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!

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!

“Replenish”

Two years ago, I started reading Replenish by Lance Witt. I chose the book because of my experiences with stress (see Hitting the Wall, which includes links to other parts of the story). The Leadership Team at Centre Grove also spent several months reading and discussing the book.

There’s a lot of helpful content in the fairly short book. The book is divided into 41 short chapters. It’s impossible to cover it all, but here are some of my favorite highlights.

Witt cautions about the idolization of leadership that has taken place over the last few decades. He warns, “All of the training and focus on leadership has been a gift, but we must not turn it into an idol.”

One of my favorite quotes from the book states …

We have neglected the fact that a pastor’s greatest leadership tool is a healthy soul.

Witt says, “When leaders neglect their interior life, they run the risk of prostituting the sacred gift of leadership.”

Ministry is a character profession. I can’t separate my private life from my public leadership.

It’s important that leaders are spiritually healthy!

… 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.

Witt’s language about the “front-stage life” and the “back-stage life” of leaders is helpful. Witt says, “We all have a front-stage life and a back-stage life.” The front stage is about “doing” and the back stage is about “being,” and the two are connected. “If we neglect the back stage, eventually the front stage will fall apart.”

Leaders must stay connected to God. “When you have disconnected from the Vine (Jesus), ministry will become joyless striving and stressful pushing.”

Unfortunately, leaders can often become too focused on “image management.” Witt states, “You are walking in a ministry minefield when your outward success begins to outpace your inward life.” A healthy soul helps guard against preoccupation with image management.

Witt writes about the danger of ambition. God-given ambition is good. “But when it is hijacked by self and ego, it can leave a wake of destruction in its path.”

When approval is the driving force in your life, it messes with your motives. You run decisions through the filter of ‘What will people think?’ rather than ‘What’s the right thing to do?’

One of the things that prevents many of us from being healthy spiritually is the pace in which we live. Witt writes about the “need for speed,” and contends, “Hurry is a devious soul enemy.”

Many of us live with a stuck accelerator. The frantic pace of life resides in the church as much as in the community. … We keep the pedal to the metal, trying to grab every possible opportunity. Adrenaline is our hormone of choice.

But Witt argues, “Following Jesus cannot be done at a sprint. You can’t live life at warp speed without warping your soul,” noting that “busyness will damage your soul.”

Intimacy with God is critical for leaders. Witt states, “there’s a correlation between my communion with God and my courage for God. The deeper my intimacy, the greater my tenacity to stand courageously.” He notes, “Solitude creates capacity for God.”

The final section of Witt’s book is on healthy teams.

If you want to talk about an organization’s true spiritual health, you have to look at the health of the team that leads it.

Witt believes, “A healthy staff culture does not happen by accident. You won’t drift into it any more than you would drift into a healthy marriage.” Teams must become a family. “In order for your team to be healthy, there must be a sense of family. You must learn to laugh together, cry together, and resolve conflict together.”

This book has been helpful for me. If you’re interested in similar books, see my posts on Secrets From the Treadmill by Pete Briscoe and Patricia Hickman and Leading on Empty by Wayne Cordeiro.

Your Energy Level Matters

I’ve always been a fairly high-energy person.

But in the last couple of years, my energy level has suffered, ever since my “wake-up call” (elevated heart rate over the course of several months). I wrote a little about it in 3 Steps I’m Taking to Manage Stress Better. While I’m mostly recovered from that experience, my energy levels are still recovering!

Where I notice it the most is with energy-intensive tasks that require heavy thinking, reflection, and intense study, which makes weekly sermon prep more challenging!

Tony Schwartz, who leads The Energy Project, writes in Fatigue is Your Enemy

it’s not the number of hours we work that determines the value we create. Rather, it’s the quality of energy we bring to the hours we work. By renewing regularly, it’s possible to get more done, in less time, at a higher level of quality, more sustainably. When we’re less fatigued, we’re not only less prey to negative emotions, we’re also more likely to access the positive ones we need to feel to perform at our best.

So, managing your energy level is vitally important. In stewardship language, we must be good stewards of our energy level.

Here’s how I’m trying to manage my energy level …

1. Make the most of my early morning routine.
I find that if I get up early to spend time with God, exercise, and read, the rest of my day is much more productive and enjoyable. My energy level is higher. This has always been important for me; it’s even more important with kids!

2. Eat well.
I’ve always been interested in healthy nutrition, but my discipline doesn’t always match my desire. Still, over the past two years, I’ve dramatically reduced my intake of sugar (it effects my heart rate), which cuts out most junk food. What you eat can affect your energy level.

3. Rest.
Stopping to rest a little everyday, sometime during the day, will always be a challenge for me. Between work and family obligations, there always seems to be something going on. But, I know I need to carve out time each day, and a day each week, to rest and catch my breath.

4. Hydrate.
Lately, I’ve been drinking more water. CamelBak has a lot of good info on hydration. They say a “recent study found that almost half of men and women are not drinking enough water.” Their ten facts about hydration include: hydration keeps your heart rate lower, longer, and dehydration is the number one cause for afternoon fatigue. Another article states, “drinking water helps keep … your energy levels and focus maximized.”

5. Do high-energy tasks when my energy is highest.
Unfortunately, I don’t always do this well. But, I know I should work on energy-intensive tasks when my energy levels are highest. My energy levels are highest in the mornings, so I should work on sermons and other high energy tasks in the mornings. And, I should use the afternoons for things that don’t require as much energy.

How’s your energy level? What do you to do improve your energy?

If this is something you’re struggling with, you may be interested in my review of “Leading on Empty” by Wayne Cordeiro.

“What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend”

Laura Vanderkam has written a series of short books focusing on “what the most successful people do.” Yesterday, I wrote about the first book in the series (“What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast”). The second book focuses on non-workdays: What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend.

Now, weekends in our home are certainly not the traditional Saturday and Sunday weekend many people have. Since Joleen and I are both pastors, our weekends tend to be Friday, for the most part.

Vanderkam suggests that “you have to commit to taking time off–to keep a Sabbath of sorts, and carve out space for rest in a frenetic world.”

While the book isn’t specifically a religious book, the concept of Sabbath certainly fits well with Vanderkam’s approach to the weekend. According to the book of Genesis, God created the world in six days, then rested on the seventh, thus engaging in a day of rest.

Vanderkam argues that using the weekend well helps make the workweek more productive. She writes …

Success in a competitive world requires hitting Monday refreshed and ready to go. The only way to do that is to create weekends that rejuvenate you rather than exhaust or disappoint you.

But, rejuvenating weekends don’t just happen on their own, Vanderkam says. You have to be intentional.

Learning to create restorative weekends requires thinking about weekends differently that we’re used to … We need to be strategic with these hours.

Vanderkam offers two suggestions to improve your weekends: choose labors of a different sort and embrace anticipation.

Choosing labors of a different sort is like cross-training, she says. It “helps you avoid boredom and burnout and keeps up your zest for training.”

To help with anticipation, Vanderkam says …

Planning a few anchor events for a weekend guarantees you pleasure because–even if all goes wrong in the moment–you still will have derived some pleasure from the anticipation.

Vanderkam suggests minimizing the “have-to-dos” such as chores, children’s activities, and work that follows you home. She also encourages readers to keep a “tech Sabbath.” At the end of the weekend, Vanderkam encourages readers to “carve out at least a few minutes to plan the week ahead.”

Joleen and I have always tried to be intentional about taking a day off, though it’s not always easy. It’s taken us a while to feel less guilty about taking time off. Part of that may be due to the nature of our work (we’re always “on call”), and part of it may have been pressure from people who don’t see a need for pastors to take time off.

Having kids forces us to be even more intentional about taking time off, though. We simply have to carve out time to spend time together as a family. But clearly, this will always be a challenge for us!

Vanderkam wraps up the book, saying …

By treating the weekend part of one’s 168 hours as different and precious, you can recharge the batteries and hit Monday ready to go.

So, if you need help making the most of your weekends, What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend is worth a look!

How Much Sleep Do You Get?

In recent months, I’ve been trying to improve my sleep. I just read an article by Tony Schwartz, Sleep is More Important Than Food, which is challenging me to be even more intentional.

For most of my life, I’ve taken sleep for granted. When I was a kid, I thought sleep was a waste of time. But, for most of my life, I haven’t had trouble sleeping. In recent years, however, I haven’t been intentional about getting enough sleep.

I am a morning person, but after becoming a parent, I started doing more after my normal bedtime. This led to a downward spiral by going to bed late and not getting enough sleep (this probably played into issues with my heart rate during the past year).

For my Lenten practice this year, I simply decided to try going to bed at a decent time (by 10:00 p.m.). My hope was that I’d also get up earlier, and therefore, have more quality time for devotion and my morning routine. I didn’t really force a get-up time because I knew I was still catching up on rest. It work pretty well; I usually got up between 5:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. (though the quality of my sleep still isn’t as good as it used to be).

I’ve always known I should try to rest or nap in the early afternoon; our schedule is such that we need to, sometimes. Our days start early in the morning and sometimes go well into the evening, so, it’s imperative that we carve out time to rest during the day. We just aren’t always good about doing so!

Schwartz’ article cites a study of violinists, which revealed that the top performers not only practiced, they also got plenty of sleep, getting an average of 8.5 hours of sleep per 24 hours, including a 20-30 minute nap.

To increase my sleep, I’ll need to go to bed earlier, because it’s important I get up early (especially with kids). Hopefully, the quality of my sleep returns and improves over time!

What about you? How much sleep do you get? Are you getting enough?

I Am Not Invincible!

When I hit the wall several months ago, I remember reminding myself during a time of prayer, “I’m not invincible.” At the time, I was pushing it pretty hard, physically (doing 30,000 steps/day as part of a 21-day national Virgin HealthMiles challenge). And, basically, I had been living on adrenaline, because that’s the only way I knew how to live.

Last Friday, which marked six months since the beginning of this journey, I found myself repeating the phrase, reminding myself, “I’m not invincible!”

I’ve been feeling much better over the last four to six weeks, so much so that I allowed some of my old habits (not resting enough, not playing enough, not disengaging enough, etc.) to creep back in. So, I experienced a relapse last week (at the time, I was doing some major troubleshooting on the blog when I should have been resting).

In his book, Leading on Empty, which I’ve written about (see “Leading on Empty”), Wayne Cordeiro warns readers to beware of relapses. So, I should’ve known better.

I have to be intentional about taking care of myself. This is harder to do when I feel well, physically and emotionally. I have to remember that an improvement in my physical and creative energy levels is not an invitation to push the limits. I need to pace myself. No one can continue to push it for long before eventually hitting the wall. And, once you hit the wall, it takes some time to fully recover. I have to keep reminding myself, life is a marathon, not a sprint.

And I am not invincible!

4 Practices of Sustainable Leadership

Recently, I read two articles on the Harvard Business Review blog: Fatigue Is Your Enemy and Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time.

Tony Schwartz writes …

Two years ago, I began hearing the phrase ‘It isn’t sustainable’ over and over from senior executives. They were talking about the everyday demands at work.

The day of reckoning seems to have arrived. During the past month alone, no less than a half dozen senior executives have told me that fatigue, exhaustion and even burnout are the biggest issues they’re facing both for themselves and among their troops.

Sustainable capacity — meaning sufficient fuel in the tank — is what makes it possible to bring one’s skill and talent to life. Not even the most talented and motivated employees can run on empty.

This resonates with what I’ve been reading, writing, and experiencing over the past six months and it got me thinking about sustainable leadership. What practices are conducive for a lifelong journey in leadership, and specifically, spiritual leadership?

4 Practices of Sustainable Leadership …

  1. Cultivate a relationship with God.
    For spiritual leaders, God is the source. Sometimes, God is described as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. We can live a life of sustainable leadership by cultivating a relationship with God. In other words, spiritual leaders must first be followers (of Jesus). It takes time to cultivate a relationship (It Takes 20 Years to Make a Sermon). It involves spiritual disciplines like prayer and reading Scripture. When we cultivate a relationship with God, we have access to power that we wouldn’t otherwise!

  2. Lead yourself first.
    Before we can lead others effectively, we must lead ourselves first. We lead ourselves by making sure we’re connected to God, living with integrity, growing and developing our God-given gifts, and living according to God’s call and purpose for our lives. It takes discipline because the hardest person leaders will ever lead is themselves!

  3. Minimize adrenaline.
    This has been my biggest lesson learned over the past six months, to live in a healthier manner by avoiding, or at least, minimizing my reliance on adrenaline. Sometimes adrenaline is unavoidable, but we can’t live on it long term without doing harm to our bodies. We minimize reliance on adrenaline by building margin into our lives, getting enough rest and sleep, eating well, and eliminating hurry (as much as possible) from our lives.

  4. Stay the course.
    If we’re cultivating a relationship with God and living in a disciplined and healthy manner, we’re much more likely to stay on course, to live with a sense of call and purpose, and to live at a sustainable pace.

To those who are living at an unsustainable pace, Jesus says …

Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11.28-30, CEB)

What other practices would you suggest for sustainable leadership?

13 Factors That Influence Clergy Health

Health and well-being has been a focus of mine over the last several months (most recently, Hitting the Wall). Today, I read that three United Methodist general agencies joined forces to focus on clergy health. The result is a report on 13 Factors That Influence Clergy Health.

The intro paragraph from the PDF states …

The Church Systems Task Force research identified 13 factors that are highly correlated with clergy health, differentiating those who are healthy from those who are unhealthy. The 13 factors identify sources of stress, challenges to maintaining physical health, obstacles to emotional health, impacts upon social health, the importance of spiritual health and the influence of finances. Individuals who are able to manage and address these factors tend to be healthier. Healthy churches and congregations foster healthy clergy and church leaders—and vice versa. These factors are relevant for church leaders—clergy and laity alike. The Wesleyan way inextricably links the health of the Church with the health of its clergy. The leadership of healthy clergy is essential for vital local churches and vibrant mission in the world.

Here is a list of the 13 Factors (the site describes them in more detail) …

  1. Job satisfaction
  2. Relationship with congregation
  3. Work/life Balance
  4. Living authentically
  5. Personal centeredness
  6. Marital and family satisfaction
  7. Stressors of the appointment process
  8. Eating habits with work that often involves food
  9. Personal finances
  10. Existential burdens of ministry
  11. Appointment changes and relocation
  12. Education and preparation for ministry
  13. Outside interests and social life

I’ve seen other lists of stressors, of course, but what I like about this list is that it’s specific to church leaders, and even more specific to pastors in The United Methodist Church.

It’s a good list to monitor one’s own health and well-being.