I have been reflecting a bit on my 3-Month Sabbatical, which was a beautiful gift given me by my congregation, Heritage Presbyterian Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. I thought I would set down a few, short points that might benefit others.
- Three months was just the right amount of time. Any longer, and I would have done weird things. Any less and I wouldn't have had enough time to really unwind. It took me two to three weeks to finally settle into the groove and breathe with relief.
- We (my wife and I, and my elders and deacons and I) started making plans one year beforehand. My elders and deacons made sure we would have the money to cover my absence (pulpit supplies, taking care of me, etc.). They also gently pushed and challenged me to make sure I would go. I'm not the best at taking time off or vacations, so it was a bit of work for them.
- Be very flexible with your plans! Our initial plans never materialized. The longer we spent thinking about them (the value of planning a year in advance) the more we realized we didn't want to do those things. All of the planning caused my wife and I to talk about dreams and desires we had never talked about before - and we just celebrated our 40th Anniversary! Then, when you're finally on your Sabbatical, allow your plans to change again and again as things come up. My wife and I laughingly tell everyone we revised our plans so many times we finally ended at Plan Revision 29.7! It was healthy and healing, especially for this task-oriented guy!
- It takes quite a bit of extra work to get ready. I set up pulpit supplies, worked up plans and set things in motion to take care of our church while I was gone. Two things I had going for me. I have good elders and deacons, and had complete confidence they could handle whatever happened. And then, at the last second, we brought on an assistant minister, Wesley Martin, who took in some of the slack.
- Have goals. Not too many, and not too few. I had three: (1) spend freight-train loads of time with my wife going places we have not gone before, camping, hiking, sightseeing, visiting, resting, talking, etc. It helped that all four of our kids are adults now. (2) Write a book. Actually, I thought I'd only complete three or four chapters. But I actually had such fun putting it together I completed the whole thing during the Sabbatical. (3) During the 2nd half of the Sabbatical, visit our adult kids who live in other States, and our grandkids. Spend good time with them, and not worry about hurrying back.
- Make more Bible reading and prayer a priority. I read the Bible all the time, but am usually pressed for time. But after three weeks into the Sabbatical, it suddenly dawned on me that I could read larger sections and spend longer times in prayer because....I had time! It was beautiful!
- Continue to pray for each of your congregants during your Sabbatical.
- Keep contact with your church folks to a minimum. My parishioners were really good about not calling, texting, etc. My elders kept me in the loop on some bigger items, but never really interrupted me.
- Attend churches wherever you are. Don't always go to your own kind (in your tradition) but swim across the ecclesiastical pond and visit the other beaches and banks. We only attended three from our denomination. The rest were from other traditions - Lutheran, Baptist, Independent Presbyterian, Methodist, Non-Denominational, Big, Small, Middler. One thought came to me every time: here are God's people in this place, loving Jesus and trying to serve him faithfully. I was richly encouraged. But also, I got a better sense of what other churches are (and aren't) doing.
- Don't preach anywhere - unless the pastor of the church you're visiting has just died or is deathly sick. Just be a congregant. Stay for fellowship meals without being the center of attention.
- Don't be shocked when you get homesick for your own congregation. We were missing our folks about 1 1/2 months into the Sabbatical. In fact we were missing them so bad, we snuck into our church's evening service. They loved seeing us, and we loved being with them.
- Take books to read - just for you.
- Write a monthly newsletter for your church, family and friends. Make it short, filled with pictures and give some details of what you've been doing. Your congregation will love it, and it lets them know you're not out flirting with other options.
- Sleep in a little later than you're used to. If you normally sleep 8 hours, go for 8 1/2 or 9. If, like me, you are good with 6 hours a night, shoot for 6 1/2 or 7. And for goodness' sake, take naps.
- Ensure that you attend to your wife's dreams and heart. You've now got more time to do so than normal. Go for walks with her, walk further and talk deeper.
- A note from my wife: (1) Have fun, do things on the fly, see a variety of sights and sites. (2) Don't be scared to take side trips. Look for places to visit as you're traveling. Be willing to go off the main highways and take a few byways.
If you have questions feel free ask in the comments section, or drop me an email.