I returned to work on December 1st after a 3 month sabbatical. I'm so thankful that our church sees the value of allowing pastoral staff (our elders and volunteers can take sabbaticals also) take a sabbatical. You can read our church's policy in this post. I wondered this during my sabbatical: if more churches gave staff sabbaticals would more pastoral staff last longer than a few years at a church? Some churches go through pastoral staff like a kid goes through candy in a PEZ dispenser.
I decided I would do a post sabbatical post. Here it goes. There is no way anyone would read all my thoughts from sabbatical because it would take like forever.
I noticed it took me about three weeks before I quit thinking about Nags Head Church. For the first week I thought of the church everyday. The second week it was more sporadic and by the end of week 3 it was out of my mind for the most part. When you work at the church and for the church and in the church the church is on your mind constantly throughout the day. You can't turn it off when you walk out of the office at 5:17 in the evening. So if your church considers sabbaticals it has to be longer than 3 weeks so the sabbaticaling person can have a few weeks of mental detachment.
Most important to me on my sabbatical was to spend time with my family. I took over all cooking duties during the three months. Most days I took care of all three meals. I even did some big man-sized shopping runs where you buy like 3 weeks of groceries in one shot so you don't have to keep going back to the store. And I bought in bulk, 4 of the giant sized cans of frijoles refritos because we eat them at least once a week in our home. The gianormous box of Cheerios that would last the normal human a month and it maybe lasts a week in our home because of the Jethro sized bowls my kids eat.
We home school, OR I should say my wife home schools our kids. I'm not much involved because I'm usually at work. During the three months I was able to play the role of principal. I even helped some with their school work. I discovered that teaching a kid to read is not in my skill set. I don't have the patience for it.
I did some honey-do's. As with most jobs you don't have time to get some things done around the house and we are the type that like to try to fix things before we call in the pros. So I caught up on a few of those. I still ran out of time to complete what I hoped we could do.
We traveled. We took a ten day vacation to the mountains and to Nashville. When you live at the beach you like to go to the mountains on vacation. We got to stay in the smokey mountains at the peak of leaf changing season. We rode a "it's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown" train on the great smoky mountains railroad. Lots of fun. We hit Nashville for one day and night for my niece's wedding and that was fun getting all dressed up and spending time with family. We relaxed a whole lot on porches of log cabins drinking coffee. Great family time.
We had plans for a family mission trip but our septic drainfield had to be replaced so we just flushed that money down the drain.
When you work as a youth pastor you spend a lot of time with other people's kids and investing into other people's kids. The three months allowed me to invest into my own kids and spend lots of time with them. They were probably ready for me to go back to work. :) I figured it up last year and I have spent almost a year and a half away from home in my ministry years.
For me, personally, spending time with my family was huge. I loved t!
After a couple of weeks I realized I wasn't tired. I would go to bed, get a great night's sleep and wake up whenever I woke up, no alarms. I think the latest I slept in was 9 and that seems late to me now but not compared to my college days of sleeping till 1 or 2 in the afternoon. When I was at work I found that after dinner I hit the wall. I was ready to go to bed by 6:30pm. During the sabbatical I never had the feeling of exhaustion. This may have been the most beneficial part of the sabbatical physically. No exhaustion!!
I lost 12 pounds. Some would say "hooray" but I have much more to lose to be at a healthy weight. On sabbatical I ate much better at home. I didn't eat two big meals a day like often do when I'm at the office and go out for lunch. This was good and it saved me some money.
My usual habit, I'm not perfect and miss days, is to read the Bible in the morning after I wake up and make a cup of coffee. Because I wasn't in a rush to get to the office I seemed to get more out of my reading time. I also found myself reading more and longer. I also spent time reading articles and blog posts that I found spiritually beneficial. When I'm at the office I read the Bible a lot but that's because I'm prepping a message or researching something. There is a difference in reading for your own growth and reading to put together a message.
I was able to do some thinking about our student ministry, about our ministry teams, about people who don't serve in their church. I found myself feeling like I was missing out on Sunday morning at church because I wasn't serving in some way and I wondered how church members can do that week after week? My conclusion is that serving isn't part of the fabric of their life and they are missing out on the joy that serving others and Christ brings.
I thought about our discipling of our students in our ministry. This caused me to do some reading, I picked up Duffy Robbins book, Building a youth ministry that builds disciples. Lots of good material in this book. I thought about taking some things I learned and combining them with our curriculum and resources on discipleship from LeaderTreks and putting them into practice in our student ministry.
While I figured out on sabbatical that I'll be able to handle retirement just fine I found myself near the end ready to get back to work. You know that feeling of excitement when you start a new job? That's the feeling I had. I was looking forward to work again and I was refreshed and ready to go. The sabbatical gave me a chance to break away from everything to do with work and then return with a fresh perspective.
As with anything ministry related you will run into people who have only negative things to say. I didn't experience this at all as far as my sabbatical was concerned. From our church members I only received encouragement and many said they were glad I was able to take this time to be refreshed. I talked with several other people who serve in ministry as a pastor or youth pastor and the biggest comment from them was, "I wish my church did this. I could use a time to refresh and refuel."
Our volunteer student ministry team held it all together. Several of them took turns teaching. Everyone jumped in to make sure this time while I was gone was a successful time. Without the team that we have I'm not sure we could have pulled the sabbatical break off. I love our student ministry team!
The Next Sabbatical
My oldest son will be 18! Our twins will be 13! That's hard to imagine. I already know what I would like to do during that time but I'll wait to share that until 2021.