For the month of March, Sean and Brenda will be on a month-long sabbatical.
WHAT'S A SABBATICAL? It is a spiritual discipline of voluntarily “fasting” from work/ministry that, like a fast from food, enables one to rest and contemplate one’s identity away from their ministry, the value of their vocation, and to rest and recover one’s spirit as if one has been on a century (100 mile) bike ride, or a marathon (26 mile race). The Father, himself, took a day’s rest – not because he needed it – but to enjoy the work he made. That is my desire, as well – and so this is an interesting convergence of Grace’s leadership’s appreciation in this form of a gift, but also a time of enjoying what has happened – as well as look forward to what must be. I will be gone for 4 – every day of the month of March. I wanted to let you know what I’m doing, though – and perhaps inspire you to do the same.
We’ve chosen a theme for our Sabbath: Discovery, as well as a theme verse, Isaiah 43:16-19.
So, what makes up a Sabbatical?
IT'S ABOUT STOPPING. A Sabbatical is a longer expression of God’s commandment to us to “remember the Sabbath by keeping it holy.” I practice weekly Sabbath – but sometimes I confess that it’s just my “day off”. That means, a Sabbatical is more than a vacation – it has taken preparation and study to get ready. The work actually started half-a-year ago. But the practical affect is to stop ministry. Believe it or not, this will be very hard for me – perhaps an indication of something not good? But I do this as a reminder that what I do is not who I am or at least the person God made me to be. I tell people that my value is not in success in ministry – here’s my chance. Is it true? Pastors skate on the line of their identity and their vocation and that can result in some wonderful – but also some very dangerous and unhealthy – things: if all is well, we feel good about ourselves and so do others; if all is not well, we feel as if we are failures and wash-ups. Many of us wear masks of insecurity; we can become emotionally tense or distant; we can become angry or depressed (in private, of course! Got to keep up the appearances!), or turn to means of emotional self-soothing that are sinful or unproductive. Think of it as servicing an engine: I have to take the transmission out of gear, stop the engine, and tear it down: is there damage to the pistons or transmission? Are the valves and lifters gummed up and require cleaning? Does the oil need changing? Do the spark plugs need replacing? That takes time and separation. That means I’ll also be off social media, won’t be checking e-mails, won’t be checking on my ministry teams. I’ll make one phone call a week just to check-in.
IT'S ABOUT DELIGHTING Ps. 37:4 says “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desire of your heart.” Our plan is to dive deep into God’s Word, prayer, journaling and thinking. We are purposefully going to a delightful, beautiful, and inspiring location that God has made (think Hawaii – because for a time, that’s where we’ll be) to let our heart’s soar. “But Sean, don’t you get vacation, already?” Yes! But after cancer, covid, and nineteen years of non-stop pastoring, it is healthy to delight in the Lord, TOGETHER, and by that, replenish the stores of energy, purpose, drive, and determination.
IT'S ABOUT CONTEMPLATING AND REVIEWING I’ll take time to write my thoughts down and share: What did I learn from my sabbatical? My life purpose statement is to leverage my gifts so that my church is mobilized for optimal discipleship. Have I made progress in that way? If God gives me 10 more years, here, will I have to capacity to serve you? This is about purifying the vision of my vocation and making the conclusions clear. Also, as many of you already know, God has given me the stewardship of a health crisis that I have never believed to be a “one and done”. We want to supply others who get a cancer diagnosis with some hope and tools to know that God never wounds arbitrarily nor is ignorant of our sufferings. So, we’ll be writing, reviewing, contemplating, and praying about the best use of our experience: Should it be a book? Should it be an on-line resource? Should it stay just in Roswell, just at Grace? We don’t know. One thing I know is that at Grace, we tell everyone all the time: God never wastes a pain. I want to make sure we’re good stewards of our experience. (So, it’s kind of your fault. Just kidding!)
Should you take a sabbatical? To be sure, it is unusual in our culture to take a spiritual discipline of absence and contemplation. But it's not a modern notion. It's ancient. It's not an excuse to be lazy, its space to contemplate for greater strength.
Think about it: haven't you seen some folks (maybe you are those some folks?) who could stop the car of their life for bit, get out, check the map, and find they're not even on the same map, much less the right road?
What would it take? Like anything of value, you will need to carefully prepare, enlist a mentor who's done this, and plan it so you can financially and practically do it. But why not? I think you should at least pray about it. Most of us can’t do a month or months at a time – but it doesn’t make sense not to think about something only because it might not happen.
For grins, check out this podcast by Dr. Pete Scazzero who has dedicated his life to the serious pursuit of the hidden, contemplative, life.
Here’s another thought: you could think about taking a Sabbatical at least from your present ministry role. This is not just “taking a break” from ministry; It’s a strategic pause (make sure you talk to your ministry leader!) to consider if your work is in-line with your gift-mix. Work with a pastor to find out what you should be asking and exploring. Perhaps, like me, it will be more about simplifying and verifying; to not wait for burn-out or blow-out.
You cannot go wrong with spiritual contemplation. There’s a lot to be gained and nothing to lose.
If you have questions for me … ask me in April!