Tomorrow I am starting a six week pastoral sabbatical. At New Life Church a sabbatical is given to every pastor for seven consecutive years of work.
A pastoral sabbatical is more than an extended vacation or a time to catch up on some sleep. It goes much deeper than that. For those unfamiliar with the practice of sabbatical and its origination then this description will be helpful.
God models work in six days and rest on the seventh in the Creation account. He commands it in the Ten Commandments by calling His people to keep the Sabbath holy. God establishes a weekly rhythm that keeps His people centered around God and His work as well as engaged in the letting go of things so they are not enslaved by the taskmaster of time and productivity. The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan is a great read on the subject of Sabbath. I highly recommend it.
In keeping with the rhythm of productivity and rest, Leviticus 25:3-5 says “For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a Sabbath of rest, a Sabbath to the LORD. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest.”
Not only was rest a discipline to be practiced every seven days but a practice to be embraced every seven years. A continued reading in Leviticus even describes a rhythm of every seven cycles of the seven years. There is something to this 6/1 pattern. God gives his people instruction to let their farmland rest. After six years of producing crop and taking nutrients from the soil, the ground is to lay fallow for a year so that it can be rejuvenated and made ready to produce crop for another six years. This extended Sabbath for the land is an essential metaphor for sabbatical.
If the land is to stay productive, it must rest from its primary function for a season in order to continue its primary function for the long haul. I love what I do and I love being a pastor. I have been in pastoral ministry for over ten years and I believe I will be in full-time vocational ministry for the rest of my life. In order to do that well, times like this are necessary for gaining strength from heaven to complete the journey.
Here are a few things I am looking forward to during my sabbatical.
I am going to be disconnecting from functional roles and fully engaging relational roles. We must balance life well everyday but a sabbatical gives the opportunity to focus on the roles for which I am indispensable. I am dispensable as theMILL pastor (someone could fulfill the job description, probably better than I!). I am indispensable as a husband to my wife, father to my boys and ultimately as a child of God. There is no one that can give my unique, Aaron Stern, affections to them. This is a time to focus on the relationships that matter most. As I do, it will make me better at my other roles that are secondary.
I hope to be proactive, not reactive. My close friend Glenn Packiam recently went on sabbatical and wrote about the reactiveness of our lives by saying “I don't want to live reactively-- responding to questions or emails or texts. I want to initiate relationship. I want to dust off the art of pursuit. Living in a relationally reactive way has made my love lazy. To be free of contact that I do not initiate is to be free to pursue.”
Life is full of things tugging on me so, in an attempt to be responsive and not reactive, I won’t be checking my Facebook, twittering, or doing anything related to work. Shocking, I know. Withdrawals? Maybe. Good? Most definitely!
Some have asked if I will be nervous leaving theMILL for that long. The answer is an easy and confident “NO.” I feel lucky to have an exceptional MILL staff and leadership team in whom I have full confidence. I have no doubt that they will carry the weight of leadership for the next several weeks with grace, being directed by the Spirit of God.
Thank you all for making it easy to do this and thank you to New Life for making a sabbatical possible.
See you in 6 weeks.