I love my church family. The leadership saw fit to grant me a three week sabbatical from ministry duties so I could visit other churches, get some spiritual nourishment, and spend some much needed time with my family. The past three weeks have done much to refresh me, prevent burn-out, and most importantly, allow me to draw even closer to God. I also learned some things while on sabbatical that can be applied to my life and ministry.
- Being Out of Your Comfort Zone is a Good Thing. The first part of my break I took the family to New York to watch the greatest American sports franchise of all time, the New York Yankees, play a game. I’m a country boy. I grew up in the woods of Goochland County, VA and minister in the midst of the tobacco fields of Lunenburg County, VA. Needless to say, New York was a culture shock. There is constant noise, people everywhere, and the smells, oh the smells of the city! Sausages cooking in a vendor’s cart, the aroma of coffee wafting from a nearby cafe, or the smell of diesel fuel as a delivery truck drives by all awaken the senses and let you know you’re in someplace that is familiar, yet strange. Trying to take it all in is at once both exhilarating and overwhelming. However, as overwhelming as it was for me and my wife, that’s nothing compared to how my children must have felt. I have been in big cities before. San Diego, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and New York have all been visited by yours truly. But my children, especially the younger two, all they have ever known is Lunenburg. A trip to little Victoria, VA is “going to town”, and a trip to Richmond is a once-in-a-blue-moon treat. I could see from their widened eyes and their tightened grips on our hands, they were way out of their comfort zone. But, it was a good thing. With each distinct dialect that they heard and each distinct culture that they encountered in the city they learned how diverse and encompassing God’s creativity is. And I was reminded just how great and all-encompassing His love is for all people.
- The Kingdom is in Good Hands. A lot of times we preachers are guilty of over-criticism. This is especially true of the church. If you were to go to a preacher’s conference, prayer meeting or retreat, you would find no shortage of opinions on what is wrong with the American church and what can be done to fix it. But as I was able to visit three different congregations in three different locales (rural, suburban and urban) I was delighted to find God’s people faithfully gathering to worship, break bread, fellowship, and hear the Word proclaimed. Every service had preaching/teaching that was Biblical, music that was also theologically sound and thought provoking, and had numerous volunteers involved. Sure, the styles and methods were different. So were their cultural make-ups. But they were flourishing where God had planted them, and in that we should all rejoice.
- I Am Not A Bottomless Well. Another truth that became clear to me as I visited these congregations was that I was spiritually dry. Ministers live a life that is constantly being poured into others, and sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking that since we are doing God’s work, we never need to be replenished. But with each class that I attended, each sermon I listened to and each praise song that I sang I realized my reserves were low. After five years with little to no time off, my well was nearly empty (seriously, I think I took two Sundays off in that time period. Even “special” Sundays, like Homecoming and Revival, when there is a guest preacher, I’m still planning and leading those services. I’m not complaining, just stating a fact). I am so thankful for a leadership that saw fit to put this jar of clay back under the faucet in order to replenish and refresh my ability to serve.
- I Connect to God Strongest When I Am Creating. We took several trips to parks and wildlife refuges. I was able to hone my photography skills and wonder at the diversity of God’s creation. But I was also able to spend significant time sketching, drawing (yes, there is a difference) and creating art. I even got to share some of this creative time with my father. As I applied color to clayboard and tried my hand at drawing marshland wildlife, my soul stilled and I communed with God. As I created, I connected to the Creator, and worshiped.
- I Love to Preach. Alright, I knew that already, but after a three week hiatus from the pulpit, I am itching to share God’s word with my church family. Nothing lights my fire like studying, writing, and delivering a sermon. Three weeks is enough to convince me that God has me right where He wants me. My well is full. My soul is refreshed. I’m ready to get my preach on!