Monday, July 30, 2018

Lessons From Sabbatical

Having been at Providence for over 21 years, I just finished my third sabbatical. As previously explained, sabbatical is a period of rest, research, and restoration for people in full-time ministry and other professions (like academia and counseling) so that they can avoid burnout and renew their creativity, passion, and effectiveness. Traditionally, a sabbatical occurs every seven years. The word comes from Sabbath (Greek, sabbaton; from the Hebrew, shabbath; lit. “rest”), which usually brings to mind the seventh day of the week, the biblical day of rest. Interestingly, the word is used for an entire year in Leviticus 25:1-5.
The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel… For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest…”
It wasn’t just for the land, it was for those who worked the land (virtually everyone in that day). It’s a good idea. And I’m so happy that Providence instituted it for full-time ministry staff from the start.
When I’ve run into people from church this summer, I’ve frequently been asked, “How’s sabbatical going?” I try to give a short answer, like, “Great!” But it never seems to suffice. So here’s one that’s a little more complete with the top seven lessons I’ve learned from sabbatical this summer.

1. I needed some extended rest.
I’m sure there are some who decry a long break (we provide a month after seven years, and two
Darla & I in a gloating selfie after breaking the paddleball record.
The beach was great (um, after the tropical storm that hit us hard)!
months every seven thereafter). I understand the sentiment. In fact you might be saying, “I’ve been working in my job for 20 (30, 40, whatever) years and haven’t taken so much as a vacation!” While that’s a little extreme (someone actually told me this!), the truth is I understand the skepticism of those who have never had a long break from work. I could absolutely do that too because I love my job! In fact, I kind of let this sabbatical sneak up on me and had to pry my fingers away from doing ministry at Providence. It took me about two weeks to just relax and stop thinking about all the things I needed to do.
Let me say it plainly: I needed this long break. Unknowingly, my attitude, focus, and energy was being affected by what has been an unrelenting last few years, the last one in particular. As the weeks wore on this summer, I could feel my brain decompress. I found myself reinvigorated for my calling and job. If you’re struggling, maybe you need a long break too.

Here's what it looks like today.
2. Building a house is not easy. 
Ok, so I already knew that. Let’s just say that Darla and I are learning this lesson even more! After unexpectedly selling our house and unsuccessfully looking for another, we decided (after a whole lot of praying and seeking wise counsel) in June to bite this thing off and build ourselves, so we bought some property near Edgemoor Road, about 15 minutes from Providence. Whew! Making decisions, finding and scheduling subs, and getting all the details worked out is why people wisely pay contractors. And we’ve really only just begun. Seriously, we feel like we're learning a whole new trade (and I guess we actually are).
Here's the goal!
I’ve also met some good people who I would have never met otherwise and have had some great spiritual conversations. I'm super thankful for friends who are helping us and for Darla who is doing most of the contracting (especially now that I have to go back to work)! She's really organized and I'm good at shooting the bull. A great combo!!

3. Writing a book is real work. 
I’m not a writer so maybe it’s just me, but this task is HARD. I spent several days this summer researching and writing about my dad. It is exhausting! And I feel the proverbial mountain I have to climb to get this book written just keeps getting higher as I write.
A 38-year-old Ken Sparks
Some of the hardest parts include these three: 1) interviewing key people who have first-hand accounts, 2) working through the piles of articles, videos, and statistics to find what I need; and 3) fact-checking all the stuff, especially regarding some of the important games I think need to be described (probably not for the reasons you think!). And it’s emotional for me! I can watch a video on him and be in tears.
The next one is related…

4. I’m reminded how blessed I am for the earthly father God gave me. 
Ken Sparks was a great man. He lived and died well. I pray I can be a steward of his legacy and be like him in so many ways.

5. It's great to see what other churches are doing. 
This is a church in Georgia that has a similar mission & vision
as Providence that we visited. And yes, that's Dara leading!
I got to visit a wide variety (regarding style, tradition, and size) of churches this summer. All of them hold to God’s Word as true, all were fantastic (I tend to not be critical), and I learned things from each of them. I collected lots of printed material, shot lots of pictures and video, and made lots of notes. It seems I always heard from God when I went to worship, regardless of the church. That in itself is a lesson! I love that God uses so many churches who do things so differently to reach all kinds of people. I felt kinship with them all. I look forward to discussing with our staff and elders some of the things I experienced that might help us be better at Providence.
But all that visiting other churches makes the next lesson I learned even clearer...

6. I love Providence Church more than I ever knew.
I really do. The church is a group of redeemed people who have covenanted together to accomplish a mission. I love our people. I love our covenant together. I love our mission. I feel more committed to Providence than ever before! The really cool thing is that our church grew (over last year’s numbers) while I’ve been away! That shows what I already knew: Providence (unlike some churches) is about much more than merely following a man (unless the man is Jesus!). There aren't many pastors who stay at churches for 21 years (my 101-year-old grandmother who was a pastor's wife is still amazed), and there are even fewer who can honestly say that there's no church in the world where they'd rather serve than the one they're at. I'm so grateful. I can't think of a godlier group of elders, I can't think of a better staff, and I can't imagine a better group of people than those at Providence. What an awesome spiritual family I have! I have missed being with my church this summer...a lot!

7. I love my wife profoundly. 
Of course, I already knew this. But this break has given us significant time together. I’ve never gotten tired of her and she never gets on my nerves (I don’t think she could say the same of me!). As cliched as it sounds, she really is my best friend. We laugh together a lot. We are totally on the same page spiritually. We work well together and compliment each other’s giftedness. She has been through more hard times in the last year than any other year in our lives, and has come through looking even more like Jesus. I am amazed by her and more in love with her than ever. I made a great choice 29 years ago to ask her to be my wife. I had no idea how great. God had something (read: everything) to do with that.

There were many more lessons learned that I could tell you about like, "Life is possible without social media," "Sugar-free gummies cause violent stomach problems," "The beach isn't fun in tropical storms," "Extroverts need people around," "Abstaining from reading/watching news makes you happier," "Beagles like skunks," and "Ticks & mosquitoes suck" (there are stories for all of these!). And many other good things happened this summer. Among them, I read some good books, hiked some great hikes, made some great new friends, ate some good food, caught up on sleep, got to watch a lot of baseball, and (most importantly) spent some great time with Jesus. Thank you Providence, for allowing me to have this time!

1 comment:

Clayton Wood said...

Thanks Chad! Really edifying post.