After taking 3-months sabbatical
From the month of July to September this year, I took a sabbatical from church ministry (first time in 8 years) after sensing a nudge from the Holy Spirit in the preceding months. This break, though I'm now happy to have taken it, wasn't easy at all, especially at first.
The first month, July, was the hardest. I felt very restless and helpless. I realized how much I didn't know how to fully disconnect, not just from technology like social media, but more fundamentally from my sense of identity that was so closely tied to ministry. I've been involved in ministry since I was 23 (that's 25 years and counting). And the current ministry at Acts Community Church for the past 8 years. To be fair, I'm extremely grateful for all these years of being allowed to be part of God's ministry. I've met so many wonderful people, able to love and be loved on, and learned about God and his will through various ministry experiences that I now treasure in my heart. Nevertheless, perhaps because of the blessings God has bestowed on me personally though these ministries, I've gotten accustomed to see the world (and God) primarily through the lens of ministry and my role in it. I was becoming a minister before simply being a child of God. A pastor before being a friend. And this was becoming even more evident in the height of pandemic where I was asking without ceasing what I needed to do as a pastor during this time. What I could do to make it better for the people around me, and what my role was.
As I was sensing this burden in my heart, some from God, but mostly my own making, I realized I needed to take some break. To rest in God as his child, before trying to do my job as a pastor. And after feeling restless all month of July, I was feeling little better in August. Able to disconnect more, rest more, enjoy my free time little more freely. I read books I wanted to read. I spent more time with my family. And initially I thought I might be ready to return in September after two months of break. But, not feeling completely assured in my heart, and with my wife's keen sense that I needed little more time, I took September off as well with the blessing of the church leadership and I think it was exactly what I needed.
During this last month, among many things, God has taught me about trust and love. How trust is the way of Chrisitan living, how trust goes deeper than beliefs, and that we trust because we are being true to who we are before God and and to who God really is in our lives. And, love is simply what makes trust possible. We trust God because we realize how much God has really loved us. And in that realization, my love for God also grows, and in that love for him, I put my trust. In other words, I trust God because I love him. And I realized, this was the rest I needed in my heart, one that had been filled up with my sense of responsibility for ministry.
Could I now serve God not out of my sense of responsibility but out of my love for him?
Could I trust him more instead of trying to make things happen on my own strength? Could I do all of this while fully resting in him as my perfect savior and lord?
When I first started my sabbatical three months ago, my hope was, yes to find that rest I needed in my heart, but also to find a way forward with our church in this unprecedented pandemic time. I had already sensed that we would not return to how things used to be anytime soon, and I needed to figure out how to move our church forward. In other words, while I was "resting", my mind was already busy trying to figure things out. After three months, however, I don't have all the answers. I don't have a grand plan to announce (though I do have some ideas). But, perhaps that's why I needed to learn. Not to try to figure out everything ahead of the actual leading of the Spirit. To know what I know, but also to know what I don't know yet. To know what to work on, but to also know what to wait for. A life of trust, out of love from God and my love for him. In rest, even if I'm now done taking this three months of rest.
I thank my church leadership and members for allowing me to take this time off. I kept asking myself whether this break was ok (especially during paramedic). But our God is not God of guilt and regrets. He wants us to be grateful for what God has done and is continuously doing. I'm grateful for the rest I was able to have. And that we are all safe and healthy during this time. And I'm now looking forward to growing and serving together for our Lord who loves us so. Serving him, in rest, and in trust. See you all soon!