For the sake of evaluating the goals of my sabbatical leave I would like do so by using the stated goals from the Sabbatical Policy. DEFINITION OF SABBATICAL LEAVE AND STATEMENT OF PURPOSE #5. The primary goals for Sabbatical Leave should be pastoral rest, renewal, self-reflection, and spiritual growth. A plan should be prepared by the Pastor with these goals in mind.
Even on a sabbatical it can be difficult to truly rest. As I drove through the night to Texas I processed all kinds of thoughts; what is going well, what is not going well, what needed to be done, and all that I would like to see happen in the future. I needed a plan. The first couple of weeks I gave myself permission not to think about the challenges back home, not to read, not to plan, just to wander and look at birds. It was important to have a time when all the pressure, all the challenges, all the pain of ministry could just be put to the side and do something I enjoy. In my rest, I found parts of myself and my relationship to Christ that had been neglected, not by choice, but simply through the business of life.
Shortly before I left for Costa Rica God placed on my heart an exercise of listening, trust, and guidance. It was to simply pray; "God what now." It started simple with just the directing of my day, would I go here or there. God's answers started simple listen, observe, rest, talk to this person, notice Me. As time went on the leading of the spirit became clearer than it has been in a very long time. I had planned out the detail of this part of the trip in great detail, not wanting to miss anything. But as is true in life much of it changed, and moved as followed God's leading. I will all of it for what I would now consider the better.
Many peaks were summited, Guadalupe in Texas, Silver Mountain in Arizona, Mount Whitney in California, Mount Hood in Oregon, a great attempt at Rainier in Washington, and Mauna Loa in Hawaii. I have climbed many mountains and each one has its story. Each of these taught me something different. Some were quite easy for me, others required the fullness of my ability and energy, and a couple of others did not get summited for a variety of reasons. Life in general and the church as a unique focus provide a myriad of challenges for us to overcome each and every day. We set our goals, we come up with a plan, we do our best to implement, we do our best to listen to God's leading, then life turns out differently than we planned. We rethink our goals and plans, we come up with new strategies, we start listening all over again, and then we do our best to live it out. Interject differing ideas about what the goals and plan should be, different strengths and weaknesses, a constantly changing world, and let's not forget the diligent work of the adversary and no wonder life and ministry are so difficult. But we have with us the unchanging solid rock of Jesus Christ and the powerful leading of the Spirit. So, we continue in faithfulness seeking and striving to know Christ more and to live out the calling on our lives.
Every step of the way, and there were many, there was a process of self-reflection as well as ministry and life reflection. You really get to know yourself when you have the opportunity to shut out the noise and expectations of the world and live with yourself. One of the most crushing insights was that I had allowed my spiritual discipline and walk with Jesus to slide, this would be hard for any Christian to admit. But perhaps hardest for a pastor to admit to himself and his congregation. I confess and I repent of this lapse and I commit that this will once again be a high priority in my life.
I read a lot of books during my travels including the books the council agreed to read together; Jesus' Surprising Strategy by David Drum and Pure Power by Moe Redding. I read several books by Michael Foss who wrote Power Surge that the council read last year. His focus is Ministry Teams and moving from Membership to Discipleship, lots of great wisdom. I read several books on pastoral leadership, leading to Spiritual Maturity, and Evangelism. While I am a slow reader I love to read quality books that give wisdom and insight and which spark ideas of excitement of what can be.
One of the questions following the Sabbatical will certainly be what did you learn and what vision will you have for changes or opportunities for the congregation. To be honest the primary directions will be to continue on paths already started with a renewed passion and with much greater clarity. Some of this path includes moving to a Ministry Team Model, identifying and developing our life together in a way that we are a place that leads people to deeper discipleship and spiritual maturity, and to be more present doing the things of Christ in our community.
While these are my personal hopes I know they may not be shared by the congregation. I intend to invite the congregation into a conversation about where our priorities are, and then how do we reach those goals while listening to the leading of the Holy Spirit. The questions I wish to propose are these:
Introduction: Most of us have very set ideas about what a Christian life, Church, and Pastor should be and do. Please try to place to the side what you have done and experienced and think about how the first followers of Jesus approached their new life in Christ. What was most important, what did they do, how did they organize.
Then, please list in order 1 to 5 what things should be of highest priority in a Christians life. Please list in order 1 to 5 what things should be of highest priority in the church.
Please list in order 1 to 5 what things a pastor should be doing.
These questions will help us to prioritize to be a healthy church. Most of us have been in the church most of our lives. Our ideas of what a church should be and do are shaped by those experiences. There is value in evaluating what we are and what we should be. Some of our traditions and practices are probably right where they should be, others may be unnecessary and still others even counter-productive. The answer to these questions will likely have implications in what leadership should look like, what worship should look like, what programs or activities we invest in. Thank you for helping LCC be a strong and faithful Church.
Another very important aspect of the sabbatical was visiting churches, observing their worship and life together and when possible asking questions of their pastor, leaders, or members. While I cannot in a short time explain all the experiences I will highlight a couple of very important observations. Health, vibrancy, and faithfulness of a church has very little to do with size. There are solid big churches and weak big churches, there are solid small churches and weak small churches. Style is only style, if what is truly important is alive in a church it will be evident in a variety of ways including but not limited to worship, programs and ministries that have tangible evidence, and in the hearts of the members. I will also say that it is my impression that generally speaking people want to be encouraged, challenged, and given deeper purpose in the things of God.
Spiritual Growth is an interesting moving target, the more you grow the more you realize how far you have to go. I grew tremendously on this sabbatical. Some battle scars and wounds were healed by my gracious and loving God. Clarity was given in more areas than I can express or explain. A need for self-care was revealed and I am committed to reestablishing important spiritual disciplines in my life.
I feel it is also important to highlight the coverage that occurred while I was gone. I am aware that there were bumps along the way, but overall it highlights the many gifts and talents of this congregation. I am not aware and would even find it hard to believe any other church would have been able to pull it off, even churches 100 times our size. Further, it advances the theological position that ministry is intended for all people not just a few that we call pastor. I appreciate all who stepped up, who used their gifts, and who were willing to be vulnerable for the sake of spiritual growth.
Finally, I would like to pursue some action items that came to me through experiences, study, prayer and the leading of the Spirit. I would like to immediately do a congregational survey to receive input on what are the priorities for the Christian Life, for the Congregation, and for the Pastor. This input will help us to focus our attention, energy, and resources in ways that are most beneficial to our mission. Second, we will have a sermon series on putting to death the emotional enemies of our spirit. We will also add a "burial ground" to our prayer walk as a prayer tool and outreach opportunity to our community. Third, develop a series with help of Congregational members that will be intentional in leading every member to deeper discipleship and Spiritual Maturity. We will create a "workbook" which would include topics, questions, a request for specific commitments of growth. Series will also include an accountability process in which we hope every member will participate. Eventually maybe a book on the importance of the small church in true discipleship and developing spiritual maturity and how it affected our church might be written to encourage other small churches in this important work. Fourth, continue to explore and develop a "Ministry Team" model for our congregation. Fifth, continue to seek ways that we can be involved and a witness to the community of Evergreen. Reminder that we do have funds available for projects.
Conclusion: Through the process of collaborative work preceding the Sabbatical, having a good plan, and being flexible and open to the leading of the Spirit; I believe in the end this was exactly what was necessary for myself and for LCC. I did find rest, healing, direction and a renewed spiritual health. I also believe that in both the good and the challenges that occurred while I was gone that it has helped in many ways bring clarity to what we should be focused on, what we can do better, and how great the God is that we serve.