Monday, March 13, 2017

Hub City's Sabbatical Summer

Dear Church Family,

I hope your week is off to a good start. I know that the time change and snowpocalypse of this past Sunday kept many of you away from worship. I missed you, but I don’t want you to miss out on what I shared. It is too important. Below is the transcript of my talk. I’ve also included a handout that supplements what I shared.

It’s an honor being your pastor. I’m excited about the future!

Sabbatical Summer:

What comes to mind when you hear the word: Rest?

We, as a culture aren’t very good at rest. A few years ago Americans took the lead for working more hours a year than any other industrialized nation. We also take less vacation days than any other industrialized nation. We’re all about go, go, go. Do, do, do. I would say we go so far as to assign value to people based on what they produce, and we all know that in order to produce we have to go and do. Rest gets in the way of that.

But the truth is, we all need rest. We know this. God knows this. That’s why he created us to work and to rest. Those two things go hand in hand. We’re pretty good at the work part. We’re not that good at the rest part. Which is why I’m really grateful for the invitation that Jesus gives in Matthew 11:28:

“Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” 

Don’t you just love this invitation from Jesus? His invitation is for us to come to him. Reminding us that we all need Jesus and that life doesn’t work apart from him. Come to me, Jesus says.

And then next Jesus directs his invitation at those who are weary and those who carry heavy burdens. When Jesus says “weary” he is talking about those things that intrinsically wear us out. Those pressures and expectations we put on ourselves. Isn’t it true that too often we put unhealthy pressure and expectation on ourselves at times to be something we’re not, do something we’re not supposed to do, look a certain way? We’re awash in self-imposed pressure and we’re tired. We’re weary.

The word “burdens” describes outside pressures, those pressures and expectations that are put on us by others, whether from a boss, or a spouse, or a teacher, or a parent. You know the kind of outside pressure and expectation I’m talking about. Some of you are living under pressure from others right now and it’s a weight. It’s a burden. It’s weighing you down.

Whether we are walking around with self-imposed burdens or carrying burdens imposed on us by others, we all fit into at least one of those two groups, if not both groups, Jesus invites us to himself. Why? So that he can give us rest.

I know that many of you are here this morning carrying burdens. Some of them you have put on yourself. Others are weights that have been put on you by others. This morning, Jesus invites you to come to him. He wants to give you rest.

I don’t know if you realize it or not, but rest is a gift from God. In the Ten Commandments we are commanded to rest, to take a Sabbath, but in the gospels Jesus tells us that that Sabbath, that day of rest, is actually for us. It’s a gift from God to us. I think it’s pretty cool that we serve a God who invites us to come to him for rest.

Keep that in mind as I share a story. It’s actually my story. It begins about a year and a half ago, right after Hub City had just celebrated its 6th birthday.

I had been at the church planting and pastor thing for the past 10 years. We survived one failed church plant and now, after seven years, God was doing some cool things in and through Hub City Church. But I started to notice that my drive and hunger weren’t as strong as they used to be. I was easily distracted. I was having trouble focusing. In a word, I was feeling empty.

This feeling of emptiness, like I was running out of gas, scared me. I loved being the pastor of Hub City Church. I didn’t want to do anything else. So I decided that I needed to do some research to figure out what was going on and come across this book: Leading on Empty, by Wayne Cordiero. The title grabbed my attention because that described exactly how I felt.

It’s really a book about Wayne’s journey to burnout, how he ended up burning out, and what he did to move out of burnout to a new and fruitful season of ministry.

As I read through his symptoms of burnout I started to see those symptoms in me. And I’ll be honest, this scared me to death. I have a few friends who went through burnout and they either left the ministry all together, or were so scarred that they were never the same. I didn’t want to go down that path. Like I said, I love that God has called me to be the pastor of Hub City Church and I want to be able to do this for a long, long time.

So I started to pray about what I needed to do to renew, and refresh and refill, so that I could pastor with passion and hunger and drive for the next 7 years. At this time, I also started to share what I was going through with some of our leaders here at Hub City.

One of the things that Wayne talked about was a sabbatical, and after talking with some of Hub City’s leadership, we decided that I needed to take a sabbatical.

Now let me give you a definition for what a sabbatical is:

Sabbatical – A period of time during which one does not work at his regular job and is able to rest, travel, refresh and renew. It’s a time for temporarily stepping away in order to rest, disengage, study, reflect, and travel, so that one can return to minister refreshed and renewed in body, mind and spirit.

Now, let me let me tell you what a sabbatical is not: It is not a time for routine work, mid-career assessment, job search, and let me emphasize that a sabbatical is not a vacation. It’s not a time for a pastor to simply vacate. Craig Dykstra, Vice President for Religion with the Lilly Foundation, says, “As important as vacations are, something more is needed than just temporary escape (vacate-ion) from the daily grind. What is needed is renewed connection with God.

In a nutshell, a sabbatical is a period of time, usually three months, in which the ministry leader and the congregation set aside the leader’s normal responsibilities for the purpose of rest and spiritual refreshment, leading to renewed energy and creativity for both the ministry leader and the church family.

It means that you say to me: “Jonathan, we want you to be the best possible pastor you can be. We want you to lead us and teach us and love us with as much energy as possible. In order to help you do that, we want you take some time away from the regular routine of your ministry. Take this time away, and go spend it with God. Pray. Read the Bible. Read some good books. Rest. Travel. And when you come back, we’ll be excited to see how this time away has drawn you closer to God and prepared you to lead us into our next season of ministry as a church.”

The Scriptures are resonant with the spirit of sabbatical. Throughout the Old Testament God continues to remind his people of the importance of Sabbath, a break from working. Even the land is told to be given a Sabbath:

“The Lord said to Moses at Mount Sinai, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a Sabbath to the Lord. For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops.  But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of Sabbath rest, a Sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards.”  (Leviticus 25:1-4)

The Sabbatical year in the Bible is every seventh year. The farmers and their land were called by God to rest that year and God promised to provide. Clearly, the Sabbatical year was a big step of trust in the goodness of the Lord to provide for his people.

The seventh-year renewal included generosity for the needy, as the poor in the land were free to glean in the fallow ground during the Sabbatical year. People who had sold themselves into servitude were also given the blessing of a Sabbatical year; they worked for six years, but on the seventh year they were given their freedom without cost (Exodus 21:2-6). Similarly, debts were also canceled in the Sabbatical year (Deuteronomy 15:1-6).

As you can see, the Scriptures are resonant with the spirit of sabbatical. It is really just a variant of the word, "Sabbath." And it’s not a suggestion. It’s always as a command.

Now let me return to my story. Remember, this ball started rolling in January of 2016. We came up with a plan for me to take a sabbatical during the summer of 2017. This would give our church time to prepare. This was before we knew anything about merging Oak Grove and Hub City.

And then the merge happened. The past few months have been a whirlwind, but it’s been great. I love what John Sharpe said last Sunday at our membership class, that this experience has been one of the most rewarding in his life. I feel the same way. So we had to figure out if we were still going to move forward with the sabbatical.

Back when we were still praying and seeking God about his will concerning this merge, one of the reservations with the Hub City Leadership about the merge was that it would impact my sabbatical. So we made a decision to move forward with the original plan. And so this summer I am going to be taking a sabbatical.

The dates of my sabbatical are going to be May 16 – August 19. My last Sunday before the start of the sabbatical is Mother’s Day, May 14. My first Sunday back will be August 20.

If you’re wondering what I’m going to be doing, my time will be divided into three parts. First, there will be times of silence and solitude for connecting to and hearing from God. Second, there will be times of travel with family, mainly revisiting places that were essential to my spiritual development. Third, there will be times of learning and study.

But here’s maybe the most important thing of all for you: This isn’t just a sabbatical for me. It is also for the church. There’s a secondary definition of sabbatical: “A break or change from normal routine.” This is what this summer is going to be for Hub City. We have some strategic things that are going to happen, apart from me, that will help us become healthier and stronger as a church.

Let me reiterate: Hub City is NOT going to be in a holding pattern this summer. It’s going to move forward in being the church and making disciples. This is why we are bringing in James Nugent, who many of you know already, as our intentional interim. This is why we have some strategic things planned.

So what do you need to do as we look forward to and move through this sabbatical summer?

Pray: You need to pray. Pray for me, my family and for our church family. In fact, I’m looking for volunteers who will pray for me, my family and our church daily during the sabbatical. If you would like to be on this important team please email me at jonathan@hubcitychurch.com.

Lean in: You need to lean in to the Hub City Church family. Whenever things are different or there is change our natural tendency is to lean away, to pull away. Don’t do that. Lean in to your church family.

Serve: You need to serve. Things need to be done. You should have a “whatever it takes” attitude. If you see a need, meet it. Step up. There should be no gaps that go unfilled this summer.  

Participate: You need to participate. This involves attendance, but it is way more than attendance. It is active attendance.

Give: You need to give. We’re pretty healthy financially. I want us to be even more healthy at the end of the sabbatical.

Invite: You need to invite people. I know you would never do this, but some people think, “Well, I’ll just wait till the pastor gets back before I invite people.” Can I just say that the last think I want is for Hub City to become personality driven, to revolve around me. We are Jesus-driven. He’s who we revolve around. I love what I do, but it’s not about me. It’s about Jesus. So invite people.

Grow: You need to let God grow you through the differentness of the summer. Things are going to be different for a few months. They may be uncomfortable at times. God uses change and differentness and discomfort to grow us.

You need to be the church.

So pray, serve, participate, give, invite. Grow. Lean in. Be the church.

I know you have questions. We’ve created a handout that will answer some of your questions. You can always talk with me. You will also notice on the handout a list of “who’s responsible for what” and some tentative summer dates.

Remember, if you would like to be on the sabbatical prayer team, please contact me at jonathan@hubcitychurch.com and I’ll add you to the team.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I am praying for you. I appreciate you praying for me!

Your friend and pastor,


Jonathan  

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