Just the word Sabbatical conjures up all sorts of mystery. You might be contemplating whether you should take a sabbatical—if your church provides one for you. Perhaps you are thinking of asking for a sabbatical if they don’t have a Sabbatical Policy in place. Maybe you are a church leader trying to decide the merits of a sabbatical.
Sabbatical lessons learned
It would be easy to think that my sabbatical was one long road trip. It is true that my wife Janet and I covered 8,600 miles (20 states, 2 Canadian provinces, 7 National Parks and 7 museums). The miles driven and time spent over the two months reflect a journey—a journey I believe God guided and designed for this stage of my life.
At the beginning of my time away, I spent time simply getting used to being away from ministry. Janet and I cleaned and organized our home. I did some reading; two books I focused on were, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People by Dr. Gary Chapman and The Measure of Our Success: An Impassioned Plea to Pastors by Shawn Lovejoy. I networked with other Executive Pastors. They shared a wealth of material and ideas with me that will help me, now and in the future. I also spent time in the Word of God and in prayer.
Then there was the road trip. The scenes of God’s glorious creation along the way were breathtaking! So was the vastness and variety of our country. God has blessed our country in ways we likely do not fathom. For much of our trip, we did not listen to the radio, which gave Janet and I hundreds of hours to talk. This was important, having been married now for thirty-two years. It also gave us sustained and uninterrupted quality time together. It was a breath of fresh air away from the demands of ministry.
The silence amidst God’s creative wonder as the miles passed by gave ample time to pray, reflect, ponder and mull over all sorts of needs—concerns related to family life, ministry at church and the general condition of our nation and world.
Our trip had three movements to it: The trip to the midwest, our time with family and our trip home. We fast-tracked through the southwestern and southern states to get to my uncle’s house in Memphis. Along the way, we saw churches the size of sports arenas and stadiums—the Bible Belt. Once we were in the midwest, we were able to spend two weeks with eighteen family members in a refreshing and restorative time. This in itself was a gift! We have lived on the west coast now for seventeen years—nearly two decades—so it was a joy to be back near our roots (okay, with the heat and humidity that might be stretching it a bit!) We were back to the place of my youth, foundation and formulation, what had been my home for nearly thirty years. It was good to be reminded that besides being connected to the Body of Christ (my spiritual family), I am also connected to a great family—one for which I am thankful.
Janet and I then continued our journey at a much slower pace, seeing the sights of the northern states. Again, this caused us to ponder God’s creative genius. We had times of learning along the way as we stopped at seven National Parks and seven museums. We now better understand our country, its growth and expansion westward and wonder why a land so vast—and in many places empty—was taken away from those who lived here before.
We also observed that no matter how large of an urban area we were in or how small (seeing towns of under 500 people literally miles from nowhere) there was a witness for Christ in each and every place in our country.
My sabbatical was more than“3,000 Miles to Graceland” (pun intended). No, I haven’t seen the film but did drive to Memphis! It was a journey in which God allowed us to rest, renew and refresh.
A God-directed appointment while attending our home church
One of the great joys during our travels was to visit our home church, The Church of the Open Door, in Elyria, Ohio. It was in that church that Janet and I were married, served the Lord (Janet taught at the Christian School) and received our call to the ministry.
We arrived early that Sunday morning and saw a young man pull into the parking lot. I thought he had left his lights on so I walked over to tell him. After introducing ourselves, John, who was about 17 or 18, said that his girlfriend’s parents had invited him to church. He was nervous because it was his first time.
I shared with him how I went to a church for the first time when I was his age. I let him know that Open Door was a great church. I shared that the people would be friendly and asked how I could help him. I told him that the church had been good to us and that I was married at the church over thirty-years earlier. I also shared that I had been sent to school by the church and received support from the church as a missionary.
Afterwards, I went to a greeter and encouraged him to be on the lookout for the young man and help him when he entered the church.
Later, Janet saw the young man inside the church. Besides putting on my “pastor’s cap” for that moment and helping someone as a member of the Body of Christ, I had this thought. When I was in my 20’s and a new Christian, this is where it all began for me—my life, marriage and family. It was like seeing myself thirty-two years earlier—before God’s plan was revealed to me—and then I thought, “What is God going to do this morning for John?”
I believe wholeheartedly that God brought me back to our home church early that Sunday morning just for this moment of ministry and reflection.
Words of thanks and appreciation
I am thankful to the Body of Christ, the staff and leadership of Cornerstone Church whose vision, forethought, service and sacrifice allowed me (and my family) to have this time away from regular duties to rest, renew and refresh!
A Sabbatical—a useful tool
I hope that the word sabbatical no longer conjures up all sorts of mystery. I think all who are in ministry should take a sabbatical and all churches should seek to provide a sabbatical every seven years for their Ministerial Staff. A Sabbatical can be a useful tool used by God in the life of His servant to provide an oasis to rest, renew and refresh. It was in a quiet place of rest that God ministered to Elijah when he was weary. Sabbaticals are not only good for the servant but equally good for the work of the Kingdom. Both the church and I were strengthened by this change of ministry pace and schedule. Ministry is hard. A sabbatical can be used to keep us spiritually fit, healthy and eager to finish the work God has prepared for us to do … until He returns!