It got here quickly – my ministry sabbatical.  The elders approved a sabbatical for me, back in February of 2017.  However, given a number of critical ministry concerns including a significant staff reduction as well as the strategic Mission Advancement and Implementation process that we began in late 2016, that sabbatical was postponed until July-August 2018.  And now it’s almost here! But what is a sabbatical and what does it mean for our ministry at Redeemer?  This article will try to address that.

What is a Sabbatical?

“A ministry sabbatical as a period of time, usually three months, when ministry leaders and congregations set aside the leader’s normal responsibilities for the purpose of rest and renewal toward sustained excellence in ministry.  A ministry sabbatical is not an extended vacation nor is it an academic sabbatical that normally involves extensive study. A ministry sabbatical is a release from the routine of the call for the physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual well-being of the ministry leader.  The word sabbatical is drawn from Sabbath. The Hebrew word for Sabbath means to “close or rest” and is connected with the last day of Creation when God rested. (Genesis 2:3) God both models and commands Sabbath rest for his people. “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11)  Jesus affirmed the importance of rest saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28) The Biblical example of Jesus’ own frequent withdrawal to a quiet place to meditate, pray and be renewed is a model. In His ministry, the constant demands of people led Jesus to step away on a regular basis.  See also: Genesis 1 and 2; Exodus 20:8-11, 23:10-12; Leviticus 25:1-7 (Sabbatical Year), 24:8-25 (Year of Jubilee); Psalm 23; and Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.” – From the website: https://ministrysabbaticalresources.com/

As I mentioned in a recent sermon, a number of people have told me that I have “earned it” or “deserve it.”  I know that the thought and sentiment is good, but my typical response in to say, “thank you very much.  But the truth is, I *need* it.”  I am truly grateful that the congregation is affording me the blessing and gift of this time away, but the reason that our synod and districts recommend regular and intentional sabbaticals for their pastors is because what has been observed is that the regular and sustained demands and pace of ongoing ministry have a cumulative effect[i].  After periods of four to seven years, there is a very real need for a season of rest, recovery, and renewal in order to maintain the energy, focus and emotional and spiritual health that are necessary to lead a congregation – especially in these challenging times.

Sharpening the Saw

In the well-known, and often referenced, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the last of the seven habits is often overlooked, but can become the most impactful if neglected – “Sharpen the Saw.”  Just like a carpenter or lumberjack must work harder and harder when their tools get dull, so must ministry leaders.  At those times, it takes determination and intentional effort to stop work, halt the production line, and tend to the care of the tools.  However, it is far better to stop working with dull tools for a moment and return refreshed and retooled, than to continue forging ahead with ineffective tools.  Otherwise what ends up happening is that eventually the work will grind to a halt as the tool becomes completely dull or broken altogether.  The analogy is clear.

What Happens During the Sabbatical?

People have asked me, “where are you going on your sabbatical?”  The short answer is that I don’t completely know the physical or geographical locations that I will be going during this time away.  But the location is not as important as what will occur during the sabbatical.  Sabbaticals can be taken in different ways for different purposes.  Some professionals take sabbaticals to complete a writing project or some creative work that just can’t get the attention it needs in the midst of the day-to-day.  Others take sabbaticals to gain new experiences through travel or exploration.  Others take sabbaticals to dive deeper into learning a particular topic or subject matter.  And some take sabbaticals for rest and renewal.  The latter is the purpose of my sabbatical.  I intend to use the time to simply draw near to God and rest in Him – enjoying His Word, His creation and His blessings of family and good health.   I also intend to use the time to discover old and new spiritual disciplines as well as establish new and fresh patterns of balance between work and life; you could say, “Ministry Reimagined.”

What Does this Mean for Redeemer?

“Ministry Reimagined” is my theme for this Sabbatical.  And I am applying that to our congregation as well.  It’s not uncommon for pastor and congregation to follow similar trajectories.  I believe that Redeemer also finds itself in a season of needing refreshing and renewal.  And I believe that our congregation can benefit from using this Summer as a chance to receive from, be nurtured by and be refreshed by God.  But even moreso, I believe that both pastor and congregation will benefit from using this as an opportunity to “reimagine” the ministry that God has called us to in this place.

Just as I find myself in a season of being stretched too thin and regularly engaged in a flurry of activity, that while good, doesn’t seem to be accomplishing those things that God ultimately desires for His people … so too does Redeemer find itself in a similar season, wouldn’t you agree?  It is likely that we find ourselves in this place because of how we’ve “imagined” God desires us to accomplish His will in this place.  It’s possible that we’ve placed our effort, our attention and our resources on doing the urgent rather than the important.  It’s possible that we’ve actually been working out of our own strength, will-power, knowledge and abilities (the flesh), rather than relying on God, seeking Him and walking with Him in the Spirit. What both pastor and congregation need to do is to reimagine how God wants us to do ministry together, with Him.

Ministry Reimagined

This is in fact what the Mission Advancement and Mission Implementation Teams been working on – setting up a construct for us doing ministry together in productive Spirit-filled ways that align with the ministry calling that God has given us.  In other words, not just “doing ministry” but intentionally focusing our efforts on being the people that God has called us to be and doing what He has called us to do.  To do this we need clarity on who we are at Redeemer, what we are doing in our ministry together, how we are doing it, and most importantly why we are doing it.  That’s ministry reimagined.

I am excited to begin sharing with you what God has been laying on my heart, and how He is directing the leadership of our church when I return in September.   Also at that time, we will begin a bi-weekly time of gathering, growth and shared “imagining” of what our ministry is all about.  These meetings are open to anyone, but ultimately are for those who want to be used by God in ministry at Redeemer.  Together we will allow God to melt us, mold us, and reshape us to better reflect His image in this place.  That’s ministry reimagined.

Amen!  May it be so, for Jesus’ sake,

Pastor Augie

[i] See Sabbatical Planning For Clergy and Congregations, Richard Bullock, Washington, DC: The Alban Institute, 1975