Well, this is the end. As quickly as it began, my sabbatical is coming to a close. It is pretty crazy that it has been three months and my time of rest, restoration, professional development, and fun are coming to end. From here on out, NO MORE FUN!! HAHA.
Actually, from here on out, I am thinking way more fun, way more joy! And I think that is actually a possibility. If joy is a fruit of the spirit, a fruit of our expectant advent prayers, then maybe there is a chance that this next season of ministry can be marked by joy. As I round the final corner and begin to prepare for my life back in the saddle of ministry, I am leaning into a ministry marked by expectant prayer, connection to the spirit, and expressing itself in joy!
How am I going to pull that off? That is a good question. After three months of sabbatical, I have a couple of reflections that I will want to unpack and live more fully into in a normal work life rhythm.
1) Spiritually: I had two incredible spiritual experiences on sabbatical.
One is that I am not, nor will I ever be a disciplined man of prayer like the 18th-century Puritans. They have been my benchmark for my entire Christian life, and because of that, I have always felt behind and as a failure. But the truth is, I am not disciplined like that. I am not a read the Bible and journal every day. I have certain daily and weekly rhythms that work for me and for my walk with God. They are nothing to write home about, but they keep me connected to Jesus. These rhythms work whether I have to prepare a sermon or not preach or teach for three months. They are genuine ways I connect with God, and on this time away from the church, it was nice to know that I still had disciplines and deep connection with God, even though they weren't dependant on my job performance.
Second, is that I genuinely believe that Jesus Christ is the only hope for a dark and lost world, and the church, is the center of that plan to be worked out. I ended up spending a ton of time with friends and family outside of the church and read and researched a lot about the chaos of the world we live in and the various plans different groups of people are leaning into on solving those problems. And time after time, these different philosophies, religions, politics, and programs left me lacking. The Christian story, the gospel of Jesus is a big enough umbrella to capture the concerns of just about every group of people I got to be with. The Christian story and community is good news for our broken politics, for the migrant caravan, for the environment, for the #metoo movement, the racial divide, and for the epidemic of loneliness, depression, and anxiety, Jesus is good news, and the church has to continue to find better ways to share that with a world in desperate need of it!
2) Professionally: My professional life has undergone a seismic change over these last couple of years. But the slow change and been hard on me and those I work with. This break was a great chance to get some clarity around my job, my gifts, and the way I am going to live into them in this next season.
I spent a large portion of my time on clarifying my call as a pastor and leader. I supervise a growing number of people on our staff. I have a passion to help our staff live most fully into the people God made them to be, to develop them to maximize those gifts, and prepare them for the next steps of their calling, and help launch them when their time with us comes to a close. To pull this off in a way that cares for them individually as well as works with them to do their job here at our church well is a delicate balance. I am committed to love our staff and to help them crush their jobs. I am committed to developing a staff culture that pushes our team to do their jobs with excellence, generosity, and joy.
I loved every part of my sabbatical that helped me grow and develop as a leader. I took a 5-week online class, went to a conference, met with several key church and denominational leaders, read a half dozen books, and watched countless lectures about leadership and team dynamics. Now I just have to find a way to collaborate with our team, invite them into the process and begin to live into all the great things God has for our staff team.
3) Personally: This sabbatical was a gift for me and my family. After the first couple of weeks, I was finally able to breathe deeply and my anxiety, stress, and steely eyes began to fade. What took their place was the old Ben. The Ben who enjoyed laughing with friends, playing loud dance music before school, and was available to drive kids all over Novato, all the while having great talks about life, dating, Fortnite, and slime.
I loved working on my Jeep, playing with our chickens, walking our dog, and becoming a regular at the gym. Having plenty of time to do all these things was such a gift.
In this time away, I realized that I need to bracket my life a little differently. This next season will require me to work really hard, and I welcome the work in front of me. But I will also need to shut it down and be able to be present for my family and make space to execute my rule of life with its spiritual and exercise practices.
4) What a gift: I am so thankful for our church and for their continued investment in me. This sabbatical was such a gift and one I don't take for granted. My time away confirmed my love to Jesus, for the church and my call to serve her with all my heart and strength. I can not wait to get back and do life with my dear friends, work out what it means to know and love Jesus and to share him with a world that needs him.
I am so thankful for my family, especially my wife. I have unpacked some deep and dark personal brokenness that she has had to manage for our entire marriage. The worst part is some of it I didn't even realize was in me until this sabbatical. I am thankful for her love, her prayers, and her patience with me as I slowly am under construction.
Mostly, I am so thankful for Jesus, who ran after me, saved me, and is continuing to save me in every possible way. I am glad to be a servant at your gates and blown away to be adopted into your family as your adopted son. And I am honored to be invited to be a co-laborer, a partner in the family business of expanding the Kingdom of God on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Ok, that is it. That was a long blog. Too long for normal people to read. But a helpful journal entry for me to reflect back on. With that, I am signing off this series, and time to get back to work! Game On!