It's the start of my fourth week back with Anchor since my sabbatical ended. The time is quickly churning by as I talk with Anchorpeople, reconnect with the ministry and the community, participate in meetings, and worship together on Sundays. It's good to be back.
I'm continually reflecting on my sabbatical and how it changed everything. I've been thinking about how we pulled together to make the sabbatical happen. We did it once, and I think Anchor can make it happen again in seven years. As I reflect on the sabbatical, it seems to me that almost any church could make a sabbatical happen if they plan it out, prepare for it in advance, and pray their way forward in it.
Three and a half months is not enough time to prepare for a sabbatical well. The urgency of the situation, the maturity of the staff and ministry leaders and of the congregation, made it possible to plan and prepare for the sabbatical. However, the idea of a sabbatical had been presented two years prior with our Resource Team. And two years is a better framework for planning and preparing a pastor and congregation for a sabbatical.
In the fall of 2010 I had attended a sabbatical funding workshop in Indianapolis sponsored by the Lilly Foundation. Indiana clergy can apply for a generous grant from the Lilly Foundation for a three to four month sabbatical. If accepted, funds are made possible for the church to function well during the sabbatical, and so that the pastor and his family can receive a salary and have funds to travel and relax and learn on sabbatical. The application and planning process is very rigorous. And much time is needed to prepare.
At the time I presented this opportunity to my family and to Anchor, there was a short window of time to plan and prepare the application. In contemplating whether Anchor could provide a sabbatical for me, I was unsure of it's possibility. I had come to lead Anchor in such a way that the ministry was very pastor-driven, pastor-centered, and pastor-owned. It seemed to me that if I stepped out of ministry for three to four months, the ministry of the church would have some level of chaos with out the pastor.
It was a revealing and convicting moment for me. I could trace out how it came to that point, but the larger issue was how to transition out of it. I was thankful for the revelation, but frustrated by reality. The possibility of a sabbatical through Lilly was very inspiring but also overwhelming. I didn't think that I could make enough changes in three to six months such that the congregation would feel confident they could move forward in ministry without the pastor. Maybe the could've, but I didn't think so.
It was difficult to let go of the Lilly possibility. But I was determined to make some changes so that someday the church would be congregation-centered instead of pastor-centered. Instead of me coming up with great ministry ideas and working to make them happen, I realized that I needed to pay attention to the great ministry ideas the Holy Spirit was stirring up in the congregation. By rearranging my priorities and pouring into the congregation, I would be equipping and encouraging them for ministry. This would make for a lot more ministry getting done, it would remove me from the middle of ministry, and make possible for more leaders to emerge. And with this new kind of environment, a sabbatical would be much more likely and much more beneficial for the whole church.
Once I made that attitude adjustment and began to look for the Holy Spirit to bring forth ministry possibilities through the congregation, neat things began to happen. God started bringing people to Anchor, and started to raise up people out of the congregation to get involved and lead and serve in ministry. In my mind, Anchor began to stabilize and gain confidence in itself when it came to ministry to the community and amongst itself.
In 2011 we introduced a governing process using guiding principles that reshaped how we led. By spending the year refocusing on how we lead, other men and women were able to step up and contribute significantly to problem-solving, to decision making, and ministry needs. With more leaders learning how Anchor makes decisions, and a stronger sense of mission that shapes our decision, the possibility of a sabbatical continued to grow. I continually looked for ways to connect people to ministry opportunities, coaching them as I could, encouraging them and supporting them along the way.
In 2012 my dad died. For a variety of reasons that are best saved for a different blogpost, my dad's death wiped me out. My ministry was tied up in my relationship with my dad. And my ministry with Anchor has been a force in my marriage for thirteen years at that point. The grieving and mourning that Tara and I went through was very difficult on our marriage, and on my ministry. I'm thankful that Anchor had grown in it's ability to lead and serve as a congregation, that it was not nearly as pastor-centered as it used to be. As Anchor's pastor began to wither and stumble, the congregation was able to carry on, and carry me.
For pastors that are interested in a sabbatical but don't feel that their church is big enough to afford it or you don't think you have the staff or leaders to minister during the sabbatical: you can do it.
If you plan and prepare far enough in advance, you can do it. If you are convinced in your heart, if you are convicted by the Holy Spirit that you ought to take a sabbatical, then Jesus will help you prepare and plan your congregation. It was two years of planning and preparing on my end that helped contribute to a good sabbatical experience for Anchor. Lots of other things came together that I will give credit to God for.
But if you want a sabbatical, and you know God wants your church to have one, then prayerfully lead the congregation forward so that they grow in their leadership and serving skills. Reexamine your structure so that it is not so dependent on the pastor. Identify key men and women in your church that have the gift of teaching and give them opportunities to deliver sermons on Sundays. Find out who has a talent for ministering through preaching, and continue to give them ways to develop that gift. Given enough time, God can help you put together a preaching and ministering team so that during the sabbatical you can rest and the congregation can grow.
I'd love to have more dialogue with pastor's and churches to help them figure out how a sabbatical could be used by God to bless them. Let me know if I can help. I'm learning as I go, Anchor is learning as we go forward. We'd love to share what we're learning.
Click here for more of my sabbatical reflections.