About Joel Decker

I am a recent graduate from Duke Divinity School and work as a Wellness Advocate for the Clergy Health Initiative. I grew up in a pastor’s family in the Midwest and am pleased that my job is now to support pastors. In my time away from work I mostly scheme with my wife, Sarah, about how to both care for our two young children and get adequate sleep. When we are successful, I also enjoy playing with my kids, reading, trying all kinds of exercise, and suffering through Cleveland Cavalier basketball seasons.

Study Leave at Duke Divinity School

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As a wellness advocate, I chat with pastors daily.  And if I consistently hear longing in my pastors’ voices, it’s when the topic of study and reflection come up. The short of it is that it is hard to make time for study and reflection amidst the hustle and bustle of a busy church, where people and tasks are literally or metaphorically knocking on the door all day long. And yet, most pastors also recognize that time for study and reflection is crucial for gaining insight and cultivating growth in their own lives.

Did you know, though, that Duke Divinity School has a program to support that very discipline? It’s called Study Leave for Ministry Professionals. And Spirited Life participants can attend for practically nothing!

Here’s a succinct description of Study Leave from the program’s website:

Over the span of five days, participants can immerse themselves in learning and renewal through self-directed study, worship and prayer on the Duke University campus. This flexible program is designed for Christian institutional leaders, pastors, program staff, and laity, and can cost as little as $100. You select the study topic. We provide all the resources you’ll need to make your week as productive as possible.

Our Spirited Life staff recently met with Gretchen Ziegenhals and Marsá McNutt, who run this program at the Divinity School, and here was my takeaway:

You can spend five days at Duke Divinity School to study whatever you want with your meals basically covered and housing completely covered. It counts for Continuing Ed credit and you don’t have to have your study topic nailed down before you come; you just need a general idea and can even shift focus if something interesting comes up during the week. You can arrange to be there alone or coordinate time there with friends.

Spirited Life participants are eligible for a hefty scholarship to attend Study Leave because we think it can be an incredible opportunity for renewal.  You’re eligible for this scholarship starting in your second year of the wellness program (see the table below).  But even if you’re not eligible yet (or you’re not part of Spirited Life), Study Leave always offers scholarships for pastors serving rural churches eligible for grants from The Duke Endowment as well as a limited number of scholarships for non-rural WNCC clergy.

The scholarship cuts the program costs from $650 to $100 (and you get $75 of that back on a card to use for meals/books/gym access.)

If you have questions, feel free to contact your wellness advocate or the program’s coordinators listed on the Study Leave website. This could be just the respite you need.

-Joel Decker