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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Embrace Boredom–Take a Sabbatical

Written by: on October 11, 2018

Our Denomination (The Evangelical Church) has a wonderful policy for all salaried Pastors to receive a paid, three month Sabbatical every 7 years of full time ministry. Some churches support the policy, others do not.  I only wish I had read this book before I went on my last Sabbatical. Cal Newport’s Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World was brilliant, especially Rule #2: Embrace Boredom. [1]

I have heard it said it takes 21 uninterrupted days for a Pastor to disengage from being a Pastor. Vacations are nice, but rarely does a Pastor totally disengage. To be honest, most pastors don’t even take a Sabbath every week. Most sneak peeks at their email, check phone messages, or constantly think about their ministries. It’s possible to go a while at this breakneck speed and still be effective, but eventually, something has to give. Burnout is a real issue in the church world. The Sabbatical is one antidote.

Author Lance Witt with John Ortberg in the forward, wrote a book titled, Replenish: Leading from a Healthy Soul. In it, they share these telling words:
Every leader functions on two stages–the front stage (or public world), and the back stage (or private world). One cannot lead successfully front stage when one is completely depleted back stage. In a time when pastors are leaving the ministry in record numbers due to cynicism, disillusionment, weariness, and personal scandals, there is an urgent need for soul care in the private lives of leaders. [2]
Soul care!
You probably never heard of Lance Witt. Neither did I. I learned he served as the executive pastor for Saddleback Church during the 40 Days of Purpose and 40 Days of Community campaigns. This was during the time when Rick Warren felt called to be Pastor to the entire world. I cannot begin to think what the pressures must have been like in that environment–intoxicating, exhilarating, exhausting, staggering, bewildering. Lance Witt describes how 18 hour days eventually drained his soul, and he had to make tough choices. Either lose his soul while trying to help save the world, or step off the rapidly careening bus. He was losing his family, his energy, his passion, and his joy. Lance made the toughest decision of his life, and he stepped off. And saved his own soul.

That is why Newport resonated with me when he said, “Don’t take breaks from distraction. Instead, take breaks from focus.” [3]  In order to keep one’s concentration, it is necessary to step off the focus bus.  Yeah, yeah, we have all heard before, “Pastors only work one day a week.” How sad, and unfathomable, that people believe it!

The first 7 years I was Pastor, I did not get a single holiday week end off. Christmas and Easter breaks? HA HA, the pressure was quadrupled! New Year’s and Labor Day–weddings. July 4 and Memorial Day–special services for the military. Thanksgiving–working harder because most of the staff, and even more of the volunteers, were on their much needed vacations. At the times when the rest of the world seemed to be able to take breaks, Pastors are serving at their highest intensity. And I have lost track of the number of my vacations that have been called short due to an “emergency” back at church.

To be honest, I think I was addicted to the adrenaline of being a Pastor. Always being the go to guy. Preaching, counseling, banquets, funerals, being on call 24/7. It is nice to be wanted, and it fed my ego. But something had to give. To this day I am not sure if that is why my son rebelled. Sadly, it certainly could be. Makes me think the so called “Protestant Work Ethic” described by Weber [4] was not such a blessing.

What grand words from Newport to have, “productive meditation.” [5] Taking a period of time when we can be occupied physically, but not mentally. For me, it is simply taking a walk, or mowing the yard (and I hate mowing the yard, but I get some of my best ideas during that time). Ever since our Cape Town advance, I have worked into my schedule HIGH TEA. Every afternoon I simply stop, boil some water, make my tea with honey, and sit down for 15 minutes. It has been a gift. [6]

Please allow me to describe my last Sabbatical. It may not mean much to you, but just writing it down helps me relive it. I never want to forget!

The first 21 days (which stretched out to a full month), I drove the Alaska Highway. Over 5000 miles with no TV, no internet, hardly any radio. Talk about “embracing boredom.” It was glorious; whatever I shot or caught, I ate. Salmon, ptarmigan, blueberries, grouse, raspberries. I saw bears, moose, caribou, whales, and the fall leaves in radiant colors. Totally disengaged.  When I wanted to sleep, I slept. Time meant little. Unplugged, I could feel my soul reviving.

For the next month, my wife and I went to Israel, Jordan, the Vatican City and Rome. We walked where Jesus walked, prayed at the Wailing Wall, boated on the Sea of Galilee, and were baptized in the Jordan River. We saw Petra, and the Coliseum, swam in the Dead Sea. And on the way home, got stuck in Paris!  It was spectacular.

The final month of my Sabbatical was family time. Whatever the kids wanted to do, we did. Movies with popcorn, soccer games, Yellowstone National Park. We made more memories than money. Laughed a lot, acted incredibly irresponsibly, and it was worth every investment. Too bad Superintendents don’t get Sabbaticals…

 

[1] Newport, Cal. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. New York; Grand Central, 2016. 155.

[2] Witt, Lance and Ortberg, John. Replenish: Leading from a Healthy Soul. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011. 24.

[3] Newport. 159.

[4] Weber, Max, Peter R. Baehr, and Gordon C. Wells. The Protestant Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism and Other Writings. New York: Penguin Books, 2012.

[5] Newport. 169.

[6] Webster, Noah. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Springfield: Turtleback Books, 2016.

 

 

About the Author

mm

Jay Forseth

Superintendent of the Western Conference of the Evangelical Church. Blessed with 28 years as the husband of my amazing wife who I can't make it without. Now three of four in our family are attending University, but both my children are way smarter than me.

6 responses to “Embrace Boredom–Take a Sabbatical”

  1. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    wow! 3 months! Most I’ve heard of is 1 month every 5 or 7 years. Is your denomination accepting new pastors? Asking for a friend of course…

    loved haring about your rest time.

  2. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Jay,

    I need to get Lance Witt’s book! Your vulnerability always amazes me. We are a lot alike. People in ministry receive so much affirmation for being available, being willing to be interrupted, always being the ‘go-to’ guy. At home we feel like we are taken for granted and not appreciated in the same way. So, the temptation is to expend almost all of our energies with others leaving little left for the home front.

    I do not believe that there is a direct link between your busyness and the rebellion of your son. It’s difficult not to draw those conclusions because we always feel we must have done something wrong. Even if you or I could be the perfect father or husband there are no guarantees that rebellion wouldn’t occur. That’s just the nature of humanity.

    Since Cape Town you have instituted a daily ritual that does help you slow down and take stock and you are sharing that discipline with those around you. That demonstrates your willingness to learn and grow and shows that you are still on the journey. I for one am thankful that our lives have intersected as you are an inspiration to me.

  3. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Jay,
    Brother just reading about your sabbatical was relaxing cant imagine doing it. Unfortunately my denomination doesn’t do things like that, wish they would. I is so important to take care of one’s self if you are taking care of others. Great post.

    Thanks
    Jason

  4. Shawn Hart says:

    For the first time in years, I decided that when my wife and left town with my kids for a couple weeks, that I was going to truly shut down (this was a couple years ago). I loaded up the movies, stocked up the fridge, and turned on my answering machine. I would hear my phone vibrate…and I IGNORED IT! I would think of projects I should be working on…but I IGNORED them too. I watched all of the Lord of the Rings movies back to back; then I hit a couple more trilogies as well. To be honest, at the end of the week, my back hurt from sitting in my recliner too long, and I was actually getting a little lonely from not talking to anyone, but, I FELT AWESOME! Since then however, the ON button is always pushed, and the rest button must be broken. I agree with your assessment concerning the need to take our spiritual sabbatical to recharge; if only we would do that more often to stay refreshed.

  5. Dave Watermulder says:

    Jay!
    This was a fine, fine post. I could jus hear your voice (especially after re-connecting in Hong Kong), and I loved it. I really enjoyed reading about your sabbatical, and also your own thoughts on sabbatical taking in general. In your role as a leader, do you encourage sabbath-keeping, and sabbatical-taking among pastors? What does that look like in your situation?
    Soul Care is a theme that I think a lot of us are thinking about these days, and I think the church (in general) has a long way to go toward recovering a sense of how important that is for all of us. I’m on my porch on a Sunday afternoon writing this, and it’s a beautiful day. I will be off tomorrow and will make sure to stay away from my email, thanks to your helpful reminder 🙂

  6. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Jay,
    Thanks for sharing such a great sabbatical story. You work at break-neck speed and I’m thankful you are self-aware enough to have taken an amazing sabbatical. You also recognize you need better self-care. Your servant heart shines through in every blog. I would be curious how those who love you describe your work/life balance?

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