For most of January this year, I was out on a mini-sabbatical. Most Lead Pastors I know take extended time away every year to rest, think, dream, pray and seek God. Leading up to my time away, our church staff read a book called, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, which was really helpful and challenging about some changes I needed to make as well as changes our entire staff team needed to make. The book was one of the catalysts for our teaching series called Uphill Habits.
Personally, I have good daily, weekly and even monthly rhythms in my life to stay connected to God, but I didn’t have a good yearly rhythm. Deep down I knew I needed extended time away from the day to day operations of our church to dream, pray and discern the future for our church. I needed extended time to seek and listen to God’s voice. I needed time to get ahead of what God is doing and wants to do both in me and in our church.
During this time a friend of mine sent me this quote from Henri Nouwen, “The secret of Jesus’ ministry was alone time to discover the heart of the Father.” That’s so true! But why wasn’t I making this time a reality? The time was now.
Most days, I would drop my kids off at school, go to my favorite coffee shop, read, and then go on a long prayer walk on the beach, journal, read some more, pray some more, and pick up the kids.
Honestly, the first week was hard! My daily rhythms were all thrown off. I felt guilty for not “working”. And all my insecurities bubbled up, “What will the church do without me!?” and “Will anyone miss me?!”
But, it wasn’t long before I began to look forward to and enjoy these days. I got to pray more and longer than ever before. I was able to pray for lots of different things, people, and issues. I also read two books that really filled my soul. And suddenly, it was like the water faucet got turned on in my soul and ideas, insights and impressions began to come flooding into me, that I had to keep notes.
The second week, I went to a conference in London at Holy Trinity Brompton, hosted by Alpha. London and this church are just a special place for me, a place where God speaks to me. HTB is revitalizing the Church of England. They are planting campuses and churches all over the UK and reaching hundreds of young people for Christ. All within a post-Christian context. They have an incredible mix of humility, holy ambition, and a hunger for God. They love to worship and pray. It’s just inspiring!
The third week, I continued to read, pray but began to process all God was doing in my heart and all that I was sensing he wanted to do in our church. Afterwards, our elders and I went away for an offsite, where we spent time processing what God is doing in our church and looked to the future. It was a wonderful few days together.
As I look back on that time, I was reminded of a few very important things:
- I was reminded of the importance of developing a private prayer life, keeping the sabbath and the Uphill Habit of “slowing”. Developing a private prayer life and keeping the sabbath are absolutely key for survival in the Bay Area. For not just pastors, but anyone who wants to follow Jesus!
- Reading good books that focus on my spiritual life (Heart/Soul) has been really helpful and good. John Ortberg’s book was awesome and Dallas Willard’s book was challenging.
- I also got to visit other churches (5 churches!) and that was surprisingly helpful for ideas, inspiration and building of unity with my pastor friends.
- Extended time with my family was needed and really good. My youngest son is having a real hard time at school. There’s some hard stuff going on in my extended family that I had to enter into. And this time away gave me the emotional margin to dive into both.
- Generously pouring into my spiritual life, family life, and physical life is essential for my long term future as a pastor and just my own well being.
I say all this, because it begs the question for you (if you’ve read this far!)…what are you doing to care for your soul? What rhythms and uphill habits do you need to add to your life? What do you need to do to slow down, rest and pour into your spiritual life? Whatever it is, do it. Don’t wait. And trust me, you’ll be thankful you did!