During the next 10 days, Pastor Matt and his wife, Kim, will be attending the Sojourn Network retreat. Please keep them in your prayers as they travel and enjoy this time. As we prepare for Pastor Matt's sabbatical this year, he would like to share with you his perspective on this opportunity.
Perspective On My Sabbatical
My life dramatically changed in 2009. Jesus and His Gospel flooded into my life in a new way. The gospel went from black-and-white to full-color. God’s Word went from just being true to being true AND good AND beautiful. I realized “the gospel is the craziest thing I have ever heard in my life…and it's true!”
This launched me into a season of growth and dramatically impacted the way I was leading our church. In 2010, Ben Whipple came on staff and a full ministry transition began. As a result, our church is enjoying gospel-rich revitalization and significant growth (more than doubled in just the last 18 months).
With all this momentum, why am I going on sabbatical this summer? I think it will help if I answer these three questions: Why a sabbatical? How am I (and my family) doing? What will I do during my sabbatical?
WHY A SABBATICAL?
What is a sabbatical? "Sabbatical" comes from the word "sabbath" which means cease, end, rest, stop. In Genesis 1, God gives the pattern of 6 days of work and the 1 day of rest (sabbath). In the OT, Israel was told to not plant in a field every 7th year so that the field would be more effective in growing crops over the long haul (Leviticus actually calls this a "sabbath" for the field).
I have learned that churches give their pastors sabbatical for various reasons. Some sabbaticals are given for study purposes, some are given due to pastoral burnout/exhaustion, some are given due to pastoral failure and some are given for rest. As the elders have discussed my upcoming sabbatical, we have agreed that it is being granted for the purpose of:
- personal rest and renewal (spiritual, emotional, relational, vocational, physical)
- marriage and family health
- ministry longevity
HOW AM I (and my family) DOING?
Well, there is much to be thankful for in this answer too. For years, my work schedule was the number one stressor in my marriage but God kindly intervened. In the Fall of 2012 I was graciously confronted about my work habits. God somehow broke through my thick skull and gave me ears to listen. In the months following that confrontation I had a pretty radical transition in my work schedule. I learned some principles to work week management and implemented them. Over the last 4+ years I have had a reasonably consistent approach to my ministry schedule that has not left me running on fumes. I am thankful to say that, because of some godly people who were willing to confront me and because of God’s faithfulness to me, I do not overwork. In other words, my “normal work week” does not leave me exhausted. [Interestingly, as I have limited my work, our church has almost tripled in size. What a good reminder that this church is God’s church. It does not depend on any human being.]
I have a lot to be thankful for in my life, my marriage and my family.
I am 40 years old and healthy. I have been in ministry for 18 years, I have pastored Sojourn for almost exactly 11 years but have had the joy of seeing my love for Jesus and His gospel grow like crazy over the last 7+ years. I continue to have some pretty good rhythms regarding time in God’s Word. On the other hand, I continue to struggle regarding personal prayer and being a missionary where I live, work and play. I have been married to Kim for 16 years and have what I would evaluate as a warm, joyful, growing marriage. We are somewhat scrambling to learn how to parent teenagers as my kids are now 8, 9, 12 and 14. Our life is busier but we also have homegrown babysitting which allows for more opportunities for Kim and I to spend time together. All four of my girls have made professions for Jesus and think very highly of Sojourn/the church. While they all have areas of needed growth, they are healthy, doing reasonably well in school and making encouraging choices in their social lives.
I know that just about every one of these details could change in a blink…but I would be amiss not to openly thank God for his generosity and mercy to us.
WHAT WILL I DO DURING MY SABBATICAL?
Since the announcement last July, I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about how to be a good steward of a sabbatical. I have reached out to a number of pastors who have had sabbaticals recently and I have also received good counsel through conversations with my wife, my fellow elders, Lou Damiani and other pastors/counselors that I respect.
As of today we are aiming to use the July 10-September 6 window to: rest more than normal and spend more time together as a family than normal. We have planned to be gone from Traverse City for approximately four weeks while spending the majority of the other four weeks here in beautiful Northern Michigan.
I will not be attending Sojourn during the sabbatical Sundays but will instead try to visit a church or two here in the area. I will also be intentionally checking with the elders.
Personally, I am committing to not “over eat spiritually”. This is based on some counsel that, due to my personality, is probably wise. I intend to read a specific portion of the Bible slowly, repetitively and deeply. I will read only a book or two. I will also reduce screen time on computers, TVs and smartphone.
In closing, one pastor told me “a church should give their pastor a sabbatical so that church does not HAVE to give their pastor a sabbatical” (due to burnout, personal failure, etc.). So, while I am in a really good place, I believe that a sabbatical will serve me, my family and Sojourn in the long run. Kim and I both desire, by God’s grace, to serve many more years with the Sojourn family.
I want you to know how thankful I am in receiving this sabbatical as a gift for my 10 year anniversary here at Sojourn. We feel very loved and cared for.
My family will be praying often for the incredible church family, the staff and the elders that God has brought together at Sojourn!