other settings and different churches to become better equipped to shepherd our flock.

We expect our ministers to be engaged in continuing education. We expect our ministers to stay professionally sharp, to get outside our box, to seek new and better ideas ways to proclaim the Gospel and minister to our people and serve the community. We expect our ministers to pay close attention to their own relationships with the Lord. Shouldn’t we have those same expectations of our elders?

Someone pushed back a bit on that with me Sunday: “Well, the ministers are full-time paid staff. That’s part of their paid job.” My response was, “In our system, the elders are the ones who make all the big decisions for the church. We should probably be more concerned about their continuing education and spiritual development than that of the ministers.”

Bear with me as I keep processing our restructuring and shepherd selection at GCR Church in this space. If this is helpful to you in your setting, praise God. If you come here looking for occasional updates on my family or daring sports opinions, you might be out of luck for a few days. My youngest daughter and my older son-in-law flew to Arizona last weekend to take in a Taylor Swift concert to which I cannot relate and about which I have nothing to say. And the whole left side of my brackets is demolished. Completely trashed. I’m in last place in our family contest and, if not for Kim O’Connor, would be in last place in our church contest. I’ll stick to writing about shepherd selection for a while.