Hayward Wesleyan Church has graciously given me a gift of sabbatical starting November 1 through the end of December. I will pause pastoral duties for two months and resume them on January 2, 2018.
Every seven years, HWC offers their pastors this wonderful opportunity to step back from the often frenetic pace of ministry and rest, reflect, re-center, re-envision, and renew. I do not take this opportunity lightly nor for granted. I am extremely grateful! Sabbatical isn’t vacation although it has an element of vacation in it. The whole goal is to be renewed and refreshed.
I know there are many who question the need and the offering of a sabbatical. I totally understand. There aren’t many professions that offer two months of paid time off every seven years. Typically the teaching arena (college professors), scientists, and sometimes the medical field take sabbaticals, but they are often geared for specific projects like doing research or writing a book.
Pastors are offered sabbaticals in order to sustain long-term placement in a particular community. Most pastors aren’t granted a sabbatical because they don’t stay in a church long enough to receive one. It’s difficult to understand why a pastor might benefit from a two-month break unless you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. I’m sure that’s true for many people and professions. I am paid a full-time salary so I don’t have to work another job so I can focus that full-time effort on ministering, equipping, and serving a faith community. Much like someone who is self-employed, a pastor gets paid for who he/she is more than the hours they put in. In other words, a pastor isn’t full-time, they are all-time. When I am in Walmart, at a school sporting event, at one of our areas many special events or festivals, recreating, going for a walk, or running errands, I am always a pastor and I’m always accessible and on call. It’s nice to have the opportunity to pause that always-on-ness for a short season of rest.
Don’t get me wrong, I love this calling in this particular community! It has been and continues to be my joy!! I’m trying to give a snapshot of what being a pastor is like without soliciting any feelings of sympathy (because I really love it!) rather a level of understanding.
One of my personal commitments has always been transparent honesty. I think it is important, at least for this pastor, to share with people who I am, where I’m at, and how I’m really doing. If I want others to be honest about where they are and how they are really doing, I have to model that in my own life. So that’s what you are getting from me: transparent honesty. You won’t get much pretense or that “false nice” kind of thing. Yuck!
But trust me, I am not sharing this to defend myself nor to elicit sympathy. It is to share my heart with those who want to know both what this sabbatical is for me and how it will actually work.
So here are the basic parameters I’m working off of:
- I am stepping away from the “all-time” nature of my job at Hayward Wesleyan Church.
- I will not receive or entertain church-related business calls, texts, messages, or conversations. No email. No Facebook. No Instagram. No digital footprint.
- I will, however, continue to be a human being who loves talking to people and giving students high-fives, so please don’t shun me if you see me in Hayward during these next two months! I still like people!!
- I’m going to try to maintain and ask for a “don’t call me, I’ll call you” posture. Unless I call or message you, assume I care deeply about you and would to eventually catch up, but I need this time away. For me, this sabbatical needs to be a refreshing and renewing time for Jeremy, Amanda, Sari and Macie. That is my focus for the next two months. That does not mean that I don’t care about anyone else. If you know me at all, you know that I care deeply. So don’t be mad or put off if I don’t return your phone call or answer your message… it will most likely be delayed by a couple of months.
- If an emergency arises, the church office and a handful of people will know how to approach and contact me. I trust their discernment and wisdom on if I am to be called back into service prematurely.
The most common question I’ve been asked is:
Where are you going while on sabbatical?
I would love to be able to respond by saying: “Two months in Europe with my wife and kids as we adventure, play, laugh, read, rest, get away, and connect with friends!” But we’re not independently wealthy and Sari and Macie are in school and my wife has a job. So that means Jeremy doesn’t get to abandon his family for a sabbatical rest :). So this means in light of our current circumstances, a sabbatical in Hayward has to be creative amidst normal, routine life.
The other question I get is:
What are doing on sabbatical?
- Rest. I am tired. And not just I didn’t get much sleep last night, but a few years of life tired. My experience of pastoring in Hayward is that the need is great and it’s been difficult to maintain personal boundaries around engaging with people. I used to watch a friend struggle in this area not because she didn’t know how to hold boundaries, but that she cared so deeply about people. Additionally, because it is easy for me to get bored if I’m not being challenged with new problems to fix, then I create look for those additional challenges by adding them to my life and ministry instead of taking some things away. So I am looking forward to a season of rest. Here is what I am going to do in order to rest:
- Not come to work everyday, physically and virtually. I will not come on the church property, any church programs, or engage in digital communication (email, Facebook, texting, etc.). I am going to try and maintain a sense of “away-ness.”
- I want to take time to develop and habituate a sustainable pattern of life… everything from daily hygiene, consistent sleep, eating routine, exercise regimen, time in the Word, engagement with my girls, and time with my wife.
- I want to engage in some fun hobbies that I have set aside over the years. I recently acquired a firearm that I really enjoy shooting! I plan to do some hiking around the area. I also plan to spend some intentional time with friends from out-of-town (and some in-town). When the snow comes, I’m excited to start cross country skiing again.
- I would like to go hang out with a couple of friends during this time… maybe do a day trip together or some extended, overnight kind of time. Fun is the operative world for this!!
- I plan to take a personal retreat during this time, somewhere around 2-3 days away by myself.
- Extended family time. In so many ways that are indistinguishable to me on a regular basis, both my wife and my girls often get the leftovers of their husband and father. We went to the Minnesota Zoo last summer and while we were walking from the parking lot into the zoo, Sari asked if we were going to run into anybody that I knew. I told her that I didn’t think so. She replied with a sigh, “Oh, good.” That told me something! I love running to people that I know, but that isn’t always the best for my family. We are looking forward to some time away from this pressure and I want to think through and ask the three ladies in my life for some wisdom and direction on how to handle this better going forward. I am really looking forward to some fun times with my family. So here is what that might look like:
- We are taking a family trip over Christmas in December.
- We plan to attend church as a family at some area churches. We don’t get to go to church together as a family (leave together, travel together, sit in church together, and leave together). Amanda and the girls are looking forward to this.
- Weekends of fun with whole family.
- Amanda and I plan to get away for a week for just the two of us.
- Personal renewal. Here is how my sabbatical coach, Dan, refers to this area: “gaining insight into yourself and ministry going forward.” What I would personally like to do here and what is more timely is different, and Dan and I have talked about this. I would rather devote personal renewal time by studying Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, John Sailhamer’s The Meaning of the Pentateuch and the study of the making of the Bible from the perspective of an evangelical theologian and an agnostic scholar of the New Testament. I simply love doing this kind of study and the time I would have on sabbatical could provide that kind of space to do so. However, Dan reminds me that what I might want and what I might need are sometimes different things. The timeliness of theological thomes for me right now might not be solely what I need. Dan has suggested and I have researched some reading that might be more timely for me during sabbatical. Here is what personal renewal during sabbatical will look like:
- I plan to read some Peter Steinke books for example: Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What, How Your Church Family Works: Understanding Congregations as Emotional Systems, A Door Set Open: Grounding Change in Mission, and Hope and Healthy Congregations: A Systems Approach. These might sound absolutely abhorrent to those reading :), but these kinds of writings come out of the family of theory that I resonate with and am looking forward to engaging with them. Dan highly recommends these resources!
- A few other books I’m looking to tackle: The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen and Immeasurable by Skye Jethani. I think I might re-read C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy books in light of a recent conversation with a friend.
- Dan has also encouraged me to spend some time in a seminary library (i.e. Bethel Seminary in the Twin Cities) researching articles related long-term pastoral leadership, burnout, teaching, etc. He wants me to spend more time on the practical side of ministry rather than the theological side :).
- Dan has recommended that I take considerable time reading the pastoral epistles (1st and 2nd Timothy and Titus) in large chunks (i.e. the whole book in one reading) and journal about it.
- Even though I will spend considerable amount of time reading in the practical side of ministry, I do want to take some time to do some Bible study that I have wanted to do for a while. So I plan to pick one or two theological books and limit myself to studying those.
- Weekly exercise regimen. Until it snows I plan to run 3 times a week (Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday). When it snows and there is enough of a base, I plan to start cross-country skiing 3 times a week as well.
- In my effort to become more emotionally aware, I plan to continue a daily journaling exercise I began a few months ago.
- I also really enjoy listening to sermons and audio teachings. I have a treasure trove of sermons I’ve collected over the years. I plan to fill my ears and heart with these teachings when I’m out for a walk.
I plan to give a sabbatical report when I return. I look forward to reconnecting with everyone in a couple of months!!