From the middle of May, I'm taking sabbatical for 3 months. This is something that the Church of England encourages all its ordained ministers to do, somewhere between every 7 and 10 years. It's an opportunity to recharge, to refresh, to wind down, to have new ideas, to study, to rekindle the love for the Lord that so easily fades with the pressures of ministry day-in day-out.
I have a number of things planned.
It's important that there's unhurried time to read the Bible, to chew it over, and to pray.
That's true throughout the three months, but in particular I'm staying the inside of a week at Lee Abbey in North Devon. I've not been there for many years, but have many very happy memories in years gone by. There will be a programme on that I'll be free to do as much or as little of as is helpful, and other than that there's lots of space and a beautiful place to read, pray, walk, run and generally decompress.
Photo: © Robin Lucas, (CC BY-SA 2.0)
One of the costs of church leadership is that, other than when you're on holiday, you're in your own church every single Sunday. I say costs; it's also a huge blessing. Many people today miss out on the blessings that come from regularly worshipping with your own church family, because they're pulled hither and thither. But it also means you never get to visit churches you used to be part of, or seeing friends at other churches in situ.
We plan on thoroughly enjoying the freedom to drop in other churches and join them for the morning.
Before entering full time church leadership, you study. In my case, study hard. I studied 3 good years at Oak Hill College, where the teaching is excellent, the academic standards are high, and we are pushed hard. I loved those years, and would have gladly have done a fourth to take me to Masters Degree level, but I wanted to get back into the world of church leadership for which I was training.
Then you leave college, and start preaching every week, administering a church's organising, developing and leading a vision for the local church, visiting and caring for the church family in their homes and places of work, being out in the community to spread the good news of Jesus as widely as possible. Suddenly, there's no time for study, apart from that needed to deliver the next piece of teaching.
Many do a better job than me at carving out ongoing time to read and to study. It's still something to work on, although partly I think it's also the particular nature of the church I'm leading. Sabbatical offers a chance to take time out, and study. It's time to dig deeper into God's word. It's a chance to catch up on things that have been written in more recent years.
I have a particular topic in mind; I'll save that for another post. I'm going to link up with Garry Williams at the Pastors' Academy in Finchley (part of London Seminary) He'll meet with me from time to time, to guide me to particular works / chapters / journal articles to help me move forwards. I'll also have the use of their library during this time.
A change of scene, physically, is worth doing for sabbatical if you can. I have friends who have taken anywhere between a month and three months to travel in Australia, the United States, or wherever. It's a chance to see some fresh places, meet Christians in other parts of the world, and so spark ideas and have fresh thoughts for life and ministry back home.
With the ages and stages of our children, that wouldn't work; it wouldn't be a break at all if I had to leave the wife and children I love back here. I have, however, got the opportunity to travel with Oak Hall Expeditions to Israel. I've never been before. The Christian faith is not an abstract philosophy, or a set of ideas. God revealed himself in space and time, and this is the corner of the world where those real events happened.
Normal life is very busy, juggling many responsibilities.
During sabbatical, I get to decide how much goes into the diary. That means it's a valuable chance to spend more time with the family, to be more available. When I'm studying at home, I'd expect a normal day to be between 9.30am and 3pm, so that when they're around, so am I.
If all the above sounds exhausting and over-full, remember: I get to decide how much I do. All of this is to be a joy, not a duty. Nobody else is requiring anything.
Remember the storyline of the Bible, told through the theme of rest. God created a good world, and then rested from his work. He wanted to teach us that the goal of his work was to enjoy what he had created, and the goal of all we do is to enjoy the world he's made and to enjoy him. Sadly, we rebelled, and life became about painful toil. A few generations later, a baby boy was named Noah. Perhaps he will bring us rest, his parents said, for that is what his name means. But he didn't. God eventually led his people into a good land, a place of rest. But they rebelled and were thrown out. And, as Psalm 95 says, picked up in Hebrews 4, the offer of entering God's rest still stands. The ultimate goal of history is for us to join God in the Sabbath rest he's enjoyed since the world began, a goal that will be realised for all his people when Jesus Christ returns.
Sabbatical is a few months to enjoy sabbath. To anticipate the new creation; to embody the truth that we were made to enjoy God, to rest, to worship, not made for work that has become an idol. Whatever else I do or don't do during those months, it all has to be about creating the space to recapture that.
‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ (Jesus, Matthew 11:28-30)
To blog or not to blog
That is the question.
I certainly intend to log out of all my social media accounts and stay away. I may even disable them for the duration. (Facebook lets you do that; Twitter does not.)
If I find lots of interesting things in my reading, experiences in my travels, and things like that, I may well share them in real time here. Perhaps the frequency of my blog posting will shoot right up.
Or perhaps it won't. Perhaps it will drop to zero, and you'll hear nothing from me until I return.
I've no idea. I'll blog if it's helpful, and not if it's not. This is about recharging, not creating any sense of external obligation.