Day four of my Sabbatical, and the change in routine has already caused me to screw up bigtime. I was supposed to meet with the Academic Dean at my daughter’s school this morning at 10; I remembered that at 11:30. Sometimes you just have to suck it up and apologize – I left a message that said, “I wish I had an excuse but I don’t. Can we meet later?” As I write this I’m still waiting to hear back.
So I’m learning to Sabbatical. I’m adjusting to what will be eight weeks of separation from the church, eight weeks to recharge and rest (“Sabbatical” comes from “Sabbath” which means “rest.”)
My primary task during these eight weeks will be to finish the book I’ve been sporadically working on for a while, from which I’ve posted a few excerpts here (and will hopefully be posting more as the writing progresses over the next few weeks). Too Smart for God is about how I grew up in the church, drifted away to become an atheist/agnostic (unChristian), got brought back to the church and to faith, and finally became the Unexpected Pastor that I am today.
I’ve also got a stack of reading to catch up on, mostly Theological Journals and books that have accumulated in my “I’ll get to that someday” pile. Most importantly, I’ll be getting reacquainted with my family, including taking a short trip with each of my children (Disney World with my daughter, Major League Baseball in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Detroit with my son). Just being home in the evenings and on weekends will be a good change for the whole family (I hope!). We’ll also be visiting eight different churches for worship where I’m hoping to get some new ideas and to enjoy being in the congregation (holding hands with my wife) for a change.
Being a pastor is certainly not the hardest job in the world, and I love what I have been called to do. But I am thankful that my church agrees with studies that have shown Sabbaticals can be helpful in keeping pastors not just in ministry but also in specific calls longer. They are also good for pastors’ physical and mental health. I’m pretty healthy and relatively sane, and I’d like to keep it that way. I know, though, that pastors have a higher rate than the general population of things like depression and heart attacks.
That can be hard to understand – what’s so hard about showing up and leading worship on Sundays? I often joke that I became a pastor because I only wanted to work one day a week. Actually the opposite is true . . . pastors don’t work one day a week, most of us only have one day a week off (mine’s Monday). Because we’re on call 24/7 for emergencies, even that one day can’t be counted on. The six days we do work can be looong, sometimes starting with praying with someone in the hospital before their 7am surgery, and ending after Bible Study or a meeting at 8:30 or 9 at night. Visitation, counseling, teaching, and administration are also part of most days. Researching, writing, rewriting, and rehearsing at least one sermon each week (more if there are weddings and funerals) takes multiple hours as well. Someone asked me last week how many hours I work a week; I answered, “I really don’t want to know.”
I’m not complaining; I am blessed to be in a vocation where I know I am in the right place doing what I was meant to do. But I do appreciate the opportunity the Sabbatical provides to get in touch with some other areas of my life before diving back into ministry. I especially am thankful to be able to make up some of the time my ministry takes from my family. Being a pastor’s wife or a pastor’s kid (PK) can be tough.
These eight weeks will be a work in progress. I have some plans, and some goals for my writing. I’m going to try to stick to a routine of getting up early for devotions, breakfast, and the newspaper (theologian Karl Barth said a modern pastor should preach with the Bible in one hand and the paper in the other), and be at my desk to write by 9 each day. But I’m going to be flexible and open to the leading of the Spirit.
And I’ll try to do a better job of keeping up with appointments, like the one I missed this morning. I’m still waiting for that call-back; I hope he’ll understand that I’m learning how to Sabbatical.
(In additions to excerpts from the book, I’ll be posting some updates on the Sabbatical over the next few weeks as well.)