A Note About Upcoming Pastoral Sabbaticals
News | by
Pastor Adam Sinnett
Jesus has been exceedingly kind to us over the last four and a half years. Honestly, what He has already done in, and among, us has exceeded all of our expectations (Eph 3:20). It was not long ago that a small group of us were asking the Lord to lead the way in planting a new gospel work in the heart of our city. Look at what He has done! This past year alone we have grown 80%, moved into a more permanent gathering space, and transitioned to two gatherings. Our membership has grown. Participation in community, service and sacrificial giving have grown. Most importantly our hunger for Jesus has grown. Some of you have given your lives to the Lord this year. Some of you have returned to Him. Some of you have brought sin, long laid hidden in the dark, into His redemptive light. Some of you are just beginning to taste what it looks like to live every day life with gospel intentionality. Beautiful. I hope you’re encouraged. We should be. I love our church.
A SEASON OF HEALTH
Amidst all of this, we’ve prayerfully discerned the need to focus on health in this next season. From the beginning, as a church, we’ve held to a certain vision and set of values that shape who we are as Jesus’ people in the city center. We’ve grown by about 40% every year, while maintaining a very clear DNA. Yet, this past year we grew by 80%. Any time a church nearly doubles in a single year, the vision and values of that church are easily diluted amidst a sea of new faces, conflicting agendas, and multiplied complexities. In some ways, we’re a new church. So, we’re taking this year to evaluate and adjust to our new God-given realities – in other words, focus on health (from leaders, to members, to communities, to ministry teams, to communication, to church-wide systems and more). We’re not unhealthy. But, given all of the changes that have taken place over the last year we need to make some adjustments in order to thrive in the next season together.
2016 PASTORAL SABBATICALS
One aspect of our pursuit of health is that Pastor David and I will be taking sabbaticals in 2016. This has been recommended, and approved, by our elder board and pastoral coaches at Crosspoint Ministry. Pastor David, and his family, will go first as they do not yet have children in school. They will be taking a three month sabbatical, January – March. David is a valuable leader to the church, and a dear friend to me personally. I am grateful that he and his family have this opportunity. I hope we will all rally to encourage and pray for them as they prepare to leave and, of course, while they are away. Our family will, Lord willing, take a four month sabbatical next May – August.
Q: WHAT IS A SABBATICAL?
A sabbatical is an extended period of time, set apart from the normal pressures of life and ministry, that is devoted to rest and renewal.
Q: WHY A SABBATICAL?
The purpose of a sabbatical is to give a pastor an opportunity to step back from the constant demands of ministry in order to deeply rest, recalibrate and re-enter. The sabbatical is not an end in itself. It is designed to help pastors establish new patterns of work and rest in order to improve overall health and long-term effectiveness in ministry. To help maximize this time we will be receiving coaching and spiritual direction from Crosspoint Ministry which specializes in leading pastors through their sabbaticals. For more on why churches are increasingly making pastoral sabbaticals a regular practice I recommend reading this helpful blog post by my friend, and fellow Acts 29 member, Bob Thune, “Five Reasons for a Pastoral Sabbatical”.
Q: HOW WILL THIS BENEFIT DCC?
Sabbaticals are not only good for the pastor, but for the churches they lead. Why? Two primary reasons. First, healthy pastors lead healthy churches. We will all benefit from this. I know many pastors who have taken a sabbatical and every time they, and the church they lead, end up in an even healthier place. In 2008, the Louisville Institute commissioned a research survey of 250 pastors who had taken a sabbatical. Here is what they found:
● 87% of pastors reported a sabbatical significantly renewed their commitment to ministry.
● 94% of church members claimed their pastor seemed refreshed and re-energized after the sabbatical.
● 75% percent of congregations reported a pastoral sabbatical tangibly benefited the life of the church (and not just the life of the pastor).
You may have seen some of the statistics on pastoral turnover and burnout. They’re pretty dismal. Much of that is due to the fact that overall health is not seen as a priority. We want a healthy church. To have a healthy church you need healthy leaders. To have healthy leaders you need leaders who work hard and, as appropriate, carve out intentional time for renewal and recalibration at regular intervals. I don’t know about you, but I want to see all of our pastors make it to the end – I have a vested interest in this (!)
Second, sabbaticals benefit the church because they serve as a tangible reminder that Jesus is the Chief Shepherd. A sabbatical helps wage war against consumeristic impulses that creep into the church by creating opportunities for others to step-up and serve in greater capacities in light of the pastors absence. Often, pastors are doing what others in the church could be doing and this is revealed while they are away. A sabbatical can also help confront any “celebrity” culture, or over-dependence on a particular man, that has inadvertently developed within a church (which can happen in a church of any size). DCC does not exist for the fame of any man, but the Man. It will be a great season, for all of us, as we trust Jesus’ lead into new territory.
Q: Why are you both taking a sabbatical now?
Over the past year, but especially the last six months, both David and I recognized we were experiencing bone-deep tiredness. Not just the “I-need-a-nap” kind of tiredness but the “I’m-not-sure-I-can-keep-going-at-this-pace” kind of tiredness. So, in other words, serious fatigue. Therefore, last summer, I reached out to Crosspoint Ministry which specializes in pastoral care and renewal. They recommended that to sustain healthy ministry into the future that we both take a sabbatical. We have already begun coaching with them, evaluating our pace of life and ministry and, even more importantly, our hearts. It has been fruitful, helpful and humbling. Your pastors are grateful for your patience, encouragement and prayers.
Q: Are Pastor Adam and Pastor David doing ok?
Yes. We are tired, but we love Jesus, our brides and families, and this church. We want to be serving with you all for a long time. To be over-the-top clear, there has been nothing morally disqualifying in our lives. These sabbaticals are not disciplinary in nature, nor are we being “forced” to take this leave. We enter into this season humbled, thankful and expectant. Consider this preventative maintenance for our souls.
Q: Are Pastor Adam or Pastor David leaving DCC?
That question actually makes me sick to my stomach, but it is an important one. Neither David nor I are leaving DCC. Personally, if Jesus permits, I want to give the rest of my life to gospel ministry in this church in this city.
Q: Aren’t all jobs hard? Don’t we all need rest?
Yes, but pastoral ministry is unique in two primary ways. First, pastoral ministry is unique in that it is not merely a vocation but a calling. It is a tremendous honor and privilege. I love it. However, it means that as a pastor I am literally “always on” wherever I am, whenever it is. There is no clocking out. The burden of shepherding is a constant, whether at home, the office or a chance encounter at Bartells. The only way to truly rest, recalibrate and renew is to intentionally disconnect from the normal rhythms of life and ministry for a designated amount of time. Second, pastoral ministry is unique because of its particular demands. Bob Thune writes, “pastors and others in Christian ministry are, to my knowledge, the only people whose job performance depends on a strong, vibrant spiritual life. The average Christian can practice their vocation ‘in the flesh’ (Galatians 5:22) and still do well by their employer. But not a pastor. Rest and renewal is crucial for maintaining a fresh, dynamic, vital communion with the Holy Spirit.”
Q: How will this impact the church?
There are a number of ways to answer this. In one sense, it won’t impact the church at all. This is Jesus’ church. He is on the throne. We exist by Him, for Him and through Him. The gospel will continue to be declared in our words. The Kingdom will continue to be demonstrated in our lives. In that sense, nothing changes. Yet, in another sense, the church is a body so when any member of the body is absent there is a felt loss (1 Cor 12:12-31). That’s understandable. There will be some adjustment. But, it will be good for us, individually and collectively, as I articulated above.
Practically, we will be making some changes to intentionally slow down the pace of church life this next year. Our focus will be on our Sunday gatherings, community life and leadership development, while limiting other events. Disciples of Jesus are made in real time, amidst ordinary life, not merely amidst a flurry of church activity. In some ways, our whole church is getting a rest this next year as we reevaluate health in every area. So, for example, next summer we do not plan on holding any events (with the exception of our summer barbecue and baptism) and will encourage communities to consider how they can create rhythms of rest together. Also, due to the complexity of multiplying gatherings, we don’t plan on moving to three gatherings until next fall, no matter how full the auditorium may get. In the meantime, we plan to leverage extra seats in the commons and, if necessary, potentially create (temporary) overflow space downstairs.
Q: Who will preach while Pastor Adam is away?
A combination of elders, elder-candidates, and deacons will fill the pulpit in my absence. We are tentatively planning a summer series through the Psalms that I am incredibly excited about.
Q: Who will attend to Pastor David’s responsibilities?
We are dividing his responsibilities amongst staff, contractors and a handful of volunteers.
Q: Who will attend to other pastoral duties (e.g. counseling, pre-marital, weddings, etc)?
We will do what we can, but on a very limited basis. We are also training-up elder candidates and building a team to assist with counseling.
Q: Will this be a paid sabbatical?
Yes, both David and I will continue to receive our salary while on sabbatical.
Q: Will Pastor Adam and Pastor David remain in the area?
Sabbatical plans for the Parkers and the Sinnetts are still coming together. If you have any leads on potential places to stay, we would love to hear about them.
All told, it is going to be a great year of trusting Jesus together. This year of rest, recalibration and renewal – for all of us – will bear fruit for years to come. I can’t wait to see what He has in store.
Christ is all!
P.S. For more on ministry sabbaticals, check out these helpful resources from Crosspoint Ministry, 9 Marks, the Reformed Church in America, and the Association of Regular Baptists.