Dear Church Family,
From the bottom of my heart, I want to express my gratitude to you for the opportunity to be away for a few weeks in late-May and early-June. For some time, I have had mixed feelings about sabbaticals: on the one hand, it seems unfair that countless men and women work hard and never receive multiple weeks off (not to mention the many men in ministry who labor decades without a sabbatical). And, yet, on the flip side, I know first-hand the constant tax vocational pastoral ministry enacts on a man. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians, “Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (2:7-8). While I may not be as bold as the Apostle Paul to compare my pastoral ministry to a mother caring for a newborn baby, I can say that after almost a dozen years of full-time vocational ministry, the burden of caring for people’s souls is great! Richard Baxter, the great 17th century English pastor, captures the weight of this ministry well: “We must labour to be acquainted, not only with the persons, but with the state of all our people, with their inclinations and conversations; what are the sins of which they are most in danger, and what duties they are most apt to neglect, and what temptations they are most liable to; for if we know not their temperament or disease, we are not likely to prove successful physicians [of the soul].” There is no doubt this ongoing burden drains even the best.
Beyond providing a chance for renewal, sabbaticals also allow a pastor to see things from a fresh perspective. I remember someone telling me years ago something to the effect of a fish does not know it is wet until he is out of the water. Serving in vocational pastoral ministry can have a way of blinding us to other ideas and perspectives. This is not to suggest that what Woolsey Baptist Church is doing is wrong. Yet, at the same time, it seems wise and prudent for leaders to “pop-up” and see the larger landscape. From where have we come? And to where are we going? What strategies are we using that the Lord is using? Which ones are we not employing that we could or should? Good leaders never live in a bubble nor do they see things from only one perspective. Let’s continue to be humble to learn from others, remembering we do not have all the answers!
With all this being said, I want to reiterate my appreciation to you, church family, for affording me this opportunity and give thanks to the Lord for entrusting me with this calling! Below is a snapshot of a few lessons I took away from the time:
Courageously Evangelize because the Gospel Transforms Lives—Time and time again during Paul’s ministry, we read about his prayers and witness. And what happens? Peoples lives are changed for eternity. Helena Matutano is one example of a changed life through the witness of missionaries. As some of you know, Christy and I were great friends with Reid and Kyra Karr during our time in seminary. Following graduation, the Karrs moved to Rome, Italy to serve with the International Mission Board. In God’s providence, the Lord called Kyra home early but her witness in Rome was not in vain. We had the joy of meeting one lady that she led to the Lord. What a beautiful picture of God using our prayers and witness to change lives!
Joyfully Embrace Differences because the Church Is Bigger than WBC—During our sabbatical, we visited four different churches, each with its own style and flavor. And yet, each church, with its unique flavor and style, testify to Paul’s admonition in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” May WBC be united by the gospel, not political affiliation, socioeconomic class, education level, or any other temporal unifier.
Make Friends because People Are Eternal—Proverbs 17:17 teaches, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” One of my most favorite parts of our trip to Italy was visiting an old friend. Do you have these types of people in your life? Guys or gals that you can not talk with for a year or two and pick up right where you left off last time? People you can be yourself around and not worry about what he or she will think? Most importantly, friends that love at all times whether that means putting an arm under you to pick you up or holding up a stop sign to warn you from going further into sin—these are the friends we need. Let’s start by being this type of friend to others and trust the Lord others like it into our lives.
Thank you, again, for the opportunity. May the Lord use these weeks to bear fruit in my life and the life of our church now and in the years to come!