Sabbatical Reflections

My last post shared hopes and plans for our summer sabbatical. We are grateful to God, and to our congregations, for the gift of this time!

Sabbaticals are often called “renewal leaves.” And, this time was certainly important for our renewal both as pastors and as followers of Jesus!

During our sabbatical, our main goal was to REST, PLAY, and STUDY. Overall, we did pretty well in these areas. We got some rest (as much as we were able to with 7 and 9-year-old kids). We played a lot, and we were able to do some study, mainly reading some books and attending the Global Leadership Summit, which we have been doing for the last several years.

We also enjoyed worshiping together as a family in several different United Methodist congregations. We are grateful for these rare opportunities to worship together. They were also opportunities to observe and learn from other churches!

My primary learning during the sabbatical can be stated this way …

Create space for what matters most!

Actually, while this idea began forming at the beginning of the sabbatical, it wasn’t until the end of the sabbatical that I was able to put it into a short, simple phrase!

As a pastor, the activities that matter most to me are mainly Time With God, reading and personal growth, sermon prep, and visioning. Going forward, I want to create ample space for these critical tasks so that God can work in and through me more effectively! Of course, making more room for these things will also necessarily mean removing, or minimizing, some other things from my plate. I’ll have to figure that out as I go along!

In the near future, I plan to post some reviews and reflections on the books I read during sabbatical. As expected, I didn’t make it through all twelve books on my list, but I got through seven of them, and will continue reading the others!

Now that we’re back, we’re looking forward to the next leg of our journeys here. At Centre Grove, I’m especially looking forward to deepening our commitment to corporate prayer and being more intentional about our discipleship strategy, as well as focusing on our ongoing commitment to being the hands and feet of Jesus!

Sabbatical Growth Plan

As I shared recently, Joleen and I are both taking a short-term sabbatical (one month, plus two weeks of vacation). We’re seeking physical and spiritual renewal and growth in ministry leadership.

Physical & Spiritual Renewal
Spiritual health is vitally important. Lance Witt, in his book, Replenish (see my post), argues, “We have neglected the fact that a pastor’s greatest leadership tool is a healthy soul.”

Witt writes, the …

Great Commission will not be fulfilled by human ingenuity or innovative thinking alone. This God-sized task will only be completed by Spirit-filled, spiritually healthy churches. And these churches will not be spiritually healthy unless their leaders are spiritually healthy.

My regular daily disciplines, including daily time with God (prayer, journal, Bible reading), exercise, rest, and sleep, will help with physical and spiritual renewal. The sabbatical will give us an opportunity to be more intentional about replenishing our bodies and souls!

Growth in Ministry Leadership
For growth, we’ll visit some vital churches, read some books and articles, and watch some videos. I have no idea how many books I will actually read (I’m not necessarily expecting to read twelve; I just couldn’t whittle the list down any further), but I have settled on the following list. I’ll simply start at the top and go as far as I can …

  1. Grave Robber (Mark Batterson)
  2. Are You Fully Charged?: The 3 Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life (Tom Rath)
  3. inGenius (Tina Seelig)
  4. Creativity, Inc. (Ed Catmull)
  5. Ways of the Word (Sally Brown/Luke Powery)
  6. Everyone Communicates, Few Connect (John Maxwell)
  7. Praying Together (Megan Hill)
  8. Radical Together: Unleashing the People of God for the Purpose of God (David Platt)
  9. Practicing Greatness: 7 Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders (Reggie McNeal)
  10. Emotional Intelligence 2.0 (Travis Bradberry)
  11. Leadership 2.0 (Travis Bradberry)
  12. When the Game Is Over It All Goes Back in the Box (John Ortberg)

We’re grateful for this opportunity to be replenished. We trust that God will renew us in body and soul, and that he will help us grow to be stronger, healthier leaders!

10 Years of One-Point Preaching

Ten years ago, I made a big change in my preaching approach, switching from multiple-point preaching to one-point preaching. I did so in June 2006 after reading the first couple chapters in Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones.

It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years. In 2007, I wrote my post, One-Point Preaching, which is still the most-read post on the blog. In 2011, I reflected on 5 Years of One-Point Preaching.

Much of what I’ve said before is still true. I appreciate the emphasis on building an entire message around a single point. It brings greater focus and creativity, but it also helps me preach with fewer notes (if any).

Back at the five-year mark, I noted that I had just started reading Resonate by Nancy Duarte. The book is great alongside Stanley’s book and I actually wrote a series of posts reflecting on the Duarte’s book (see “Resonate”: Bringing It All together).

As I begin a short-term sabbatical in a few days, and I plan to review both Communicating for a Change and Resonate, and also read Ways of the Word, which looks good. As I said in 2007 and 2011, and throughout my preaching journey, I’m very much a work in progress!

The Role of Tribal Leaders in the Church

In 2012, Centre Grove UMC’s church council read Winning on Purpose: How To Organize Congregations to Succeed in Their Mission by John Edmund Kaiser. At the time, we were transitioning from a traditional United Methodist multi-committee structure to an alternative single-committee structure.

In the book, Kaiser shares Paul Borden’s somewhat humorous metaphor of the board, or council, as a group of tribal leaders …

Paul Borden, author of Hit the Bullseye, compares the board to a group of tribal leaders in the rain forest. The chief of the tribe climbs the tallest tree in order to direct the establishment of the village in a new location. From this high vantage point, the chief can see the big picture and call out where to build the huts, where to plant the crops, where to post lookouts, etc. At the base of the tree stands a circle of tribal elders with long pointed spears. If the chief tries to climb down and deny the village the benefit of the chief’s guidance, they point their spears upward to send the chief back to the high vantage point. If any tribespeople leave their work and try to pull the chief down, the elders turn their spears outward and send them back to their duties. That’s a picture of no-nonsense accountability and support. (113)

Years later, this description has stuck with us!

This is how healthy councils (or Staff/Pastor Parish Relations Committees) view their role and their working relationship with their pastors. Council (or SPRC) members hold the pastor accountable by encouraging them to focus on their primary leadership role. Kaiser describes the pastor’s leadership role in three key arenas: inspiring council, directing staff (paid and unpaid ministry leaders), and teaching the congregation. Healthy committees also support and protect the pastor when others attempt to pull her or him down.

This metaphor still comes up from time to time at Centre Grove. I’m grateful for all those, past and present, who carry spears (metaphorically speaking!) on behalf of the ministry at Centre Grove!

Short-Term Sabbatical

United Methodist pastors are encouraged to take sabbaticals on a regular basis. Our conference allows for one-month sabbaticals once every four years (longer sabbaticals are available, a little less frequently). This will be our first sabbatical since beginning ministry in the UMC in 1998.

The appropriate committees from both Centre Grove UMC and West Side UMC, as well as the Bishop and District Superintendents of the Conference, approved a one-month sabbatical for each of us (plus, we’re adding two weeks of vacation). We trust this will be a time of growth and renewal, which will benefit us and also our congregations!

What is a sabbatical?
A sabbatical is not a vacation. It’s a scheduled time of rest, reflection, and renewal for ministry. According to Alban Institute, a sabbatical should have a balance of four components: 1) spiritual renewal, 2) physical rest and refreshment, 3) emotional recharging, and 4) intellectual stimulation.

What will we do on sabbatical?
Our basic goals are to renew our relationship with God, to retool for pastoral leadership through engaging in study, to seek spiritual renewal, and to experience physical renewal through a focus on healthy living.

The sabbatical will include time for intentional study, focused prayer, conversations with mentors, time at a clergy retreat center and visiting vital churches. It will also include our annual attendance at the Willow Creek Association Global Leadership Summit.

It is said that healthy pastors build healthy churches. We pray this focused time will benefit our congregations as we return with renewed vision and passion for ministry!

We will do our best to “unplug” from phone, email, and social media, and will look forward to catching up with our congregations upon our return. We also hope this will be a time of renewal for our churches, as God’s Word is preached by different voices.

Please pray for us during this opportunity for spiritual growth and renewal. Pray for Centre Grove and West Side that God will continue to do great things in and through us!