I have just returned from a wonderful three-month sabbatical. This is hardly an exhaustive list, but I wanted to write down a few things I learned:
1. I have a loving church
One estimate suggests that only 5% of churches offer their pastors sabbaticals. A fellow pastor said it best when I told him I was on sabbatical: “Wow, your congregation loves you!” I am so grateful that my church cares about my spiritual health and understands that ministry is difficult and filled with ups and downs and twists and turns that necessitate periods of rest.
2. I have a loving God
The love of God is astounding. We forget this when we start defining ourselves by our activities and efforts. Then God’s love becomes his reasonable response to all our hard work. We cannot worship God or be astonished by his love from this place. See yourself as the chief of sinners without any hope or goodness and then you will be amazed that this majestic God loves you. Then you will discover that real joy is found in setting your heart on this loving God and living in dependence on his grace.
3. Being busy is easier than being quiet
It’s easier to feel spiritual when your day is filled with ministry activities like sermon prep, counseling, visits, etc. Take all that away and you realize that the heart of the Christian life — cultivating communion with God through Scripture and prayer — is harder than it looks. Is it possible that we fill our lives with busyness because solitude and contemplation are difficult and reveal the shallowness of our faith? God is inviting us all into deeper communion with him.
4. There are wonderful churches in our presbytery
Our family was privileged to visit some amazing churches in our presbytery during sabbatical. They were all different — more formal, less formal, bigger and smaller — but at each church we were encouraged by solid preaching, faithful worship, and sweet believers. We truly experienced that there is “one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4–6)
5. Ministry is a privilege
Sometimes it doesn’t feel this way because ministry is hard (see point 1) or because pastors become dull to the love of God (see point 2) or they start doing ministry by the power of the flesh rather than by communing with God (see point 3). On the other hand, where else will you be invited into the best and hardest times of people’s lives, as well as spend a significant part of your week meditating on the gospel and preparing to encourage and build people up in their faith? A successful sabbatical ends with excitement to get back to shepherding the flock.