When a friend told me last time at this year that traditionally, year 7 is the hardest year for church plants/church planters, I thought "hmmmm" and filed that away for future reference. We had just celebrated our 6 year mark as a church and I was already beginning to see signs of what he was talking about- both within our community and within my own soul.
At 7, nothing is new anymore- and the energy that sustained you in your "newness" is scarce. People you thought might be with you forever, or at least for awhile longer begin to fade away in search of other things. Staff/leadership relationships begin to creak a bit with age.
And if you are a church planter, after 7 years, you are tired.
So many nights laying awake wondering where so-and-so went, if the marriage of your close friends is going to make it, if the faith someone you baptized who seemed so excited but now seems so not is going to make it... Week after week of set-up, admin, sermon prep, trying to coach, encourage or even cajole people into creating the kinds of ministries they are complaining to you about not having. Times when the tank is full and times when it is empty- but empty or full, you still have to pull something out of it for others.
I knew going in this great adventure of church planting would be hard- what I couldn't see was how hard it would on my own heart and soul. How even the good and best parts of ministry still take so much out of you. And especially how the hard parts take a toll- others second guessing your leadership decisions, complaining about things they could easily pitch in to change or create. Baptisms are wonderful, but just as often people say "I think I'm done with faith." Ministry is messy, and for most average, non-mega-church pastors, it's largely thankless.
Which is why I'm SO grateful for our elders and our community.
Last summer, we began talking about the possiblity of me taking a sabbatical after our 7 year mark. It's a pretty standard practice in ministry to allow a pastor some extended time off after 7 years, and truthfully, I think that over the last year our elders have seen me fraying at the edges and really running out of steam.
So, in mid-December it moved from discussion to instruction. They told me I needed to take some time away.
That was just what I needed to hear.
Since then, I've been able to sleep better, rest more... Just knowing that a break was coming has enabled me not only to navigate some hard leadership waters these last few months, but even begin to crawl back a bit from the edges of exhaustion. At this point, I'm not only ready for a break, but feel as though I may actually have the energy to enjoy it. Which again, I'm grateful for...
So, we've announced to our community that from May through July I'm going to be taking a break from the work of ministry. Our family will still be around- I'm looking forward to actually just attending our church and sitting with my wife and kids in our gathering. It's been, uh... never, since we've been able to do that- I've been working at churches our entire marriage. While I hope to take a break from the work part, I really want to remain present in some ways- that is, take a break from work, not from community. I also want to visit some other communities and see what else God is doing here in PDX.
My spiritual director is going to help me with those parts with some regular check-ins to make sure I'm not sneaking in any work- physically or mentally. As he says, "Sabbatical" comes from "Sabbath."
And so, to that end, some things I hope to do on my Sabbatical:
2. Break this writer's block
3. Enjoy and be enjoyable to my family
4. Eat, Pray, Love
5. We're going to Disneyland!
6. Week at Richmond Hill Abbey in Richmond VA
7. Road trip with Jack, my 7 year old son
8. Sleep some more.
And who knows... maybe some blogging too :)