I had just come through a great season of ministry, growth and learning at Vernon Alliance Church. It was also a season that was heavy, tiring, and left me feeling ready for a sabbatical.
I was not in a place where it was mandatory, by it I felt it was necessary for me. I was definitely tired and needing a selah, a pause in God’s presence. I was finding that my normal capacity to lead and direct many different ministries, teams, and people was feeling increasingly challenged… not impossible, but challenged nonetheless.
I felt God calling me to a season of different leadership…one where I had to lead myself outside of the normal context of ministry and vocation. A season where so little of what I was learning was for anyone else’s consumption, growth, and benefit at the time, as much as it was for me…Jesus wanted me to be with Him, just for me and Him.
I had all sorts of ideas of what a sabbatical could be like. I dreamt of reading the stacks of books on my desk, I even had a goal to try and read one book a week (which did not happen). I looked forward to doing things that I had wanted to do for awhile and even completing some projects around my house. I was very excited about the potential of increased time with my kids, who were 7 and 9 years old at the time. That alone was going to be such a special gift for them, my wife, and myself. I was also looking forward to an extended period of rest and really discovering a new kind of rest.
I found out right away as I began sabbatical that resting is hard work. It is hard to not “do”…to discipline yourself not to work, to not to think about work, or how everything is going, and if everything is working in your absence. Resting is hard work. I took a while to learn how to rest and be alright to “be” and not expect myself to “do.” It took a friend of mine encouraging me to “resign my role to God”. This meant releasing my role as pastor to God, trusting Him to look after it in my absence, and then also trusting Him to give it back to me when the time came if that was His desire. I balked at this at first, but as I came to trust this and put it into practice I found it to be life giving and freeing.
One thing that I felt strongly that God wanted me to do in my time away was to “drink from different wells.” I felt that God was wanting me to read, dream, pray, and experience new things with Him.
Something happens when we work in churches…we don’t have the opportunity to go to other churches. We don’t have the opportunity to see what God is doing in other churches, even in our own towns. We can become shortsighted, and though we know that God is doing things in other places and other churches, we seldom get to experience it. God was giving me an opportunity to go on adventures with Him, to see what He is doing in other communities of faith, and to grow my heart and capacity for Him in ways that required me getting outside of my own ministry context. I was not attending as Pastor Jeremy, rather I was able to participate in other churches as Jeremy. It was such a blessing to see God moving in other places and to be able to taste the water in the wells around me.
God also took me to a couple of bigger adventures with Him to draw water from some larger wells in Steinbach, MB at Southland Church, and Bethel Church in Redding, California. In both places I was deeply impacted by the culture that had been fostered and created in time, prayer, and diligent Spirit-led leadership. The level of honour and love that was present in those churches was so life-giving. It was refreshing to see what God was doing in each of those places, but even more so to be able to do so in the context of not being responsible to lead, create, shepherd, or to be “on” in any capacity. In that environment I was able to just receive all that God had for me and to encounter God in a fresh way.
A number of years ago I was given a word on two different occasions, from two different people that has served as a guide for me to this day:
“Don’t get so busy creating opportunities for people to encounter Christ that you miss out on the encounter with Christ yourself.”
In the context of the sabbatical, I was able to attend services and just be with and encounter Jesus without wondering if everything was working, or if people were connecting with what we were doing. I was unhindered and postured in such a way that gave room for the Holy Spirit to speak to me about me and to show me things about God and about me that I may not have been able to see and receive in the context of leadership.
As I drank from all the wells that I was led to in that season, I found that God was expanding my heart, increasing my capacity for more of Him. He was also taking the time with me to clean my heart as I was able to deal with things that take time to process with God. He was doing all of this with me so that He could fill me with the water from the wells that He wanted to give me and to re-establish me apart from the role so that I could return with a fresh understanding of who I truly am as His son.
People often ask me two questions about sabbatical. First, did it accomplish all that it was meant to? If accomplishing was measured on completing a list of criteria and doing all the things that I wanted to do, then perhaps it did not. But, if it is measured based on what God was hoping to accomplish in me, then I trust that it did. The second question I am asked is, do I feel refreshed coming back? To that one I am able to say that in many ways I am refreshed. So much of this happened as I drank from different wells, read good books, had great conversations with good people, and did the hard, but good work of resting in God’s presence.