Upcoming Sabbatical

A week ago Sunday (on February 22), we had our Annual Congregation Meeting. I wrote about some of it as it relates to my upcoming Sabbatical here. I plan to write about it here to keep everyone (family, friends, and church) up to date on our plans, as well as to give those outside NewHeart a feel for what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

To launch that effort, below is an article I wrote to our church this month. It’s one of at least 2 or 3 I will write before going on Sabbatical. If you have any questions, feel free to ask. I’ll post other Sabbatical thoughts and preparation articles here, so check back often.

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You’ve heard me say it before, “I want to serve here at NewHeart for a LONG time!” It’s my heart to retire here if the Lord allows it. However, if He has other plans, I want to leave behind a legacy of a church family that takes good care of its Pastors.

It’s not that the Church HASN’T taken good care of Pastors in the past. It IS that I have found Pastors in general need the encouragement to practice good self-care with the nature of the 24/7/365 culture we live in. Emergencies are no respecter of persons or schedules, and that’s just the way life is. That truth makes good boundaries and self-care all the more crucial.

Unbelievably, it’s been eight years now since I had my run-in with burnout. Since that time, I’ve done a lot of reading, studying and talking with Pastors who have long-term ministry with one or maybe two churches in their lifetime.

I’ve learned that the expectations of Pastors and churches has changed over the decades, and that our self-care has to be intentional if we’re going to last for the long haul. Some facets of good self-care are practicing the weekly Sabbath and regularly disengaging for vacations. I have endeavored to be better at both of those practices over the last several years.

I’ve also learned that an intentional Sabbatical (versus the Sabbatical that is forced by body, soul or spirit, and is all too common for Pastors and churches) is another practice commonly expected, appreciated and understood by both Pastors AND churches that desire to serve together for the long-term. By definition, a Sabbatical for a Pastor is an extended period of time away from the daily rigors of ministry and church life in order to be renewed and refreshed.

In January, the Church Council announced what I consider to be a pretty significant change in the overall culture and expectation of our church life. At the end of February, at our Annual Congregation Meeting, they presented the idea in more detail and fielded questions about it.

Last year, our Church Council researched and wrote a policy that encourages Pastors to take an intentional Sabbatical every seven years (3 months for the Sr. Pastor and 2 months for non-Senior Pastors). This year, we will embark together on the adventure of my first intentional Sabbatical from June 1 through August 31. (To clarify, I wish I could take you with me, but that kind of defeats the purpose!)

The concept of a Sabbatical comes from the Bible’s command (you remember those 10 BIG ones, right?) that exhorts us ALL to Sabbath (which means “to cease”) every seven days. In the Old Testament, it was actually a law that all work would cease (Sabbatical) every seven years for one whole year! Wouldn’t you love THAT to be the case for today?

I’ve learned that an intentional and purposeful Sabbatical experience is a season that involves a congregation as much as it does a Pastor and his/her family. When approached non-anxiously, it’s a great opportunity for some in the the congregation to step into new areas of ministry leadership while the Pastor is away.

It’s a good chance as well for the church to hear from some other voices that God has gifted us with both from inside AND from outside our own church family. You will be in good hands, and led very well, by some folks who are quite frankly better preachers than I!

This is NOT a bad thing; it’s actually a very good thing! I am not going on Sabbatical because I “need” it, but because I believe it to be a practice that should be incorporated into not just my own life as a Pastor, but also into OUR life together as a Church Family. I want us together to experience this season as a “get to” before it would ever become a “have to.” It is a proactive measure of care, not a REactive measure for concern.

There is no way I can answer all the questions about who will be doing what while I am away. Look for that information to come as we get closer. For now, let’s be prayerful together about this coming season, and let’s anticipate the great things God intends to do in and through us as a result of it. And, just FYI, I am happy to field any specific questions you may have, as are any of our Church Council Members!

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