People ask me what I will do during my sabbatical. Many ask this either with the notion that a pastoral sabbatical is the same as an academic sabbatical and a professor is expected to use the time to conduct research or write his or her next book. Or, they think sabbatical is a fancy name for an extended vacation, and I am sitting around on some quiet beach soaking in the sun.
A pastoral sabbatical is different. First it is about rest. A majority of people don’t see the other side of pastoral ministry. The phone calls and text messages that come at all hours. There are committee meetings and visitations to people. And on top of the pastoral needs there are the weekly expectations of planning worship and preparing a sermon. Besides the time commitment what is often overlooked is the emotional toll as pastors involve themselves with the daily lives of people struggling with relationships, addictions, faith, stress and the list goes on. Then there are the letters, phone calls and meetings from members and community residents who disagree with the pastor or the church. And finally as Ponds becomes more known among the greater community, so do the inquiries asking for help. Help with food assistance. Help with finding lodging for an LGBTQ youth kicked out of the house by his or her parents. Help for a young mother whose partner died from a drug overdose leaving her with nothing. Help for a local family. Help for an immigrant. The demands never stop.
On top the varied demands Ponds Reformed Church pastors are also expected to serve in different areas of the denomination. For most pastors that involves classis, but for others it might involve serving at the regional synod or on a denominational commission. Among mainline denominations where membership is declining there is increased pressure for both pastors and members to serve in different capacities.
First and foremost a sabbatical is about rest. It is also about finding new routines and new rhythms. A routine is a sequence of actions regularly followed. Meanwhile a rhythm is a regular, repeated pattern of movement. Ministry has a way of throwing off pastors of their routine and hence rhythms. During the sabbatical, I am working to discover, create and experiment with new routines and rhythms for me personally and as a husband, father and pastor.
The new routines need to include prayer, personal study and reading of scripture and reading both general authors as well as work-related. The routine also needs to include hobbies and exercise. It’s from the correct routine that a new rhythm is discovered.
I’m also about taking risks during the sabbatical. On June 11 I competed in a 5k obstacle course race and last Saturday I completed in my first 20k obstacle course race. For me that was a risk.
Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.Paulo Coelho
This sabbatical will include taking the risk of new experiences like participating in a 20k obstacle course race and traveling to different places by plane, boat, car and motorcycle. It’s in these diverse experiences that learning happens and from learning comes growth.