In March 2011, I was the pastor of FBC. I was an exhausted, frazzled, and worn out pastor. The demands of ministry had taken a toll. I even had fleeting thoughts of a “normal” 9-5 job. Instead, I came to our church leadership and requested a sabbatical. The congregation approved an extended sabbatical for that year as well as one for each five years afterward.
I came back from that time with a clearer sense of direction. We began our move to having a plurality of elders. It has been one of the best decisions I have made in ministry. I think our church has benefited greatly. It was during that time away, though, that I came to that clear sense that this was what God wanted next for us at FBC.
It has been five eight years since that first sabbatical. I’m not in the same desperate place that I was in 2011. But I don’t feel as sharp and clear-headed as I need to be. Over the past few years, church leaders have encouraged me to take this scheduled time away but, because of staffing needs and other issues, I didn’t feel the timing was right. But this year, our elders strongly encouraged me that this was the year to put it on the calendar and follow through.
So, that’s what I will be doing this July and August.
What is a sabbatical?
You don’t have to be a Hebrew professor to see that the word “sabbatical” comes from the word Sabbath. In the OT, every seven days/years there was a mandated time of extended rest for the people, animals, and even the land. God made it clear that we are not machines. We need to rest. Yet workaholism reigns. And pastors can often be the worst. A frazzled, frustrated, underdeveloped pastor can be dangerous to himself and to the flock. He can run the risk of preaching from the flesh, leading out of hurt, and cause more harm than good.
Rusty Mckie defines a sabbatical as “taking a break from ministry before ministry breaks you.” Think of it as part rest, part professional development, and part spiritual renewal. It’s a time to recharge, refocus, and get renewed.
As I’ve said before, my personal goal in ministry is to die as the Pastor-Teacher of Forest Baptist Church. I just don’t want that to happen soon! (Neither does my wife.) The goal of this sabbatical is to return in better personal, mental, emotional, and spiritual health for the good of our own church and future together.
While away, here’s a rundown of what I will be doing and ways you can pray.
I plan to rest. I probably won’t be lounging on a beach (I’m not much of a beach person) but I will unplug. I’m sure I will take a few naps, sleep in past 5:30am, and go at a slower pace. I deeply desire to give FBC my best for decades to come. Taking a brief season now to rest, will hopefully replenish me for the next block of years.
I own 1773 books. (Yes, I catalog them.) At last count, I have 360+ that I have not yet read. I read but not as much as I want or need. Paul begged Timothy, “When you come bring…the books!” (2 Tim 4:13) Even at the end of his life and ministry, he had more to learn and study. For us pastors who want to make a lasting impact, preach deep sermons, and lead well, we need to do the same. Spending a few hours now, pouring over Spurgeon, Luther, Keller, or Schaeffer pays off for years to come in the pulpit, in meetings, and in the direction of a church. I’ve already got a growing stack to tackle.
What’s the future of Forest Baptist Church hold? What will I preach in the years to come? What kind of ministries and new endeavors lie before us? Honestly, I don’t know. During this sabbatical, I want to ask God those very questions. While I don’t suspect that I will come back with a radical new plan, I do hope to return with a fresh sense of vision, a renewed sense of purpose, and a clarified sense of how we can better seek “to know Him and to make Him known.”
During this time, I will be doing some preaching and teaching. (Rest assured, I am only preaching as a guest to help fellow pastors get a Sunday off themselves. I am not preaching anywhere for any other reason.) Here is a list of upcoming engagements. Please pray for me and for fruit.
July 13 Teaching sermon preparation workshops for The Theology Mission
July 14 Preaching Sunday AM at Mission Church (Norfolk, VA)
July 20 Interviewing on The London Lyceum (theology podcast) about preaching.
Aug 16 Teaching sermon workshops at the “We Preach Christ” Conference
Aug 18 Preaching Sunday AM at First Baptist Church Delassus (Delassus, MO)
Earlier this year I submitted a preaching book proposal to B&H publishers. While I have not yet been offered a contract, the associate publisher has encouraged me that it’s in queue and under serious consideration. With that possibility down the road, I hope to get some outlining and writing done on a first draft. Pray for clarity and insight.
Ok, I know that’s not a verb but play along. One thing that is 100% unique to the work of a pastor, is that his family is part of his job qualifications. (See 1 Tim 3:4-5, Titus 1:6) As an older pastor used to say to me, “You can always get a new church if you need, but you can’t get a new marriage/family.” He’s right. A pastor who does not prioritize his family cannot be a good example to the flock in this crucial area. I hope, over this time, to enrich our family life together for God’s glory.
In the months of July and August, I will be in town if a major need arrives. But our staff and elders will be shouldering the bulk of the ministry work. You won’t see me as much, but as you can see, I will still be thinking, plotting, and scheming for the good of Forest Baptist Church and the years to come. Pray for me as I pray for us.