I’ve heard of people doing a home exchange, but I’ve never seen one up close. How does one set up a home exchange? What steps should I take?

First, decide what kind of home exchange is appropriate for you.

  • Do you want a home exchange only?
  • Do you want a home and ministry exchange?

Certainly, it is easier to arrange a home exchange alone than to do a home and ministry exchange. When you set your sights on a ministry exchange, you narrow the possibilities for a home exchange. Not everyone who wants to exchange homes is qualified to serve your congregation in a pastoral capacity. Still, a ministry exchange may fit the needs of your church; it may also be what you yourself prefer.

A ministry exchange involves more than just two pastors trading places. Your lay leadership needs to be consulted early on. Listen to their questions, concerns, and suggestions on the subject. Point out that a ministry exchange should reduce the cost of the sabbatical for your congregation, as they will benefit from the services of another pastor who does not require compensation. Tell them with whom you are thinking of doing the exchange and how it will work. Clarify the terms of the proposed exchange—what the specific pastoral responsibilities of the exchange pastor will be. In this respect, of course, each ministry exchange is unique.

Once you know the type of exchange you want, begin the search for an exchange partner—the person (or persons) with whom you will do the exchange. This is really a two-way process. You want to become known to others who are interested in the same type of exchange, and you are also trying to learn who is out there.

What are the Steps?
The most popular way to arrange a home exchange is to subscribe to a home exchange directory. These directories are provided by a variety of commercial and not-for-profit organizations. (The earliest home exchange organizations emerged 50 years ago to serve teachers in Europe who were making summer holiday plans.) A Web browser search will turn up any number of home exchange organizations. The versatility and cost-effectiveness of the Internet have also facilitated the creation of a growing number of Christian home exchange directories.

In the quest for a home exchange, make use of another tried-and-true approach—word of mouth. Use formal and informal networks of family, friends, colleagues, church conferences, and publications to let people know what you would like to do. If you have a specific destination in mind, contact pastors and churches in that area. Prepare a brief introduction to yourself, mentioning who you are, where you live and work, and what you are looking for in a home exchange.

The search for an exchange partner presents an opportunity to reconsider the kind of sabbatical you want. Instead of searching for a specific destination, you may be looking for a certain kind of community or ministry setting. Try something different. If you serve a church in the country, head for the city or the suburbs—and vice versa. If you serve as pastor in New England, look for an exchange in the Southwest or upper Midwest. Perhaps a pastor serving a church agency would be willing to get back into the parish for a few months. Maybe it’s time for a cross-cultural experience—where in the world would you be willing to live for three months?

Try to be open-minded about your destination. We were looking for a yearlong ministry exchange in an English-speaking country but ended up in Norway serving a Norwegian church. That meant beginning to study a new language six months before our departure, preaching in Norwegian nine days after arriving, and putting our children in a Norwegian public school four days after we arrived.

Similarly, try to be flexible about the dates of your home exchange. Most families with school-age children look to the summer months. Try to think outside the box; you will increase your prospects for a home exchange. Consider, for example, three months of home schooling—or a special school project for the kids during their sabbatical.

Once you have made contact with someone who is interested in doing a home exchange, you begin the process of negotiating your exchange. The key, as with everything else, is communication. Do all you can to clarify and document expectations—yours and those of your exchange partner. The best way to do this is with a written agreement.

As the sabbatical approaches, you will need to prepare your home for your exchange partner. It is a good idea to let your neighbors know what is going to happen, too.

At its Web site, www.christianhomeexchange.com, St. Hans Ministry Exchange maintains an online directory of people interested in home and ministry exchanges. No fee is required to submit a listing for this directory, which so far covers 20 states and 13 countries. The nonprofit organization also includes a downloadable version of its publication, Handbook For a Christian Home Exchange, in a package of services available for a donation of $50. The handbook includes a sample home exchange agreement, as well as checklists and recommendations for preparing your home. A scholarship covering the $50 annual subscription fee for the complete package of services will be awarded to anyone submitting an e-mail request by September 15, 2002. Send your request to info@christianhomeexchange.com.