Sabbaticals: Not Just for Wimps.

Today’s Eugene Peterson Quote:

The idea for a sabbatical developed from a two-pronged stimulus: fatigue and frustration. I was tired. That’s hardly unusual in itself, but it was a tiredness that vacations weren’t fixing – a tiredness of spirit, an inner boredom. I sensed a spiritual core to my fatigue and was looking for a spiritual remedy. Along the way as a pastor, I had also become a writer. I longed for a stretch of time to express some thoughts about my pastoral vocation, time that was never available while I was in the act of being a pastor. A sabbatical year seemed to serve both needs perfectly. But how would I get it? I serve a single-pastor church, and there was no money to fund a sabbatical: Who would replace me while I was away? How would I pay for the venture? The two difficulties seemed formidable. But I felt that if the sabbatical was in fact the spiritual remedy to a spiritual need, the church ought to be able to come up with a solution.  Eugene Peterson (from Chapter Thirteen, The Contemplative Pastor p. 151)

There are some churches in America who understand the great need for sabbaticals.

Some congregations demand that their pastors take regularly scheduled sabbaticals from their work, but, quite honestly, those situations are few and far between.

The more common approach by most churches is that the pastor is to be treated just like the rest of the nation’s work force. Two or three weeks of vacation per year combined with a handful of personal-leave days. Oh, and by the way, we want you to be on call 24-7, day-in and day-out. And did we mention that we have several important church commitments on the calendar during those two-weeks of vacation you have scheduled, so can you work your vacation around those for us, pastor?

In our denominational family, which I’ve been a part of for nearly 30 years, we generally have an unwritten attitude that sabbaticals are a sign of weakness. “I’d rather burn out for Jesus than rust out” is a common expression amongst pastors I know. And while those words sound so brave and Rambo-ish, the truth of the matter is that many pastors in our denominational family are now running on fumes, working harder to make more bricks for God, while using less straw (see Exodus 5).

So when my pastoral coach began talking to me about a sabbatical a number of years ago, I did the typical thing most pastors do. I deferred to the future. “Sounds great,” I proclaimed, “but I just don’t have the time for one right now.” Too bad I didn’t realize at the time that my answer revealed, at my core, the very reason I needed a sabbatical ASAP! So I ran on fumes for another eight months and, lo and behold, things began crashing down around me.

Once again, my coach recommended that we plan a sabbatical. I relented and planned out a month in June 2010. And then June came and the tyranny of the urgent raises its head and I decide at the last minute to reduce the four weeks to two. I made the great excuse that over my 13 years of church planting in Cedar Rapids, I’d never taken a two-week vacation, and so I was kinda proud of myself for doing the two-week thing. My coach didn’t seem to be equally impressed. I wonder why?

Now fast forward to January 2011 and I’m going to the doctor asking him why I’m so depressed. He recommended a low dosage of meds to help me see above the dark cloud. Thank God for that recommendation, because I think that might have finally been my wakeup call for getting that full-fledged sabbatical finally inked onto our church calendar.

But let me give you a warning, fellow pastors. Once you’ve scheduled a sabbatical into your calendar, know that the gates of hell will open wide to give you and your church hundreds of reasons to cancel. But fortunately, I had a board and ministry team at my church who got behind me and literally pushed Sandy & me out the door in June 2011. Ten weeks is what we scheduled. In retrospect, I think 20 weeks might have been better, but at least I got started with a sabbatical-light.

And, my friends, I can’t speak it strongly enough to you. If you haven’t had a sabbatical of at least a minimum of six weeks in the last five years, you are long overdue and are risking your life and ministry if you continue on the road you are on. I don’t care how successful your church might be at this moment; don’t let the mirage of success (or failure) be the final judge on whether or not you need a sabbatical.

Peterson is right.

All the hard questions will be there on how you can afford it and how your church can survive this thing without you. But, friends, trust me from personal experience, it will work! You do your part to get it on your calendar and God will do His part to make it happen. If you need coaching on how to get this thing done, contact me. My pastoral coach gave me a well-documented game plan to help me (and my church) plan for regular sabbaticals in my life and ministry. I’d be glad to share it with you. Just drop me a note.

My prayer: It’s obvious, Lord, that many pastors, myself included, are stubborn beasts who insist that taking a break from our work is a sign of weakness. You used fatigue and depression to finally convince me that I was long overdue for a long rest. I’m glad, Father, I relented and now I pray for my brothers and sisters who minister day and night, yet never seem to believe they are susceptible to the tyranny of the urgent. Help us all, Lord. For Your name’s sake. Amen.

My questions to ponder: In our workaholic culture, where bigger is better and more is applaudable, what needs to change in my attitude toward sabbath and sabbaticals? What might my schedule look like if I intentionally planned regular sabbaticals and weekly sabbath?

So what is God speaking to you today as we ponder together The Contemplative Pastor?

Over a 37-blog series, you and I will take a deeper look at Eugene Peterson’s classic, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our blog series home page for ease of use. Keep in mind that one of the best ways to explore the on-going applications of this blog series is to walk alongside a biblically-based, Christ-centered spiritual director who is familiar with how to make material like this part of your overall spiritual formation in God. Many of our directors in our Contemplative Activist network are available to companion you in your journey with Jesus. Click here for more info.

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Click here to continue to the next blog in this series…

1 thought on “Sabbaticals: Not Just for Wimps.

  1. Pingback: The Hireling vs. The Shepherd. | The Contemplative Activist

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