The meet-and-greet with my new congregation was a bit awkward, to say the least.
Everyone was kind, inviting and welcoming, but as you may often do when meeting a new person, many asked, “Do you have any kids?” Just two weeks prior, my wife had found out she was pregnant with our first child, and while we were enthusiastic about this new phase of life, we weren’t ready to tell people. So, we answered with a negative and eventually told them at a later date.
Soon after starting in my new role, I began writing a letter regarding paternity leave to the personnel team, requesting they look at the policy and modernize it should they see a need. I already knew of the team’s generosity and kindness from the interview process, but I still was unsure how they’d take this letter asking them to amend their existing policy, which due to not being used in the past few years was a bit dated.
When they got back to me with an answer, I was shocked: I was given eight weeks of full pay to be away, with an additional four weeks of hybrid work (in and out of office).
“Be the change you want to see in the world,” they said, quoting Ghandi in their response to me.
Now that I’m back from paternity leave, I can confidently say this new policy did wonders for me and my family and also served the needs of the greater congregation. But beyond its obvious benefit, altering this policy also demonstrates three ways to make needed changes to our church ministries and policies.
“This new policy did wonders for me and my family and also served the needs of the greater congregation.”
We should hear opinions other than our own and acknowledge the ways we may need to change. While my church could have been offended that I thought the old policy was insufficient or felt it was not my place to make such a request, they instead listened, reflected and acted.
Too often this is not the norm. Many feel if an idea is not their own, it is not worth pursuing. Others think addressing such requests means acknowledging past mistakes. But churches shouldn’t be afraid to admit they may not always have been in the right or on the positive side of change. This is unfortunate because the interests of our churches and our communities are best served when we are willing to correct and amend policies that have prevented growth and change.
We must be willing to abandon the past in order to embrace our future. Some churches are hesitant to change because it means those previously affected may not be given the same generosity. Is it fair that I received eight weeks when pastors 20 years ago didn’t? Probably not.
My pastor was enthused when he heard about my paternity leave and didn’t mourn the lesser time he was given a decade ago. He was happy to see positive change for the next generation. We must not let the lack of progress in our past prevent us from embracing change for our future.
We must recognize that paid leadership are not solely responsible for ministry. It amazes me how often I hear pastors talk about their inability to take time off. Even something as a simple request for a lunch out is often answered with, “I’m just too busy!” Not only should churches be cautious about how many responsibilities and expectations they place on their staff, pastors also should be wary of creating and leading ministries that are solely reliant on their leadership.
Not only was my church generous in giving me time off, they also provided funding for an interim to come in and serve during my absence. Once my son was born, I was able to unplug and give the entirety of my attention to my family’s needs. When I returned, the ministries I lead were exactly as I left them.
“Those ministries are not solely dependent on my leadership.”
It made me realize those ministries are not solely dependent on my leadership. Not only is this a relief for me, the ministries are healthier when the responsibility is shared. The congregation gives more input, there is an expectation for them to serve and the increase in their authority and responsibility increases their interest in future initiatives.
From a minister who has seen the other side, I can tell you what this positive change has done for my family. Weeks that could have been stressful, tiresome and mentally challenging were instead filled with tender moments, rest and relaxation as we figured out this new phase of life.
I’m a better minister because of my time away. So to my church and its personnel team, I say thank you for demonstrating the change you want to see in the world. I pray other congregations will follow along and understand that by doing so, they not only will benefit their pastors and congregations but will model how to embrace change toward a better future for all.
Justin Pierson serves at minister for family ministry and mission at Central Baptist Church in Richmond, Va. He holds a master of divinity degree from Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond as well as a master of theology degree from Union Presbyterian Seminary. His ministerial interests revolve around the intersections of faith, culture and justice. He and his wife, Tori, just became parents in May as they welcomed their son, Arthur.