This summer, Good News Community Church generously allowed me to take an 11-week sabbatical, after having served on GNCC's staff for over 9 years. While sabbaticals have long been part of the tradition of pastoral ministry, far too few churches actually grant their staff this gift. I am blessed to be part of a church that seeks to treat its staff well, serving as an example to other churches on how to not burn-out your staff.
Below is a brief report, answering the three most common questions I’ve gotten about my sabbatical: What did you do? What did you learn? What are you bringing back to Good News as a result of this sabbatical?
What Did You Do
One of the questions I've gotten about my sabbatical is, "Was it productive?" To which I'll be honest and say, "Not particularly." One of my main personal goals going into sabbatical was to stop being in such a rush. To attempt to bring healing to what Dallas Willard called "hurry-sickness." If you've seen me on a Sunday morning, you know that too often, I am flitting about from task to task, answering questions, fixing problems, putting out fires, etc. The result of which is that I can shut-down a conversation, give a too-quick answer, and otherwise just miss out on relational time with people.
That's a problem.
So, I entered into sabbatical with a few ideas of things I wanted to accomplish. But mostly, I wanted to work on the internal issue of constant hurry. It's hard to feel loved and cared for by someone who's in a constant hurry. And I want to be known for my ability to love others well; not just for getting a lot done by being in a hurry.
So did I finish my sabbatical task-list? Hardly. And, honestly, I'm okay with that. While it is important to be wise with your time, I also believe we aren't even capable of being wise with our time until we waste some time with God. And that's a lot of what I "did" on sabbatical. Wasted time with God. In prayer, silence, solitude, walking, reading, and journaling.
"Yes, yes, Anthony," you say. "But I know you did something?!" Okay, okay. Here's what else I did.
In June I took a two-day retreat in the Mankato area. I fasted, prayed, hiked, and asked God to help clarify what a worthwhile discipleship pathway for GNCC would look like.
In July I was able to spend a week in Vancouver, British Columbia. I spent my mornings at Regent College, taking a class from one of the greatest living biblical scholars of our time, N. T. Wright. For three-hours each morning, we went word-by-word through the Greek text of the book of Galatians. And it was exhilarating! I intend to write a separate post about my learnings from that class. The rest of my time was spent hiking mountains, biking around a park, meeting up with an old friend, and exploring the beautiful city of Vancouver.
In August, Emily and I were able to spend 5 days in Washington, DC for a wedding of a dear friend from college. Emily's parents generously came out to Iowa to care for our children, which allowed us to enjoy a child-free vacation!
Throughout my time, I was able to work on some long-delayed house projects (No more ugly stairs! No more mud-stained porch!); catch up on some music and movies I had missed; and spend some extra time with my family.
I also began to formulate and write a discipleship curriculum that takes all that I've learned from the past decade of church work and condense it into something worthwhile for the Church. That project is on-going, but one that greatly excites me.
What Did You Learn?
Personally, I learned that busyness and hurry is addictive. The inertia of always having a place to be, a thing to do, a task to accomplish continued on well into my sabbatical. I would find myself having lunch with Emily or playing with my kids, feeling antsy that I needed to go, be somewhere, do something. That kind of hurry-sickness is what prevents us from being present in the moment, paying attention to the people and things around us right now.
When I look at the life of Jesus, I realize that this is not how God intends His people to live. Hurry is caustic to relationships because it's always dragging us away from people and towards the next thing. Jesus was able to accomplish so much in His earthly ministry not in spite of His lack of hurry, but because of it. That's the kind of life I want to live. The kind of life I want to offer my wife and my children, my neighbors, and my church.
In my class with N. T. Wright, I learned that justification (being declared righteous by God, through Christ) only ever has to do with being in right relationship with God and with people. If we are not able to be in relationship with people who are different than us, then Christ's work of justification has not fully taken root in our hearts, minds, and lives. In fact, the way we know that we are in right relationship with God is by our ability to be in right relationship with other people. You cannot have one without the other.
I've often been guilty of saying, "Prayer is hard for me." No, no, no. It's not prayer that's hard. Prayer is a joy and a gift! Prayer is wasting time with God; daydreaming with Jesus. Who wouldn't want that? What's hard for me is stopping so that I can pray. Ceasing my mind and my body from work, so that it can rest in the loving embrace of the Father. Again, hurry-sickness. It's like thinking you can win a race by taking the brakes out of your car. Eventually, you'll only ever crash.
What Will You Bring Back to Good News?
One of the best gifts that anyone can offer their family, coworkers, church, and neighborhood is a well-rested self. Rest is a gift that God offers us each night. We egotistically think that the day ends when we go to sleep. Hardly. Historically the Church has said that the day actually begins when we go to sleep, for that's when God is doing His best work within us. The very first full-day that humans were alive, God declared it a day of rest. "I've created you! Be fruitful and multiply...but first: rest!"
I hope to offer a well-rested, less-hurried version of myself to this church. One that is less inclined to run-off, mid-conversation. One that is not thinking about the next task, instead of paying attention to what's happening right here, right now.
I will continue my work on the discipleship curriculum I began this summer, with the hope of running a pilot this winter.
And I will continue to offer my best to this church, as long as God has me here. Thank you, Good News, for your love and affection and steadfast support. Thank you for being a church that has helped me and my family grow up. And thank you for the gift of rest. May you offer yourselves the same gift.