Sabbatical [suh-bat-i-kuhl]

The word “sabbatical” has different meanings depending on the context in which it is used. It has one meaning in the academic community, another meaning in its biblical usage, and still another in many secular settings.

Let me explain my usage. Over a year ago, I asked the Elder team at Journey, who are my direct report and overseers, to consider granting me a sabbatical when I reached seven consecutive years of full-time service at Journey. I have spoken to and read about other pastors who took extended time away from their ministry and how that time of rest/renewal/replenishment sustained them in their work, and even helped them lead at a higher level once they returned.

I have been pastoring a church somewhere for nearly 37 years now. I have enjoyed many vacations over the years and made great memories with my family and friends. For the past several years, I have been blessed to take a summer study break every July that lasts usually 4-5 weeks and that has helped me so much as I plan and prepare for the upcoming months without the pressure of my weekly duties. However, I’ve never had an extended time away that was intended to be used for rest, reading, personal reflection, and recharging for the next season of ministry. Looking back, I can identify several times when I should have had some extended time away, but didn’t. During those seasons, I probably did not give my best to anyone: my family, the church that I served at the time, and most definitely not myself. Someone has wisely said, “Tired eyes rarely see a bright future.”

So the Elders at Journey graciously consented to grant me a Sabbatical time this summer. I want to assure you that, to my knowledge, there are no personal or family or ministry crises or issues that I need to step away to address. That is not to say that crazy, unexpected things can’t or won’t happen. Neither I nor the Elders can control that. But I can say this is a planned, intentional, mutually agreed upon time for me to experience physical and mental rest and spiritual replenishment. I’m often asked to speak at other churches, especially during my customary summer break. However, I have felt the Lord prompt me not to speak at other churches or lead any outside ministry activities during this time off. I think that will be good for me. Hard, but good. I love what I do, and I thank God every day that I get to do it, and that I get to do it at a church like Journey. But I am more than what I do, and I have value beyond what I can contribute. I am above all else God’s child, and sometimes I just need to spend some time with Him with no other reason—not for sermon preparation, or an article to write, or a lesson to be delivered, or any job-related product—than just to be with Him.

Peter Scazzero in his powerful book, The Emotionally Healthy Leader, asked a great question that challenges me: In what ways does my current pace of life and leadership enhance or diminish my ability to allow God’s will and presence full scope in my life? I look forward to a deliberate change of pace over the summer, one that will be more focused on yielding to the “full scope” of God’s will and presence in my life.

So, when does this start? I will be on my Sabbatical leave during the months of June and July for a total of nine weeks away.

What are my plans? The first day of June, Melinda and I will head north to Kentucky to visit our families for several days. While visits with our family are needed and often enjoyable, they aren’t usually very restful. So the real sabbatical won’t begin until mid-June. Melinda and I have a two-week trip planned to Hawaii, a few days in South Florida, a short cruise in the Caribbean, and a golf trip (for me) to the mountains. A lot of naps, spending time with close friends, reading, praying, more naps, walking, enjoying beautiful places, eating some great food, and a few rounds of golf thrown in are the main items on my Sabbatical agenda.

As I read over that, it sounds too good to be true. It occurs to me that I am one blessed pastor, way beyond what I deserve or ever imagined. Thank you Lord, for even the possibility of a time away like this. So many need it; so few get it.

Journey is the church I always hoped God would let me lead, and I’m planning on being around for the long-haul. In fact, I will be so bold as to say that as the Lord leads and the Elders of Journey allow, Journey is the last church I plan to pastor. Time away to rest and renew will help me be the best pastor I can be for Journey, and I want nothing more than that. Thanks Journey Elders, and thank you for making it so easy to love the Journey.

Next week in this column, I’ll talk about the plans for Journey during this summer while I’m away. It’s going to be a great summer of ministry at Journey, possibly our best ever! Tune back in next week for more details.

Invest In Your Leadership Development at The Global Leadership Summit—August 10-11

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This weekend, we will continue our Relationships That Define Us series by looking at the relationship we have with our fathers. The role of men in a family is socially overlooked and underrated, but spiritually and practically, it is a role that is essential and life-giving. The world desperately needs better men. This weekend, I look forward to talking about why and how we can see that happen.