It was the great philosopher Arnold Schwarzenegger who said, “I’ll be back.” In July, I made that same promise (without the Austrian accent). Now it’s come true. Like it or not, I’m back! Back at FBC. Back in the pulpit. And back for another season of ministry. (For those unaware, I’ve been away on a scheduled sabbatical.)

To keep me from having to say it 400 times, the answer to everyone’s question is: yes! I feel renewed, refreshed, and ready for all that God has for us. These two months were the epitome of a “Sabbath rest.” It came at a good time for me and my family. It was beneficial and has reenergized me in unexpected ways.

Before I forget, I want to say a great big thank you to all our leadership who stood in the gap. I particularly want to thank Pastor Steve for preaching in my absence. I appreciate his willingness, faithfulness, and leadership. I am indebted to him.

I also want to thank our other staff members and elders who picked up “the ministry slack” of counseling, meetings, caring, and addressing needs. I’ve always believed that we have a great team of leaders and, seasons like this, prove me right.

Also, I want to say an even bigger thank you to you, our congregation, for your support, love, and encouragement. I know so many pastors who have ever-mounting pressures, endless expectations, and constant stress levels placed upon them by their church. Many of them labor without any hope of rest. So thank you!

As I left back in July, I shared a few goals and plans that I had for this time away. I did rest. (I took a nap most days. It was glorious!) I did exercise. (I’ve kept off the 50lbs I lost and gained a bit of muscle too. Woohoo!) I did read. I plowed through a few ministry books on marriage, family, and one fascinating read on a theology of technology. (I also dove into a 700-page biography of Johnny Cash by Robert Hilburn. I highly recommend it.) I wrote a little but not as much as I wanted. I did some preaching. I preached in jeans at a church plant in Norfolk. I preached last Sunday to a room full of Missourians. I unexpectedly preached at a tiny country church in Charlotte Court House, VA for about 15 people. (Weird fact: the “Call to Worship” song that morning was not from the hymnbook but from The Wizard of Oz. They played “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I wasn’t even preaching on Noah. It was…um…weird.) I also familied. God used this time, in a special way, for me to spend with my kids and wife especially.

The last time I returned from sabbatical (some eight years ago), God gave me a definite, clear vision for the years that followed. (We updated our Constitution and moved to a plurality of elders.) While I don’t have any specific, new ideas, God did renew a few thoughts, plans, and goals in my heart that are worth sharing. May God clarify these in the years to come. (These are in no particular order.)

 

In the next season of ministry at FBC, I am praying for God to…

Keep me clean, clear and close.

If I came to any resolute conclusion while I was away, it was this personal one. I

think every pastor, subconsciously, imagines himself pastoring a megachurch, being in the spotlight, and having a broad, recognized ministry. Most pastors would like to be famous for making Jesus famous. But God worked a simple conclusion in my heart: I no longer want to be famous. More than ever, I want to be faithful. Faithful to the end.

While I was gone, I saw several stories of pastors and Christian leaders abandoning the faith, leaving their marriages, and leaving a mess behind them.  Watching this unfold, broke my heart. It also clarified in my mind that staying clean in my walk, clear in my witness, and close in my fellowship with Jesus must be my highest priorities.

 

Enlarge our efforts in evangelism and missions.

God reminded me, while I was gone, that the purpose of the church is not inward or outward, but both. Even though I am just now returning, I will be gone with the Guatemala team in just a few Sundays. I can’t wait! It’s been too long since I’ve personally been overseas, and I want to see Los Limones for myself. May God help me to see the lost, broken, and needy and use me so we can send a tidal wave of church members who want to love, serve, evangelize, and disciple that village.

 

Thicken our community as a church family.

While away, I ran across a phrase that Tim Keller used. He said that local churches should not just have community, but “thick community.” I’ve been pondering that idea for weeks now. I’m not 100% sure what that looks like I want it at FBC.

 

Bless our efforts as we save to build.

If you want a tangible takeaway from my sabbatical – the need to plan for our next building maybe it. I’ve wrestled with this personally. I can be a content person, sometimes to a fault. I like the status quo. Change makes me cringe. But the Lord reminded me that brick and morta are tools to serve His purposes. In the months ahead, I plan to talk to our leadership about how the church might pursue a prudent, responsible, yet bold and strategic plan for saving the funds to build debt free.

 

Raise up ministry leaders to bless FBC & the kingdom.

God has entrusted us with professors, authors, and great leaders – both men and women at our church. We have a crop of seasoned missionaries and nearly a dozen former pastors. We also have just as many young, aspiring missionaries and would-be pastors in our midst. This is no accident. I want to see us develop, deepen, and strengthen our pipeline for equipping church leaders, not only to serve FBC, but to go out and lead other churches (with a hint of our DNA in them.) Pray for clarity on how we can leverage our blessings to be a blessing and impact the kingdom at large.

 

Make me a man of prayer and us a church of prayer.

I’ve spent the first thirteen years of my pastorate working hard at preaching. I now feel convinced that I need to spend the next thirteen working hard at praying. I’ll be the first to admit, prayer is hard for me. I do it. But not as I should. I don’t always want to pray. But, deep down, I want to want to pray. And that, I believe, is God’s Spirit prompting, convicting, and helping me. In the months ahead I want to read more on prayer. I want to teach more on prayer. But mostly, I want to pray and lead us, as a church, to pray like never before and watch Him work as we trust Him above all.