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Wright Sabbatical Q and A

Below are several questions and answers that were reviewed at LIFEgroups during recent elder visits regarding the Wright’s upcoming Sabbatical. Previously we posted the letter written by Danny which was also read in your LIFEgroups. You can read that letter here. In addition, at the end of this post we provide ways in which you can pray for Danny and Charity and the kids during their sabbatical.

I’ve never heard of Sabbaticals before the Bradshaw took one. Where is this coming from?

For most of us, the concept of a sabbatical seems pretty new. To be clear, the process of a sabbatical is not required by the Scriptures by any means. This isn’t one of those issues of command (as if we’re living in disobedience as a church if we do not practice it), but simply one of wisdom. The Scriptures have much to say about rhythms of rest in the midst of activity.

  • Genesis 2:2-3: Before the Fall, God instituted a pattern of resting one day a week. Therefore, we can see that rest isn’t a product of sin, nor of the curse. God is glorified when we acknowledge our need for rest.
  • Exodus 20:8-11: The fourth (of the ten commandments) commandment to Israel was to faithfully practice a Sabbath rest, once a week. A rest that included servants, foreigners in your home and even livestock!
  • Exodus 23:10-12: On the seventh year of farming, the Israelites were to give the land rest. Amazingly, God promised to provide enough crops in the 6th year to carry the Israelites through the seventh year (of land rest) and even until the harvest of the 8th year (first year of planting again), so that they wouldn’t have to go without.
  • Leviticus 25:1-22: Year of Jubilee. Every 50th year, the land was given an extra year of rest (on top of the 49th) as well as the release of all debts between Israelites. Incidentally, God tells the Israelites that their 70 year captivity was due to giving the land rest for the years that the Israelites skipped, instead of practicing Jubilee.
  • Mark 6:30-32: Jesus only has 3 years to train the disciples of the ministry that will be the entire foundation of the church throughout history…yet Jesus would call the disciples away to rest.

Again, Scripture doesn’t say pastors/elders must be given periods of rest, but the principle of rest seems consistently taught in the Bible. The Sojourn Networks talks about wanting healthy churches to plant healthy churches. Their emphasis on health has helped us develop regular patterns of rest and recovery in the midst of ministry schedules. (We’ve become more adamant that our staff take a day off each week, use their vacation time and take a day quarterly to work on soul care.) From that point, we have begun exploring the benefits of occasionally giving our staff as season of sabbatical.

Incidentally, there are other fields that practice concepts of a sabbatical. Many who work in education are given a significant amount of time where they are not in the classroom. And in many college environments, professors are even given scheduled semesters off. The military regularly grants periods of rest between deployments and assignments. However, we regularly talk about “Darke County Work ethic.” It’s a great virtue as long as we’re not seeing it as a form of righteousness before God. So, in the midst of people who work really hard, all the time, why are our elders advocating sabbaticals for staff pastors:

  • Spiritual conflict. Just because we don’t see a lot of “shock and awe” events happening around us doesn’t mean we want to ignore this very real component of everyday life. We are all engaged in spiritual conflict (Ephesians 6), but some have described pastoral ministry as being on the front lines of that conflict. Time away helps strengthen the man for continued conflict.
  • Intangible Fruit. Many of us work a job where a product is produced, clients are pleased or dollars are made. As long as a goal is reached, the task is deemed successful. But how do you assess ministry fruit? The only way a ministry to a person is completed is when they are placed in a grave, which is even a bitter-sweet moment. This can create a feeling that your task is never completed, and even what you have finished, you have difficulty assessing how you did. A sabbatical places a pastor in a position where he isn’t tempted to constantly assess results.
  • The nature of soul care. Every situation in ministry involves at least one soul; your own. Every sermon prepared needs to be addressed to your soul. Every interaction with another person is not only concerned with their spiritual well-being, but should include yours as well. The desire to serve others can create a temptation to neglect your own soul. A sabbatical forces the pastor to focus on the care of his own soul, and provides the space to do so.
  • The temptation of ministry. It is so easy for any of us to find our value and worth in our occupation. It is especially tempting to equate your ministry with your spiritual walk. The goal for any of us should be intimacy with God. However, just like the people in Matthew 7, it can be a temptation for any of us to equate what we think we are doing for God with our relationship with God. A sabbatical serves as a hard reset for the pastor; giving him time to spend with the Lord that is not directly related to the ministry with others.

Is there any significance to the timing this year? Is this some sort of emergency?

Many churches that practice sabbaticals grant them to staff around the seventh year. At the time we adopted the principle of sabbatical we had two staff families—the Wrights (13 years) and the Bradshaws (11 years)—who had served more than seven. We felt it was wise to not give the first sabbatical simply on the basis of seniority, but to give it to the Bradshaws for the following reasons:

  • Advocating: We didn’t know how the body would respond to sabbaticals. (As elders, we were very pleased with the response we received.) If it would have been necessary to advocate for the concept of sabbaticals, Danny felt much more comfortable appealing for something for someone else, rather than himself.
  • Life-change: The Bradshaws had just been through the whirlwind process of adopting Sam. As many in our church know, the adoption process includes elements like “hurry up and wait,” figuring out the relationship with the birth mother along with other issues. On top of that, just adding another baby to the home changes dynamics and robs parents of sleep! (The Bradshaws were ready for some rest.)
  • Discerning Calling: As we shared at the time, Jason had spent 3-4 years trying to work through the nature of his calling. It was nearly impossible for Jason to discern while he was right in the heart of ministry responsibilities. The time of sabbatical allowed the Bradshaws to assess their gifts, their passions, spend time in prayer away from the everyday demands of ministry. (And the process worked…we planted our first church as a result of this process! Yeah!!!)

So, why two years later, are we doing another sabbatical? Are the Wrights dealing with the same issues?

As elders, we knew that a sabbatical would create more work for others. We suspected that it was not something we’d want to do in consecutive years. Once the Bradshaws returned and we assessed the process, it was confirmed. If possible, we’d prefer to do a sabbatical for a member of staff no closer together than every-other-year. (This also means we are considering 2019 as a time for the Gipes to be able to take a sabbatical).

Advocating. Doesn’t really seem necessary given the way the body responded last time. Our primary desire this time around is to make sure we are educating and communicating about the process.

Life-Change. The timing for the Wrights is not so much about life change, but is great timing in regard to life stage. The kids are in a great place as far as being able to remember this time, having independence, yet still living in the home. This is a great time in life for them to experience sabbatical. (Incidentally, this is one more way that Grace Church is giving the Wright kids a different impression of the local church than many “p.k.’s” experience. They are seeing a church that wants to invest in them and not just use mom and dad up. Thank you!)

Discerning Calling. Here’s a statement from Danny in regard to the issue of calling.

What are the Wrights doing during the sabbatical?

  • There will be a lot of sightseeing: Yellowstone, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, San Francisco, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon…and all the sightseeing in the car between!
  • There will be visiting with some family we usually don’t get to see. Charity has a sister in Fresno, California that we’re going to spend some time with. Danny and Charity are even looking to travel to England to visit with Andrew and Marcia Berry. (Charity’s uncle who preached a Grace a couple years ago.)
  • Lots of relaxing. We will be spending a month in a condo at Lake Tahoe, with no itinerary or agenda.
  • Spiritual refreshment. Looking to take time for prayer and study (without lesson prep).
  • Family time. Less “screen time” and running to extracurricular activities.
  • We are finalizing the details of the “coaching” we will receive during the sabbatical. This will ensure that our time is not simply a long vacation, but a shift in ministry responsibilities that allows us to take full advantage of the opportunity afforded us.
    • One element that the coaching is going to help us navigate is communication. The Wrights are going to miss everybody a ton. We’re asking the coaching team to help us figure out frequency and types of communication that are natural and healthy, yet also preserve the purpose of a sabbatical. We will get those details to the body as they form.

What is Grace going to do during the sabbatical?

  • Pulpit scheduling is already being filled out. There will be a combination of staff and elders as well as some guest preachers coming in.
  • Between the other 6 elders who are still at Grace, we’re confident shepherding needs will be cared for within the team.
  • During summer months, our church usually enters a different rhythm anyway. This allows the church to “rest” without guilt. We’re not shutting things down by any means, but we don’t need to feel the pressure to go full speed either.

How can we pray for/during the Sabbatical?

  • Safety and health for the Wrights during this time.
  • Pray that the Wrights experience rest, renewal and even repentance where necessary.
  • Pray that the experience of so much “family time” would be a formative (and enjoyable) time for all.
  • Pray for the elders and staff as their load increases, and for those who also help out in unique ways.
  • Pray that Danny would be encouraged both by his “replace-ability” (the Lord builds His church, not Danny) as a pastor at Grace, but also would rejoice in his unique calling there.
  • Pray that Grace would see in fresh ways how the church is more than any one person’s ministry, yet also rejoice in the unique role He has given each of us at Grace.
  • To that end, pray that the mission of Grace would continue to move forward even as we experience a unique season.

Letter from Danny on the their upcoming sabbatical

Below is the letter from Danny regarding his family’s upcoming sabbatical that was read at LIFEgroups during recent elder visits. In the coming week, we will add at least one additional post with answers to questions covered during these visits. In addition, at the end of this and future posts we will provide ways in which you can pray for Danny and Charity and the kids during their sabbatical.

In 2006, I heard John MacArthur share on the benefits of 30 years in ministry at one local church. (That means he is now up to 40+ years at Grace Community Church!) This was the first time I was really introduced to the idea of a pastor staying long term in one location. Growing up, it seemed pastors either were only in the church for a few uncomfortable years that everyone was anticipating would end (either by the pastor’s choice, or the congregation), or just about the time that a church felt comfortable with their pastor, he would announce to the congregation he was moving on. This created a constant instability. Either you knew your pastor was struggling and wondered when he’d be gone, or you felt the pastor was flourishing and wondered when he was moving on to something “bigger and better.” But what MacArthur was sharing was different. There was a beauty and peace to the stability he was describing, both for the congregation and in the soul of the pastor.

We had just made the transition to me being the Teaching Pastor at that time. I remember returning from the conference and speaking of my heart’s intention to stay at Grace for the long haul. I was convinced that the greatest challenges and greatest fruit would come through serving in one congregation. I remain drawn to that vision. It hasn’t waivered.

Interestingly though, not everyone was thrilled when I shared this vision. Several people came to me and told me they thought it was presumptuous that I would declare I’m staying for life. “What if the church doesn’t want that? Is that really your decision to make?” they asked. Their questions bring out an interesting tension. The day is coming when my ministry at Grace will come to an end. That decision could be made by the Lord in taking me home. That decision could also be made by the elder team, as we would discuss the need for a transition. One of my fears in ministry is that I will outstay my welcome and usefulness to the church. I have regularly reminded the elders this is a conversation we will need to be proactive to have and not wait until it is awkwardly obvious to all. That said, we’ve never come close to that conversation, and quite honestly, I’m praying it’s at least another 15 years from now!

My heart’s desire is to stay for many, many, many years to come. That said, I recognize that decision is not completely mine to make. Whether initiated by me or by other elders, they day may come when we begin to discern a different calling for the Wrights and for Grace. My highest calling and responsibility is not being on staff. The day may come when serving my calling as Charity’s husband or our children’s father may require that I step away from my current position. Those are all realities that could be around the corner, realities which you and I cannot currently see. And for that reason, it seems irresponsible to absolutely promise I’m not going anywhere.

That said, these are realities are around hidden corners. I don’t anticipate or see anything in sight that gives me pause. It’s not just that I don’t see anything around the corner, I don’t know that I even see a corner up ahead! I’m pretty sure the elders would share the same thing. I’m not aware of any significant frustrations that an elder has with me, other than some of their wives don’t appreciate my excessive use of puns from the pulpit! My wife and kids are happy and enjoying this season in ministry. I believe in all integrity your elder team can look at you and state it is not out of any hidden reason, or unusual concern of unhealthy conditions (We are all unhealthy in some fashion, that’s why I used the term “unusual concern.”) that we are taking this sabbatical at this time. Our desire is that this sabbatical is in preparation for a long and fruitful season ahead!

How to pray during the Sabbatical

  • Safety and health for the Wrights during this time.
  • Pray that the Wrights experience rest, renewal and even repentance where necessary.
  • Pray that the experience of so much “family time” would be a formative (and enjoyable) time for all.
  • Pray for the elders and staff as their load increases, and for those who also help out in unique ways.
  • Pray that Danny would be encouraged both by his “replace-ability” (the Lord builds His church, not Danny) as a pastor at Grace, but also would rejoice in his unique calling there.
  • Pray that Grace would see in fresh ways how the church is more than any one person’s ministry, yet also rejoice in the unique role He has given each of us at Grace.

To that end, pray that the mission of Grace would continue to move forward even as we experience a unique season.