I think the chief benefit of a sabbatical over a typical vacation is that it affords you time that is truly unstructured. Normally in a vacation, I find myself scrambling to catch up on long-delayed errands and then, after that, preparing for the return to work. And I admit I did a fair amount of the same during my sabbatical. But I also experienced days and weeks on end without an agenda, wonderful unscheduled time in which I found myself at last pulling back and really thinking meaningfully about life and ministry. For that, I am deeply grateful.
So here are a few things I learned, in no particular order:
(1) Christina and I visited a different church each Sunday. Let me tell you, visiting a new church is a daunting and lonely experience. You feel like an outsider intruding on a family reunion. The best experience Christina and I had is when we met a nice couple who genuinely took an interest in us and extended their friendship. It made us want to return to see them again.
(2) I read a lot of books during my sabbatical. The best, by far, was Washed and Waiting by Wes Hill. Wes Hill is a gay celibate Christian. I found his personal story deeply compelling, his writing easy to read and his theological vision of the Christian life (in which he is resolved, though he feels strong, unremitting same-sex attractions, to a life of chastity and holiness) profoundly beautiful. I commend it highly to everyone.
(3) I have come to discover a few simple maxims about summer vacations with the kids:
- Gifts shops are more engaging for my kids than the amusement parks which contain them.
- We made several long roadtrips and we discovered another child is vastly superior to the most expensive car toy.
- Kids grow up too slowly (I feel this most of the time) but there will be stabbing moments when it is too fast. Paradox.
(The photo above is of our trip to San Diego.)
(4) I truly love the rich community of our church. I love the friendships and just sharing life together. I’ve missed very greatly the weekly rhythm of seeing everyone. And I appreciate all the more the profound privilege of pastoring this congregation. I’m filled with gratitude and awe.
(5) Finally, as I think about the future of our church, I've come to this deep conviction. I want us to be a church where the gospel is not just a slogan or a mere intellectual idea, but a real, palpable, transforming power. The gospel changes lives, or it is no gospel at all. I'm committed to that more than ever.
So thank you everyone for extending me this break! I come back renewed and excited for ministry. See you all soon! --Pastor Michael