The Gift of a Sabbatical

As was announced on Sunday at Redeemer, I will be taking a break from all church leadership and ministry this summer. From mid-May to mid-August I am being given the gift of rest and spiritual renewal by the Elders of Redeemer Round Rock and the leadership team of the Redeemer Network. This is a gift that my wife Sami and I will receive with much gratitude and excitement. The idea of pastors taking a Sabbatical can often be confusing because 1) many don’t understand what a sabbatical is, and 2) pastors often need a sabbatical for different reasons (some good and some bad). Because of this, I wanted to take some time to share with you a few reasons (all good) that I’m being offered a sabbatical and will gladly receive it. I think you will see what a wise and good thing this will be for me, my family, our church family, and the Redeemer Network.

Pastoral ministry is unique work that is uniquely tiring. All work carries with it a physical, intellectual, or relational fatigue. This is why God, in his grace, commands us to keep the Sabbath— a day to rest each week. This is also why it’s important that every person maintains good rhythms of taking time off work and going on vacation. God wants us to work hard for his glory, but to rest regularly. The challenge with pastoral ministry is that it can be not only physically, intellectually, and relationally taxing, but it’s also spiritually and emotionally draining. I assure you there is nothing major going on in my life. I am just trending toward spiritual, emotional, and relational fatigue. To continue to do ministry from a place of fatigue is dangerous. It’s dangerous for me and it’s dangerous for the people God has called me to lead and care for in our church family and in the Redeemer Network.

And this is exactly why sabbaticals are such a gift to pastors! My sabbatical coach, Jim Cofield, says “a sabbatical is a time when all [ministry] work activity is suspended for the purpose of attending to one’s soul. Sabbatical was honored by our Lord when he “went apart” from the crowds and His ministry to them. He understood the time alone facilitated a work of the Spirit that can only be done in solitude.”

It will be a challenge for me to step away from all ministry work, but I’m eager to engage in focused rest and recalibration of my soul for the purpose of returning as a healthier more attentive pastor and leader. Jim will be walking with me through my sabbatical, providing counseling and coaching weekly. By God’s grace, we have many gifted and growing leaders at Redeemer who will step into my workload. The other elders (Josh and Kevin) along with Tyler Daniel (elder candidate) will give oversight to our missional communities and MC leaders while I’m out. Chad Hilliard, who was recently appointed as a deacon, will take the lead on Foundations and Leadership Development. Rich Hart (church planting resident) will join our preaching team in my place. What a gift it is that our church has so many gifted leaders! My Redeemer Network responsibilities will be shared amongst several pastors across our network.

I need time and space to examine my life and future calling. I do not doubt that God has called me to vocational ministry (He has confirmed this time and time again, even in times when I wanted to run from the calling), but I’ve come to a point where I need more clarity in regard to my calling. I never set out to become a pastor. I went to college to get an English degree so that I could be a teacher/coach and do international mission work. At the age of 21, I found myself on the leadership team to plant Redeemer Lubbock and the last 10 years since then have been a whirlwind. I started a youth ministry, grew a college ministry, and lead the group's ministries at Redeemer Lubbock all within a few years. Not long after Sami and I were married we moved to Round Rock to plant Redeemer with the Reeves, we had kids, we fostered a child, and I’ve continued to lead Redeemer in numerous roles. Additionally, for the last two years, I’ve lead Redeemer Network, which trains church planters and cares for other pastors. I am grateful to God for all of the ministries that He has allowed me to lead over the last ten years. I’ve been able to learn so much at amazing churches with amazing people. Yet, I find myself at a place in my ministry where I yearn to gain clarity on my deepest/primary calling for the next decade. In other words, I can’t keep wearing multiple hats. I’ve always been eager to do whatever I was asked to do or what was needed. It’s become clear to me in the last six months that God is asking me to seek his face and hear his voice in regard to what He is asking me to do going forward.

Last month I was talking with an older pastor, sharing with him a bit of my story in ministry. As I wrapped up my story he looked me in the eyes and said, “So, are you tired yet?”. He was on to something. It was as if he had been there himself. As I learned more of his story I found out that he had once been at a similar place that I find myself. He went on to nearly burn out in ministry. I don’t want to do that. I love Jesus and his church, and I want to serve the church as long as He will allow me. In order for me to do that I need time and space to get clarity on my primary calling.

I need to relearn how to be present with God and my family. One other unique challenge of pastoral ministry is that pastors can get so busy “doing ministry for God” that they forget how to “be with God”. The essential things in our relationship with Jesus (prayer, bible reading, life in community, worship) are also all components of a pastor’s job. These lines can get blurred at times and I can forget that my primary identity is to be a child of God before its pastor or minister. My sabbatical will be a time for me to relearn how to be with God as his child. I must stop “doing ministry” for a bit so that times in prayer and in the word can be spent for no other purpose but to enjoy God and be ministered to by Him. I’m really hungry for this, as well as focused time with my family. Sami has been such an amazing ministry partner. Aside from being a great nurse and mother, she is constantly opening our home to others, pouring into those in our missional communities, and using her gifts to make Jesus known to our children, friends, and neighbors. She has always understood and welcomed the unique role of being married to a pastor. Much of this role is a gift from God. But there are also late night and early morning meetings, Sunday mornings spent wrangling kids and getting them to the gathering on her own, struggling to find time to see our extended family, and the reality that many days “work” will come home with me despite my best efforts. We hope and pray this sabbatical will be a rich time for our marriage, with our kids, and with our extended family.

In closing, I want to ask you to pray for me during my sabbatical. Slowing down and stepping away will not be easy for me. Pray for my time with Jim whom will act as a “spiritual guide” for me during this time, doing counseling and coaching weekly. Pray for my family. We just had our third child, our daughter Madelyn Rose. Pray for Titus and Peyton as they adjust to having another sibling. Pray for all of the leaders who are taking on extra responsibilities so I can take this time of rest and renewal. Please know that we are so thankful to serve a church that cares about its pastors and invests in their health. We love you, Redeemer.

May 14th will be our last Sunday at the gathering until August. I’ll preach that Sunday and then my sabbatical will begin. If you have any questions about my sabbatical please don’t hesitate to reach out to me— just be sure to do it before May 14th. :)