Sabbatical Final Report: Five Sabbatical Takeaways
Before I jumped back on the fast running treadmill of ministry, I took a little bit of time to write down some takeaways from my three month break from ministry. It was helpful to think through the highlights and what impacted me the most from my time away. Here they are:
1. I am so blessed with an outstanding wife and life-partner!
Starting a sabbatical at the same time Candy and I entered the empty nest phase of our marriage was awesome. We are so blessed to have a marriage where we both really enjoy spending lots of time together. The last three months we have spent endless hours driving and flying together, talking, playing board games, laughing, and experiencing incredible adventures for the first time. Our time away went so smoothly because Candy was my travel agent, trip researcher, and sabbatical organizer.
The riggers of ministry not only takes its toll on a pastor but also on a pastor’s wife. Over the last 12 years as the Lead Pastor at GracePoint, when I experienced hurt, loss, disappointment, and frustration, Candy experienced those things as well. She has also recently faced cancer herself and then experiencing the passing of her sister, Shelly, this June because of cancer. It didn’t take us long to realize that this was not my sabbatical but our sabbatical.
Whether is was enjoying touring historical sites on segways or walking hand in hand down the cobbled streets of Rome, I couldn’t think of anyone else I would rather share this sabbatical with than Candy. I am one blessed husband!
2. I was blessed to spend extended time with my family
The first month away was a great time to travel up and down the west coast and visit each of my six siblings. Candy and I were able to see most of their spouses and children as well. It can be quite overwhelming when my large family all gets together, especially for my wife. So, getting to spend one on one time with each of my siblings was very rewarding.
The last month of the sabbatical was a special extended time with our girls in Virginia. Little did we know years ago that all three of them would be in the same city at the same time. We were able to use Ashley’s apartment as a base and gathering place as a family. This allowed us to attend church with Ashley and Nate several times, attend convocation at Liberty University several times with Kailey, and help Holly plan and prepare for her upcoming wedding in June. It was also an honor to be invited to speak at my Nate’s youth group and also hear him preach as well while we were back there.
Having this extended time also allowed Candy and I to so something we wouldn’t have been able to do without being on sabbatical. We were able to travel up to Richmond with Holly and her fiance, Luke Gregory, to meet and spend the weekend with his family. We were able get to know each other and talk through important wedding details. We were also able to attend church together as two families prepare for our kids to become husband and wife. What a joy!
Finally, as a dad, it was a blessing to spend two days with Holly during the week of Thanksgiving making all sorts of wedding crafts she wanted for her wedding venue.
This extended time Candy and I were able to spend with our girls in their world was priceless. We kept reminding ourselves how blessed we are as parents to see all three of our girls following after Jesus wholeheartedly.
3. I am a lover of history
In Charleston, South Carolina we saw homes and churches that were built in the early 1600’s. In fact, one of the churches is still called the First Baptist Church… as in the very first Baptist church in America. I thought that was cool.
In Yorktown, Virginia, I soaked up every venue at the Revolutionary War Museum and then joined Candy and Kailey for a segway tour of where General Cornwallis surrendered to General Washington. I thought it humorous that there is still a cannonball stuck in the side of the house where Cornwallis lived during the battle of Yorktown.
Also in Virginia, we toured Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson. Many of his books and inventions are still there. I also toured his summer home in Poplar Forest that was only a 10 minute drive from my daughter’s apartment.
We loved walking the Freedom trail in Boston, seeing the church where Paul Revere began his famous ride, and viewing the burial place of many of our founding fathers. In Philadelphia, we pinched ourselves as we stood in the very room where the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution were debated and signed at Independence Hall. Simply amazing!
Walking in Rome we were both in awe seeing the ancient Roman Coliseum, viewing the arch of Titus, and walking through the center of ancient Rome where both Paul and Peter visited.
And in Israel, we took our own walking tour of the Old City in Jerusalem. In fact, we walked the city ramparts of half the city which gave us a unique perspective of the most debated and fought over city in the world. We prayed at the Western Wall and finished our last morning in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed the night He was betrayed.
4. I viewed “Going to Church” from a whole new perspective
Early in my sabbatical, I attended a church conference in California. It was both inspiring and challenging to hear that we are now living in a post Christian society. The challenge many churches are having today is that most of the baptisms a church has in a year are primarily children of regular church attenders. That means that many churches are not seeing lives changed from new converts that haven’t grown up in church. Sadly, many unchurched people today view attending church as irrelevant. That is why it is vital that our approach to how we do church must change without compromising the message of the gospel. It can be done. Encouraging so, it is being done across the nation.
One of the blessings of my sabbatical was visiting many churches of various sizes and styles around the country. It was nice to worship and sit next to my wife throughout each service without having any responsibilities.
In my view, all the churches we visited could be grouped into two categories: those that focused primarily on church people and those that focused on both churched and unchurched people. Each one had a distinct feel, flavor, and language. Each one was relatively healthy in that the room was full, the songs were focused on God, and the Word of God was taught. However, there was a very clear and distinct difference between the two.
Here is what I observed in the churches that primarily focused on church people:
- Other than those handing out programs at the doors, rarely did anyone greet us on their own to help us feel welcome.
- During the singing time I noticed more people were disengaged than engaged.
- During the teaching time there was lots of “christianese” being used. That is, using words and phrases that only those who have been in church on a regular basis would understand.
Here is what I observed in churches that focused on both church and unchurched people:
- We were welcomed by lots of people and made to feel special. It started in the parking lot, continued into the lobby and after we were in the auditorium. It felt like the church was genuinely excited we were there. It made quite an impression.
- There was vibrancy during the singing time. Many people of all ages were engaged and focused on lifting up praise.
- The teaching time was excellent, practical, and relevant to a couple like us who have been Christ followers for decades. However, each message was taught in a way that those new to church could be engaged with the message. They also used everyday words and phrases that anyone could understand.
Attending these two types of churches on my sabbatical poured fuel on my fire for GracePoint to continue to be a vibrant church that has a passion to reach the unchurched! We must resist that gravitational pull of churches becoming church clubs for church people. I believe Jesus never intended His church to look like this. Yes, we need to be a church that helps believers grow stronger in their faith. But we must continue to be a church that has hearts and eyes for those who have stopped going or have never ever attended church! Churches that fail to do this will die a slow death.
5. I missed GracePoint Church
Over the last 12 years I’ve had opportunities to visit or speak at other churches. In the early years I would often get discouraged and think, “Our church isn’t like this or that. We’re not doing this well. I wish we could… etc.” I’m just being honest in sharing this.
Now, in no way has GracePoint “arrived” but there is so much I am excited about in our church. Being gone from our church reminded me what I have really enjoyed over the past several years. I missed the GracePoint atmosphere, friendliness, warmth, staff, people and leaders. From the incredible Guest Services team to the vibrant worship experience, to the engaged audience… I really did miss my church. I was excited and ready to get back!
I come home blessed, honored and humbled that my church would give me this amazing experienced. I come home rested physically, emotionally, and mentally. I am excited about what God has in store for the next season of ministry at GracePoint. I believe the best is yet to come and that I am infused with energy and passion to be a better pastor, leader, and teacher for what God has in store! Let’s go!