As you read this Kristi and I have just begun a Sabbatical together! Since starting Soul Shepherding in 2009 I’ve helped other pastors go on Sabbatical, but even though I was ordained as a pastor back in 1995 this is our first Sabbatical.
We’d very much appreciate you supporting us by praying for God to bless this experience for us and for our ongoing ministry to pastors, leaders, and other servants of the Lord.
If you’ve read my book, You Can Live in Jesus’ Easy Yoke, or other articles then you probably know that I have to work at not working! I have been keeping a weekly Sabbath — usually! — but I’ve never taken a Sabbatical. In this matter I was not in sync with our foundational philosophy to minister to others out of the overflow of what we are personally experiencing. So with the direction of our Board of Directors and encouragement from friends we are venturing into thirty days without doing any work, projects, correspondence, or ministry.
Kristi and I are doing this together because she also works very hard for long hours in our ministry and needs rest. Besides that, we’re best friends who love to be together and to support each other in listening and prayer. So it’s only natural that we’d do this together.
Pastors and other Christian professionals in ministry tend to be “always on” and working many evenings and weekends. How do you say no to people in need? To God’s work? How do you keep yourself fresh and thriving for the heavy personal, relational, and spiritual demands of ministry?
We are encouraged by the Biblical patterns of weekly Sabbath, Sabbath years, festivals lasting a week or longer, and jubilee years to set aside our work for spiritual purposes. Also some Church traditions encourage their pastors to take one to three months or more every seven years for Sabbatical rest.
What is a Sabbatical?
A Sabbatical is an extended Sabbath in which I do no work to devote my time to God by resting and rejuvenating in the sufficiency of Christ. I’m trusting God’s provision for me and my family and the people I minister to. I’m enjoying the Lord in relaxed and refreshing ways.
I probably don’t need to tell you that most pastors and Christian ministry workers do not do this! (If you read our articles “Pastor Stress Statistics” or “Unfair Expectations on the Pastor’s Wife” you’ll see what I’m talking about.)
When Christians in professional ministry do take a Sabbatical often they do it as an extended vacation. This is a good thing to do, but it may not be a true Sabbatical. Having fun is an essential part of Sabbath rest, but to experience real rest of soul that nourishes and restores you the fun needs to part of relating to the Lord.
Other Christian ministers and educators will take a Sabbatical leave to do some writing, work on a special ministry project, or study to improve their ministry. These are good things to do also. However, they are a form of work, not Sabbath rest.
What Are We Doing on Our Sabbatical?
First of all, as I’ve just been saying, we’ll rest! I hope to do no work, no Soul Shepherding ministry, no big projects of study and learning, no big house or yard projects, no productivity. No work! I can’t remember the last time I took more than a week and literally did no work. For years I’ve been saying “I’m a workaholic in recovery.” Right now as you’re reading this I’m finding out how much recovery I have!
Also we’ll unplug from email, social media, and whatever normal daily responsibilities we can let slide. We’ll be technology free, except for personal communications with family and friends and watching a good movie here and there.
Making such a large soul space, extended for thirty days, is not easy — it’s a form of intensive therapy because it brings up emotions and longings that have been hiding in the busyness and responsibilities of daily life. We need to open deeper to God’s grace and wisdom to release new springs for life and ministry in the days to come.
To guide the care of our souls and foster greater devotion to Christ so I’ve written an adaptation of Ignatius’ famous Spiritual Exercises that we’ll be doing for the thirty days. Each day we’ll spend about two or three hours in quiet, solitary prayer going through Scripture meditations and journaling. We’ll come together to share personally and pray. And we’ll each have private conversations with a Spiritual Director.
Will You Have Any FUN?
What I’ve described for our Sabbatical may not sound like fun to you. Ironically, learning better how to truly and deeply rest in God is a type of spiritual training. “Make every effort to enter God’s rest,” the writer to Hebrews says (Heb. 4:11) That’s like “work at resting”! It’s a paradox.
Having fun together on our Sabbatical is a big priority for Kristi and me. Most of each day we want to spend sleeping, going to the beach or pool, relaxing and talking, and getting bored. Seriously, a good test of whether or not you’re really in Sabbath mode is if you get bored or get so relaxed that you nap. If having fun means constant activity, entertainment, and excitement that won’t foster real soul rest and intimacy with God.
We’re thankful to have a beautiful retreat center to go to and other options, all close to home. And we’re thankful to have adult family who will house sit for us and take care of our cats. For some of our days we’ll be at home ourselves, spending time with family.
We’re also thankful that in many ways the ministry of Soul Shepherding continues without us. We receive almost 3,000 page views to SoulShepherding.org each day — that’s a lot of people meditating on Scripture, praying, and seeking the help of Christ to overcome personal struggles and be more effective in their ministry to others. Some of our monthly Soul Shepherding groups will be led by a ministry partner.
Also our assistant will handle all of our correspondence, sending out our weekly devotionals, and offering Soul Shepherding thoughts and prayers on our social media outlets.
More on Sabbatical Rest
“From Sabbath to Sabbatical” offers a couple of short examples of how I’ve helped pastors take a Sabbatical.
“Sabbath Rest on Vacation” shares the example of how Kristi and I took a ten day vacation and turned it into a mini-Sabbatical.