It’s Wednesday morning. Normally at this point of the week, I would be working through different tasks in my church office: my sermon, the order of next Sunday’s service, communicating with the worship leader about the song list, preparing for an elder’s meeting, council meeting, life group leadership meeting, or a staff meeting scheduled for this weekend, whichever it happened to be. By Wednesday morning, I would have probably had breakfast with a couple of my pastor friends, met with my accountability partner, counseled at least a couple of people from my church. This would all be in addition to any duties I have as the divisional superintendent for my denomination for the state of Kentucky.
But this Wednesday morning is different. I’m not in my church office. I’m not in a meeting with anyone. I’m not sending a bazillion emails to people about church services, building purchases, or staff issues. I’m sitting upstairs in a local coffee shop watching the cars drive down main street meditating on a book I’m reading. It’s quiet. Too quiet.
I’m on sabbatical. It’s day three. And, it’s….well….different.
Last year, our denomination’s district leadership asked the pastors to approach our church councils about including sabbatical leave in our overall pastoral care package. Now, you have to understand River of Life has never really had a pastor in place long enough to consider giving a sabbatical (an extended period of paid leave to rest, to study, and to be refreshed). And,other than a part-time administrative assistant, I’m also the only salaried staff person at the church. So, the prospect of even considering sabbatical leave was a bit unsettling. Who would we leave in charge? Who would preach each week? Who would help spearhead financial decisions?
After some research and planning, the council approved the inclusion of a sabbatical leave benefit in the senior pastor’s job description: two months of paid leave that could be applied for every seven years. After months of planning, scheduling, and meetings with the congregation, the church council, elders, and staff, my sabbatical began this week.
I have a list of books I am working through because I make very little time to read books about theology, preaching, church growth, and personal development. I’ve got some Bible study ideas I want to work through that I don’t usually have the luxury of working on in the midst of weekly sermons. My wife and I have a trip scheduled to Christiansburg, VA, in March to Foursquare’s Center for Spiritual Renewal for a week-long retreat; my family and I were given 2 free nights in a condo in Gatlinburg in early March; and I’m trying to find a way to get to Texas to spend time with my spiritual parents, Kenny and Lynn Thacker for a few days. Otherwise, I’m at home doing very little.
Well, I have baked two loaves of bread, a cake, and a homemade pie since Monday morning. So, if nothing else, I guess I can eat!
But, I’m in a season in which I’m not supposed to pursue any ministry opportunities, attend church at River of Life, or do any church business for 8 weeks. I’m basically being paid to rest; to visit other churches; and to be refreshed in my relationship with God and my family apart from ministry duties.
Sounds great! And, it is great….but I’m having some trouble adjusting because I’m not busy. Now, I used to wear busyness like a badge; like it was indicative of my success and importance. But, I found early on as a pastor that I couldn’t live like that if I wanted to have any kind of real relationship with my wife, or have happy kids, and experience any lasting fruit from ministry. So, I’ve learned more and more how to say no, how to prioritize my time, and how to delegate responsibility at church. Somehow the lack of activity these past three days has revealed that I’m not as far along in that area as I thought! Not being busy is very uncomfortable for me. I find there’s lots of time for prayerful thinking; for introspection; and some of what I’m seeing is jut not very pretty! I’m reading Gordon MacDonald’s classic Ordering Your Private World, and this morning I found myself arrested by a profound statement in the book’s beginnings:
“We are of an age in which it seems instinctive to give attention to every cubic inch of life other than our inner worlds – the only place from which we can gain the strength to be brave, or even beat, any outer turbulence.”
It is not instinctive for people…especially guys…to keep an eye on what’s happening in our “inner world,” or what Solomon calls, “our heart.” He wrote in Proverbs 4:23, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” (NLT) So, it’s NOT instinctive…it’s something that will only happen if I am intentional about it. From all appearances, that’s the message God is trying to get across to me early in the beginning of this sabbatical.
I’m beginning to see more than ever not only the wisdom of this sabbatical, but the timing as well. I believe God is giving me the next seven and a half weeks as a gift really…a gift from Him where He can teach me how to give attention to what He’s doing in my heart, because it’s going to be more important than ever as I enter a variety of new seasons. My wife and I will celebrate 17 years of marriage on Feb. 14th, and I want to be healthy in every way (spiritually, mentally, and physically) so we can continue to forge a lasting, loving marriage that will carry us through middle age and beyond. I have two teenagers and a little boy that is about to hit pre-teen years. Parenting has taken on a new dynamic as my 16-year-old daughter is learning to drive and my 14-year-old son is taller than me and shaving now! Our church is in the process of purchasing new property and selling the property we have had for the past fifteen years of our sixteen-year existence. So, EVERYTHING is about to change there.
During new seasons of growth and change in my marriage, parenting, and ministry, I want to be healthy enough to know how to listen and respond to the Spirit within me, the Word of God in front of me, and the saints of God around me. So, even though I don’t know how to really function right now in some ways, I’m submitting myself to God’s process and thanking Him for this gift of time; praying and believing that I will receive everything He has for my family, my church, and for me.
Prayers appreciated 😉