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How Not to Take a Sabbatical

Tom Wood August 01 2011

According a Sabbatical is any extended period of leave from one’s customary work, especially for rest, to acquire new skills or training, etc.

In the Older Testament the idea of taking time off for Sabbath resting every seven years is found in their agriculture (the fields were to have a land Sabbath every seven years in order to rejuvenate and regain its strength), debt was cancelled every seven years and also in the release of indentured slaves (they were to be released on the seventh year). It seems that the idea of those in ministry needing some type of Sabbatical every seven years might be a good thing!

I have never taken a Sabbatical. I “Mastered the Divine” in 1984, and with my denomination’s blessing went out and planted a church. After that season, I went to plant another church. Neither pastorate offered nor did I ask for an extended period of leave for rest or training. And besides, raising three young kids made taking an extended period of leave out of the question. So I have worked steady for last twenty-seven years. Eleven years ago, I took on a new role with an established church planting and seminary ministry. Within three years they closed their doors. There was never an opportunity for an extended period of leave with them!

It was at the Pooped Pastor’s conference that I first heard Dan Allender talk about becoming president of Mars Hill Grad School. He said he did not want to be the President, but no one else would do it. I remembered then I have always wanted to be President of something again (I was president of my senior class in high school, but since then, well churches do not have Presidents), so I began Church Multiplication Ministries and became President! One would think that being President I would be able to take a Sabbatical whenever I wanted. Wrong. Launching a new ministry, working to get clients, taking care of clients, and being responsible for payroll to the employees does not allow for much margin for extended leave.

However, since this is the seventh year of CMM, our Board of Directors approved a six-week sabbatical, beginning in mid June and ending July 31 (I love our Board and they will get extra credit in heaven for their service and for allowing me to take a Sabbatical). According to the “Sabbatical Coach”, sabbaticals are taken for one of four reasons:

1. Exploring Self and Purpose- re-evaluate life purpose and meaning.
2. Changing Track- knowing your current career is ending you look for way to pursue a new way of life.
3. Rejuvenation—because you see your work as a vocation and are driven, prone to overwork, and a sabbatical is a way to find rest and renewal.
4. Escape—an opportunity to experience autonomy, freedom and adventure away from work and regular responsibilities.

Perhaps you are so pooped that you are thinking about leaving the pastoral life. Perhaps you need to explore your calling again. Or maybe it’s to change tracks and move into another role. Steve told the entire gathering of ministers in his denomination, just after he left his last pastorate, “Na, Na, Na, Na, Na, I am not a pastor anymore!” But his role with Key Life has multiplied his wisdom, teaching and leadership! Your ‘poopedness’ may be the sign its time for an extended leave.

For me, I wasn’t looking for myself. I already know who I am. I know my strengths as well as my weaknesses—and my calling and my position in Christ. The Gospel of Grace is continually working itself in me daily. I wasn’t thinking at all about changing tracks.

William Gladstone said, “He is a wise man who wastes no energy on pursuits for which he is not fitted; and he is wiser still who, from among the things he can do well, chooses and resolutely follows the best.”

CMM is doing incredible stuff for empowering leaders to multiply gospel-saturated churches and church planting networks. In fact, we are encouraging leaders to not simply start a church…but to start a church-planting network!

I didn’t want to escape (Ok, maybe a little). Rejuvenation was my aim. I am a workaholic. That is not a virtue it’s a sin! It is non-gospel living. It is believing the lie of the serpent that I cannot trust the good will of God and I must take matters into my own hands (to quote Luther). I knew I needed to find rest and renewal in the Gospel.

Here are some suggestions for how not to take a Sabbatical designed for Rest and Renewal. No matter how much you love your family, do not plan a multi-family vacation in one house with siblings, nieces, nephews, kids, grandkids, in-laws, and planned time with their grandparents. There is no rest and rejuvenation to be found.
I would also suggest that you do not spend four days finishing a writing project with a due date. If you are smart, you will not sneak in a three-day assessment of church planting candidates. Even though I love church planters, and love being with men and women who want to become missionaries to our nation, it does not lend itself to the margin needed. You would probably already surmise that preaching for friends who are on vacation also is not really taking “leave from one’s customary work, especially for rest”. That should be a no brainer! And one other thing: do not promise your wife you will not answer email or texts (or maybe you should promise her) but don’t’ take your computer or iPhone with you!

I hope that if you are in or past your seventh year of ministry life and haven’t taken an extended leave, that you will look for the opportunity to take some form of Sabbatical that you will approach your adjudicatory and ask. Be smarter than me! Believe the Gospel and take a real Sabbatical! Jesus is the True Sabbath rest for your life. If you have taken a Sabbatical, I’d love for you to share with others your successes and advice!

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