What is a sabbatical?
A sabbatical is a biblical concept, from the concept of Sabbath; the 7-day, 7-year, and 7×7-year cycles in which we are called to rest and worship God. The rhythm and pressures of ministry can be intense and pastors can start running on empty. The number of pastors leaving the ministry because of burnout and lack of self-care is very high. While caring for others, ministers may neglect self-care. Both pastors and congregations can benefit from a sabbatical.
The Covenant Church and Sabbaticals
“Churches ask and expect a lot from ministry leaders. The ECC partners with the local church in helping resource pastors in fulfilling their call. Pastoral excellence involves holistic Christ-centered develop-ment, life long vocational and Biblical formation, and regular occasions of renewal and re-visioning that sustain healthy enduring ministry.” The ECC recom-mends a sabbatical for pastors every 5 to 7 years in cooperation with their churches. Burnout can put pastors out of ministry and at a higher risk of moral failure.
I have not taken a sabbatical in 20 years of full-time ministry, so it is time!
At the 2016 Annual Meeting, our congregation budgeted the financial resources needed: $2500 was set aside to compensate an interim pastor.
After two unsuccessful tries to win a Lilly grant, Pastor Todd and Mei Li will self-fund all the travel costs of the sabbatical (air, train, lodgings, food, etc.) from our savings and regular salary.
Dates for the Sabbatical
The sabbatical begins October 4 and ends November 19; Pastor Todd will be away six Sundays from the pulpit, office, and classroom.
Who will cover for Pastor Todd in his absence?
The search committee, with council help, interviewed 4 very capable Covenant pastors and Pastor Doug Johnson has been called as sabbatical interim. The congregation will have the opportunity to meet him October 2 and give God thanks on November 20. Pastor Doug will preach each Sunday and one full office/visitation day each week. He will be available, along with Pastor Keith and Pastor Doug Pierce from nearby Covenant churches, for the congregation if there is a crisis.
Pastor Todd’s goals for the sabbatical
ECC statistics suggest pastors in their latter years of ministry either rust… or leave a legacy. Todd’s goal is to continue to grow as a disciple and pastor into his full potential in ministry.
A good recommendation for sabbaticals is 1/3 of the time for rest and renewal, 1/3 personal growth & care (marriage, family, spiritual life), and 1/3 study and reflection in preparation for further ministry.
The rest and personal care component is 6 weeks spent with the love of the my life in a favorite destination of ours: Italy! We will spend a week in 6 different regions from North to South.
The study component is threefold:
1) How did the gospel arrive in Italy and spread into France, Switzerland and Austria? How was it opposed and what victories came along the way?
2) How is the gospel still advancing in the area, and what are the opponents and victories today? I will investigate a “Case study.” The Waldensian Church is a centuries-long story of God’s people who were “free church” in their theology long before the Covenant or EV Free churches began… long before even the Reformation began! They were called “people of the Book.” How did they stand against the unbiblical teachings of their time, what were the costs and victories, and how did they decline into liberalism in recent decades?
3) What can I as a pastor, and we as a congregation, learn from their story so that we can stand strong for King and Kingdom in these last days of apostasy and pluralism?
The Congregation’s Journey
The pastor and congregation have parallel journeys to travel! Just as Pastor Todd’s sabbatical has two age-old Covenant question components “Where is it written?” (the centrality of the Word of God) and a “How goes your walk?” (the call to follow Jesus), our congregation will explore these as well, with Pastor Doug’s help. He will use a carefully created sermon series from Luke and possibly the “ten healthy missional markers for Covenant Churches” as guides for shared ministry.