I just finished a month-long sabbatical that was given to me by my Elders as both a reward and a necessity. It was a “reward” of appreciation for the service I have provided to our church family and it was a “necessity” because of the toll that service had taken on me physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Since many of you have expressed curiosity about what I did on my sabbatical, I thought I would do a series on my blog about it. Here are the topics I’ll cover in the series:
Part 1: The Why and The How
Part 2: What I Did
Part 3: What I Learned
Part 4: How to Incorporate Sabbatical into Everyday Life
Bonus: My Church Visit Experience
Bonus: Lessons from My Social Media Fast
So, let’s get started with the why and the how of my sabbatical.
A ministry sabbatical is, according to one author, “a carefully planned period of time in which the minister is granted leave away from his normal responsibilities in order to spend an extended period of time in rest, renewal, and refreshment.” It is based on the biblical ideal of sabbath, emanating from the Hebrew word “shabbat,” which means “to cease or rest.” From the Bible, we see that God ordered life around a rhythm of regular work and regular rest. Whenever that rhythm is disrupted or ignored, we get out of sorts in all kinds of ways – something that scientists, medical doctors, psychologists, and professional counselors have all observed and verified.
Like many others in people-helping professions, I had ignored that rhythm for a long time. As a result, I got to a point where I was totally exhausted and in danger of burnout. This is all too common in ministry, which is one of the most demanding jobs there is. But it’s demanding in ways that are not common to other professions. As one author states, “While many vocations are demanding, pastoral work is spiritual war.”
In spite of many accomplishments, I came to feel that I was losing this war.
Fortunately, my Elders are wonderful spiritual shepherds. They recognized the toll that my work was taking on me and suggested that I take some time away to rest and recharge. They recognized that my tank was running low, and that I needed to fill it back up.
Without taking the somewhat drastic step of ceasing my work to rest (“shabbat”), I would have continued to run on fumes until those fumes ran out. And this was not good for me or the church I serve.
It’s important to note that a sabbatical is not a vacation, in the traditional sense. There is a very intentional purpose to a sabbatical. The intent is to spend time reconnecting with the Person who sustains you, the purpose that fulfills you, and the pursuit that defines you. I sought to do this by focusing on three things:
- Resting – giving myself permission to sleep, relax, and resume a normal pace of life
- Reconnecting – deliberately reconnecting with God, my family, and my life vision
- Recharging – spending time doing things that add energy and vitality to my life
I constructed a schedule and an agenda that would equally incorporate these three “R’s” so that I would make the best use of the time I had been given. To me, this sabbatical was a gift from my Elders, and I wanted to honor their gift the best way that I could.
I’m happy to report that I believe that I did just that.
It’s hard to explain all the ways this sabbatical positively impacted me, so I’ll try to express it with these images:
O.K., that might be a slight exaggeration – very slight! – but it’s pretty accurate. Before my sabbatical, I knew that I needed to get away for my health and the ongoing health of the congregation. After my sabbatical, I couldn’t wait to get back into the grind of ministry and to see the members of our church family again.
The sabbatical reset me in the best of ways and restored my love for my church family, my community, and my ministry.
In the next post, I’ll share what I did while on sabbatical.
Thanks for reading!