As many of my readers know our church graciously granted me a sabbatical for 14 weeks starting in June 2016. I’m nearing the end of the sabbatical, so I’ll be posting some reflections on what I experienced and learned. So many people have gone out of their way to support us and pray for us, including many leaders and dear friends who generously supplied funds for this sabbatical. Their support and generosity turned this 14 weeks into a lifetime experience for which I’m deeply grateful. Most of these posts will be primarily for my church family so they can share in my family’s experience. I’ll also post some reflections aimed primarily for leaders in other churches who are considering a sabbatical for their staff. Hopefully what our church did and learned can be helpful to others who are considering such a move. You’ll be able to see from the tags which posts are for who.
A true sabbatical is not simply “time off” but an intentional time of soul renewal and reflection. 2016 marked my 10th year at Discovery and my 20th in ministry and this was my first sabbatical experience. Discovery is a Restoration Movement church, part of the family of “Independent Christian Churches.” We are technically non denominational, each local church is autonomous and elder led, but we are part of a large movement of churches across the world held together by theology and practice. But we do not typically practice sabbatical. A few years ago, after a particularly intense time of leadership in the church, our elders invited me to consider an extended time of renewal. We applied for a Lily Foundation Grant and did not receive it and since we were on the cusp of a building campaign we knew it would be a few years before I could consider a sabbatical again. We built, moved in, and decided that 3 years into our building would be good timing for my extended leave. In 2015, we applied again for a Lily Grant and were denied and several weeks later some dear friends and leaders in the church invited my wife and I into a room and handed us a “passport” that resourced the sabbatical plan we hoped Lily might fund. That evening with leaders and friends was one of the most moving of my ministry. My wife and I came home to take our kids out for hot chocolate and tell them what the church had done. Our oldest son reflected, “we are really loved by these people, aren’t we.” Yes we are. I would wish any pastor to receive the care and support of a congregation the way Discovery cares for and supports me and my family. It is truly humbling and a gift of grace.
My sabbatical theme is “serve, learn and play” as these are 3 ways I find soul renewal and deep connection to God: serving people, learning theology or something new, playing with people I love in beautiful places. My time was split almost equally between world travel and structured time at home. Honestly, I have been reticent to share our experiences on our trip as I recognize that what we were able to do and experience is only available to people with resource. The trip we took we could never afford on our own and I would never want my posts to appear like we are flaunting what we did or bragging, but the simple fact is the trip was a gift of grace from people who care for us and was such a remarkable experience, so I’ll share our travel experiences as an act of gratitude to God and God’s people.
Finally, I have come to see that some form of sabbatical break is essential for anyone in church leadership. If you are considering arranging a sabbatical for your pastor who has served 7 plus years, do it. I will happily share what I know and what our church leaders did to make this a powerful time of renewal. Next post will land tomorrow. See you then!