Reflections from My Recent Study Break

By July 8, 2017Church

All three of my regular readers probably noticed that my blog went dark during the month of June. Not that unusual, since I’m often in the dark on many days (and many topics).

For the rest of you who weren’t paying attention, let me explain why.

In 2014, when our elders approached me about assuming the senior pastor role at Mountainview, they asked me what I needed to be most effective. One of my first responses was to have extended time off to rest, reflect, and get prepared for the next season of life and ministry.

Well, that finally happened last month.

In the interim, we had a staff member return to being a college professor and did an extensive remodel of our facility. Once the remodel was finished, I set my sights on a study break.

What is a study break? Let me start by answering what a study is not (at least entirely).

It’s not simply a vacation. I incorporated vacation-like aspects into the study break, but it was more than that.

It’s also not a sabbatical. In academics and certain ministry settings, sabbaticals come along every seven years and are for extended periods of time (3-6 months or an entire year).

For me, the study break was a dedicated period of time to work on the church while not working in the church. I set a goal of not stepping one foot inside the church building during the study break. I violated that only two times. Once to attend an elders meeting at the very beginning of the break; the second time to borrow a vacuum 🙂

Other than that, I delegated all other responsibilities to our capable staff members. Three of our staff members covered the preaching and our director of ministries did her usual great job of running the ship. I never once worried about how things were going.

The main thrust of my reading focused on one general theme: the inner life of the Christian leader. The best gift a leader can give any organization is a healthy leader. After five-to-six challenging years of ministry, I knew I needed to press the reset button and get serious about my spiritual, emotional, and physical health.

I loaded up my Kindle app with the following books:

The two most impactful of those books were Life of the Beloved and The Emotionally Healthy Leader. I’ll have more to say about those in subsequent posts.

Here’s how I chose to breakdown the month:

  • Week one: stay at home with family.
  • Week two: personal retreat at a secluded cabin
  • Week three: serving at Opportunity Camp with our youngest daughter, Hope
  • Week four: vacation with just my wife, Tonya

Without having to prep for sermons or meetings, I was able to really dig into reading and prayer. After the second week, I felt more rested (really rested!) than I have in years. Even now, eight days after returning to work, I feel healthy.

The other important decision I made was to follow the Daniel Fast for the entire month of June. I found this to be a good challenge and well worth the effort. Over 30 days I lost 17 pounds but feel healthier, stronger, and more alert than before. The NutriBullet became my best friend while at the retreat cabins. I reacquainted myself with things like kale. Since ending the study break, I have stayed on a modified form of the Daniel Fast.

I believe the change in diet was an important part of being able to focus more clearly on the emotional and spiritual aspects of the study break. I’ve heard people talk about a “clean” diet and now believe it’s true. By not clogging myself with junk, my mind was able to do its job.

I also exercised much more than normal — which basically means I exercised! My wife and I went on walks and hikes together several times a week.

Final Thoughts

I know that not every pastor is in a position to take an extended study break like mine. That’s how I felt for many years, especially in the early days of ministry. But it’s worth the time and effort it takes to make it happen.

To be honest, some of my resistance to taking extended time off before was a result of pride. I didn’t want the church to suffer while I was gone (or maybe I was afraid it would do better!). The truth is, the church is a resilient community of people that can survive for two-to-four weeks without their pastor. Some items may not get done or done as well, but the value of having a rested and recharged leader is well worth it.

If you are a pastor of a small church or you don’t have capable staff to fill the pulpit in your absence, pray for a retired pastor to surface or make friends with a qualified associate at another church. If you are near a Christian college or seminary, you might find a willing professor who would love the opportunity to do a short series while you’re gone. Or find a pastor who would swap pulpits with you — with the understanding that each of you will do a series you have already preached at your own church (no prep!).

Even knowing the benefits, some pastors are reluctant to ask for extended time off for fear of being perceived as lazy or selfish. I get that. There remains church members who still believe that pastors only work on Sundays. Hopefully, not many of that tribe remains.

Ministry is different than other jobs and it requires a healthy leader. An unhealthy leader — although competent — will eventually do damage to someone (himself, his family, or the church).

Start a conversation with your leaders well ahead of when you’d like to take time off. Be open and honest about the grind of ministry. Share articles and resources with them. Be willing to make your case. Remind them that you alone are not the sole beneficiary.

And when we think of eternity, or even the next fifty or one hundred years, what is two-to-four weeks anyway?

Especially when it’s seen as an investment.

 


 

Daniel Fast Resources

Experience and Background

  • 25 years of senior leadership in a local church
  • adjunct instructor (public speaking)
  • presenter at the WFX National Conference
  • president, Church Planters of the Rockies
  • helped start 2 for-profit tech companies

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