This past weekend we announced that I'll be taking a short, three-month sabbatical this summer, beginning in June and wrapping up at the end of August.
The sabbatical is coming as a result of three things:
First, we've been looking at the wisdom of a sabbaticals in general. We've learned from other churches, and seen the benefits of pastoral sabbaticals. We've also seen the dangers that come when people don't have the opportunity to take one when they really need it. People like David Barker of Heritage Seminary have taught us on the biblical wisdom of sabbath and sabbaticals.
Second, I began sensing that I need it. I've found myself a bit slower to recharge than I used to be. I began reading Leading on Empty by Wayne Cordeiro - a book that every pastor should read - and realized that there are some warning signs that I can't ignore. It's easy to ignore them right now because I'm not at a crisis point, but prevention is a lot more effective than recovery.
Finally, I'm at the point at which I need to make some strategic choices in what I'm doing. The sabbatical will allow me to take a step back and begin to make some needed changes in my life and ministry.
Every workman knows the necessity of keeping his tools in a good state of repair, for "if the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength." If the workman lose the edge from his adze, he knows that there will be a greater draught upon his energies, or his work will be badly done...
We are, in a certain sense, our own tools, and therefore must keep ourselves in order...For the herald of the gospel to be spiritually out of order in his own proper person is, both to himself and to his work, a most serious calamity; and yet, my brethren, how easily is such an evil produced, and with what watchfulness must it be guarded against!
Spurgeon's right. Pastors really need to pay attention to how they are doing. There are many ways that we can do this, and a sabbatical may be part of the answer.
I'd really appreciate your prayers leading up to the sabbatical. I'm not saying this lightly: I believe that God is up to something right now, both individually and at Richview. This feels a little like a season of preparation, and I'd really value your prayers.
If you are in church leadership and your church doesn't have a sabbatical policy, then I'd highly recommend that you look into it. Don't wait too long to put this in place. Somebody really needs to write a book on why this is important, and how to implement it, because I'm not aware of anything on the subject right now apart from the more general topic of sabbath.
On a related note, John Piper announced yesterday that he has requested an eight-month leave of absence (not sabbatical) from his church:
I see several species of pride in my soul that, while they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me, and have taken a toll on my relationship with Noel and others who are dear to me. How do I apologize to you, not for a specific deed, but for ongoing character flaws, and their effects on everybody? I'll say it now, and no doubt will say it again, I'm sorry. Since I don't have just one deed to point to, I simply ask for a spirit of forgiveness; and I give you as much assurance as I can that I am not making peace, but war, with my own sins.
I really appreciate his openness and example. May his tribe increase.
Update: Just found this (via Chris Brauns):
Within evangelicalism, we tend to expect a level of spiritual hyper-productivity from our pastors. And so we rarely, if ever, let them enjoy the sort of sustained rest from their labors that is truly required to replenish their hearts and their minds. Sabbaticals, in their core, are breaks from activity to let God be God, and to create space for him to work in us anew. So it is encouraging to see one of our most prominent relinquish his duties and simply enjoy the world and relationships that God has given to him.