Three Sabbatical Goals For Rest and Renewal

February 1st marked the beginning of my very first sabbatical. After serving at my church for the designated 6 years of full time ministry (and after serving in full and part-time ministry capacities since 2009), I finally made it to what many pastors hope and long for: a three-month sabbatical. As many have asked me what I’ll be doing over the next three-months, I wanted to take some time to share what I have planned out, and how you can pray for me and family and hold me accountable to these commitments.

A Definition of Sabbaticals

The idea of an extended sabbatical beyond the regular weekly Sabbath comes from the Old Testament years of renewal for the land. In Leviticus 25:1-7, God instructs Israel to rest from working the land every seventh year, neither reaping nor sowing, trusting that God’s provisions from the previous sixth year (25:18-22) of harvest would be enough to sustain them. This year-long rest allowed the land to replenish its nutrients and prove fruitful for years to come; it was also a year-long rest from work for all Israel, as they trusted in God’s provision and rested from giving themselves to productive work.

Sabbaticals were historically most common for seminary professors to take an extended break from teaching to once again become students to research and publish for the advancement of academia and the benefit of their students. However, sabbaticals are becoming increasingly common in secular careers as well, particular in the education, tech, and business industries. Professionals cite mental and emotional over-exhaustion, lack of motivation and stimulation, and the need to discern future career moves as reasons for extended sabbaticals.

While I think there is value for every professional field to implement sabbaticals, they have become particularly common for pastors. Pastors have a unique role in that they are expected to give themselves not just mentally and emotionally, but spiritually as well to the people they love and serve. Pastors often have demanding schedules with long nights of meetings and working most weekends. My own involvement in ministry has meant I have never had a regular “weekend” of two days off in a row. As a result, my family has had to sacrifice a regular family day and the ease of weekend trips together. Pastors are not the only ones with such demanding schedules; but there is a uniqueness in the weekly emotional, spiritual, and temporal demand of a pastor’s schedule. Perhaps for these reasons, sabbaticals are most common for those in pastoral ministry.

Sabbatical Goals

Now that I finally have the joy of experiencing my first sabbatical, I’ve both wondered and been asked what I’m going to be doing for the next three months. Some have responded by saying how nice it must be to get a “three-month long vacation.” Others have asked what I’m going to be studying during my sabbatical. As sabbaticals were biblically established for rest and dependence upon God, they are not only a three-month long vacation, nor only for study and research. The purpose of sabbaticals rests (pun-intended) somewhere in between. The following are three goals I believe sabbaticals should strive for, and that I personally am intending to accomplish over the next three months.

1. Spiritual Rest and Emotional Renewal

Spiritual rest is incredibly important, as pastors spend week after week pouring themselves out to those in their congregation and the teams they lead. Pastors are expected to be the spiritual leaders for those around them, and thus do not always receive the same regular spiritual leadership in their own lives. Even spiritual disciplines like prayer and reading the Word can become so closely attached to ministry responsibility that pastors forget what it means to be a disciple – following Jesus simply for the sake of enjoying Him.

In order to find spiritual rest, I first plan on spending significant time in the Word and prayer simply to enjoy God and depend on Him. Though I have regular prayer and study times throughout the week, laying down my ministry responsibilities and worries during those times is a discipline I have yet to perfect. I want to remember what it’s like to savor and enjoy Jesus simply because He is good, not because I need something from Him other than my daily sustenance to depend on Him and live as disciple in this world.

Second, I will be seeking out mentorship to help me discern God’s further calling in my life beyond my current ministry responsibilities. It’s easy to get so caught up in the weekly grind of ministry that I don’t have much time to consider how God is presently leading me and my family. My family will be praying together over the next steps God has for us as it relates to ministry and mission calling.

Third, I’m going to be pursuing counseling, both individually and with my wife. Just as a pastor’s personal discipleship can be neglected while in ministry, so also can his emotional health. There have been far too many stories recently of prominent pastors disqualifying themselves from ministry for both moral failings and emotional immaturity and unhealth. Counseling can often sound like something only “really broken people” need; but many godly, wise people have told me if you wait until you really need counseling, it’s likely too late. Being in ministry so long has revealed more and more my own sin and short-comings, much of which are a result of emotional unhealthiness and scars. Though this is the part of my sabbatical I most dread, I believe it’s the part I most need.

2. Mental Stimulation

Pastors spend a majority of their time giving themselves to the study and dissemination of God’s Word to God’s people. Studying the Word for so long can cause pastors to run mentally dry, leading us to default to the passages we are most familiar with and the illustrations we have already used and re-used. Many have used their sabbatical leaves for intentional study – both in the Word and in academia – to re-stimulate the mind where it tends to run dry.

Part of my own plan for mental stimulation has been a commitment to read one book per week, both Christian (theology, biography, missiology) and non-Christian (fiction, secular non-fiction). Nothing stimulates my mind more than fiction stories and novels; unfortunately, my doctoral studies have kept me from this type of mental stimulation apart from ministry for the last two-years.

Speaking of doctoral studies, I also have a dissertation to write by next May, so there’s that… While I do plan on trying to accomplish a good amount of research and writing for my dissertation during this sabbatical, I also hope to return to more regular blogging (both personal and ministry) and break my public writing hiatus (beginning with this post).

3. Physical Enjoyment

Sabbaticals are meant to be purposeful, to renew and refresh pastors (and professionals) for future health and longevity in their ministries and careers. However, I believe part of rest is learning to have carefree play and enjoyment. One thing having a child has taught me is that not every single waking moment of my day has to be productive. My wife and I often say that the only goal in life our daughter has is to play. Watching her play with her toys, learn new things through carefree exploration, and simply enjoy being with us is one of the greatest joys we have as parents.

Likewise, I’m learning that my life does not need to be one perpetual productivity task list, proving my worth, justifying my existence, or “using my gifts.” God gave Adam and Eve the garden and everything in it for their enjoyment (Gen 1:29-31; 2:16-17). Enjoying creation is a simple way of enjoying the Creator and remembering that all good things come from him. Certainly there is an extreme form of enjoyment in entertainment, which we in America have become gluttons of through consumerism. But this should not lead us to the opposite extreme of asceticism.

I am thoroughly looking forward to just “doing nothing” with my family, spending regular nights and weekends together again, and enjoying the common grace of God’s creative capacities as displayed through our city of San Francisco. One specific way I’ll be doing so is by embarking on a bike and coffee tour of SF, of which there is no shortage of beautiful bike rides and great artisan coffee. I’m also looking forward to once again having friends and a social life (the combination of ministry, doctoral studies, and a newborn have made me a social hermit).

In order to help me accomplish the above goals, I’ll be limiting my involvement on Social Media. While I’ll still be periodically posting thoughts, blogs, and photos, I will be keeping my distance (at least on my phone) so as not to be consumed with digital media. My family will also be visiting other churches and look forward to fellowshipping with other pastors and Christians persevering here in the Bay Area. Though we will not be worshipping with our Sunset family, we will still be available to hangout (just no ministry conversations)!

If you’ve made it this far, I thank you for your support, and ask that you would pray for me and my family during the next three months as we learn to trust in God’s provision and depend more fully on His grace. I hope to come out of these next three-months as a more sanctified, content, and resolved man of God, and more deeply understanding and experiencing my identity as a child of God.


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