Friday, May 03, 2013

Sabbatical Reflections [part one]

It's my third day back with Anchor Community Church. The time has been spent reconnecting with leaders from the congregation. We've been catching up on the sabbatical experience for all of us. All the conversations have prompted some helpful reflection for me.

I didn't do a lot of reflection about the sabbatical during the four months, but now that I'm on the other side of it, now seems a good time to do so. Over the next few weeks and maybe even months I intend to write out my reflections as a way to connect the congregation to my sabbatical experience.

Anchor provided my family with a tremendous gift for which we will be forever grateful. I want them to know some of what resulted from the gift of the sabbatical. I've begun to hear stories of how God used the sabbatical in the life of the congregation. Apparently we all have a lot of stories to tell. I want to hear them, and share mine.

But I also want to connect with other pastors who may be interested in a sabbatical. It seems to me that most pastors need a sabbatical, but don't believe that it is possible. Through my reflections, I hope to encourage pastors to follow up on their awareness that they do need a sabbatical. Not only that, but then provide some insights on how they can begin to prepare now for helping make a sabbatical possible in their future.

My first brief reflection here centers on the point I just made in regard to pastors: I was convicted, confronted, and eventually convinced that I needed a sabbatical. I needed a Psalm 23 experience.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
  He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
  He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

It was with some embarrassment that I admitted I needed a sabbatical. Shouldn't I have managed my life better such that I didn't need a sabbatical? Isn't a sabbatical a luxury item? Who am I to get a sabbatical, shouldn't that be reserved for pastors with more experience or bigger churches who have "real" stress or more complicated, enduring problems that they've had to shoulder? And how dare I ask my small congregation to help fund a sabbatical for me, isn't that selfish of me? If none of them will ever get a sabbatical through their work, how is it fair for me to request that they grant one to me?

You could come up with your own objections to a sabbatical. Maybe the time is not (ever) right. Maybe the money isn't there. Maybe you're too busy to take a break...

Through my family, close trusted friends, through experience, counseling, honest self-assessment, and the Spirit of Christ, and probably some other factors I'm not clear on, I became convinced that I needed a sabbatical. In taking stock of who I was becoming to my wife and children, to my friends and family, and even my congregation, I finally acknowledged that I needed an extended time of cessation from being a pastor. I knew it had to happen. No more putting it off. Either the sabbatical happens, or else something else does...something else not good.

Since sabbaticals aren't a common experience for congregations in my denomination, or many other denominations that I am aware of, there is little precedence for preparing for a sabbatical. Anchor had to dive into uncharted waters to prepare for this sabbatical. Ideally the next sabbatical will occur before I'm worn out, but at just the right time for a Psalm 23 experience for all of us.

But for me, I became convicted that a sabbatical had to happen. That conviction accelerated the conversations and planning. Had we not been operating out of urgency, we may have prepared better for the sabbatical. As it was, God was gracious to the congregation, taking care of all of us as we walked in faith. It was hard work preparing well for the sabbatical, but it was good work that had to happen. Anchor's leaders were amazing in their willingness to step up and help make this experience possible for my family and the congregation.

For pastors reading this who would like a sabbatical, do the research. Find out if there is any precedence in your denomination or region for a sabbatical. Talk to that pastor or congregation. Here's our denomination's helpful guidelines for sabbaticals.

Start paying attention to your schedule and self to determine how weary you are and can you make some small changes immediately. It's better to enter a sabbatical already making some key changes to diet, sleep, schedule and rest.

Continue to pray about the sabbatical with the Lord: does this desire have God's blessing? Is the Spirit of Christ giving you permission to pursue a sabbatical? The conviction and confirmation that you ought to take a sabbatical are key to moving forward. Second-guessing your decision will undermine the success.

For Anchor: with the rapid pace of preparing for the sabbatical, I gave off the impression that I was doing fine, that I had the energy to lead and preach well. I'm grateful that my ministry went well (for the most part...) up to the end of the year. But everything comes with a price to be paid. I was on fumes, I crossed the finish line of December 31st with nothing left in the pastor-tank.

For all the confusion that my sabbatical may have caused, I am sorry. That's maybe part of my pastoring that didn't go well at the end.

But, I was convinced and convicted that the sabbatical had to happen. And I am deeply grateful that Anchor helped make it possible. Thank you.

Check out this link for more blogposts published during my sabbatical, as well as upcoming sabbatical reflections.

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