My Sabbatical and Vote of Confidence

Today our church members will take a vote of confidence on me. The purpose of this is not to measure the popularity of the senior pastor but to find God’s will for the church’s future. Members will mark one of the following choices: “I believe that it is God’s will for Pastor Chai to continue to serve at Seoul Baptist Church” or “I believe that it is God’s will for Pastor Chai to leave Seoul Baptist Church.”

A vote of confidence is taken for the senior pastor every seven years to reduce the chances of a church split. When conflicts arise between pastors and lay leaders, pastors usually believe that the majority of church members support him, while church leaders believe that the majority of church members are opposed to the pastor and that he doesn’t realize it. These conflicts escalate and often end up splitting churches. The vote of confidence is an objective way to see where church members stand.

The vote of confidence system also gives a chance for new pastors to succeed. In many churches, new pastors are kicked out after just 3 or 4 years before they’ve had a chance to establish their ministry. The vote of confidence system guarantees that new pastors are given at least 6 years so they have enough time to prove themselves.

The vote takes place a year before the senior pastor’s sabbatical year. Next year will be my 14th year at Seoul Baptist and my second sabbatical year. Sabbatical were initially created for missionaries. It gave them time to recharge after 4 years of service in the field. Later, churches began to adopt the sabbatical system for their pastors. They are allowed to take it after 6 years of service. The 6 year period must come from the Old Testament, where the Lord commanded the Israelites to use the land for 6 years and then let it rest for a year.

Pastors generally use sabbatical years to recharge. Some take seminary courses, some spend time in mission fields, some write books, some plan the future of their church. And of course, they rest.

I didn’t take advantage of my first sabbatical seven years ago. Instead of taking a full year off, I took five week-long vacations throughout the year to write a book on the house church. This time, I want to take a full sabbatical, perhaps not a full year, but at least a few months. Our Intern Pastor Soo Kwan Lee will be graduating from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary next May, and he will fill my shoes in my absence. I haven’t taken a long vacation for the last 13 years since I came to Seoul Baptist. I’ve only taken 3 or 4 days off a year, usually for family business. But now I feel a little tired. During my coming Sabbatical I am going to take a long rest. I will also visit and help pastors who are trying to transform traditional churches to house churches.

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