”Come Aside . . . and Rest Awhile”: A Preacher’s Sabbatical

I’ve been thankful for the words of Jesus in Mark six for many years: “Then the apostles. gathered to Jesus and told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught. And He said to them, `Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.’ For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat” (Mark 6:30, 31, NKJV). That passage along with verses 45 and 46 are my encouragement for Sunday afternoon naps.

Since the spring of 1984, I’d been aware I’d like to have more than a Sunday afternoon nap and a week’s vacation. My elders and I began to discuss a three-month sabbatical in the spring of 1998, with the possibility of me being off in the summer of 2000. We continued to pray and plan. This was the most helpful gift I’ve been given in my forty years of preaching.

I had three meetings already scheduled for the summer: one in each month, and one speech at Freed-Hardeman University during their twenty-fifth Christian Training Series. The elders asked me not to accept any more speaking engagements.

The summer consisted of traveling with family, resting, and studying.

One of my personal growth experiences of the summer was a week in seclusion. I rented a rustic cabin at Natchez Trace State Park. Leaving home Friday afternoon, I didn’t turn on a radio, tape player, or TV until I returned the following Friday. After arising at 6:00 each morning, I walked a few miles and was reading and studying by 8:00 a.m. This continued until about 6:30 p.m. each day. Then, I took books to a bench beside the lake and read until it was too dark to read, watched the Big Dipper come out, went back to the cabin to read until 10:00 p.m. I arose the next morning and started again.

Some of the delightful opportunities during my extended time off were the congregations we visited. Do you ever get tired of hearing the same preacher Sunday after Sunday? If you do, you can visit. I’d been listening to the same preacher for thirty-nine years and I enjoyed the break. We worshiped and studied with twenty-nine different congregations.

The work at Berry’s Chapel continued in a great way during my absence. There were baptisms, restorations, people placing membership, and good attendance. Early in the summer, the congregation had the opportunity to buy a house and an acre of land adjoining our property. After a Family Meeting, the elders decided to take advantage of that. There was a one-Sunday contribution of more than $90,000.00 to pay on the property and the balance was paid during the year.

According to our plans, the elders and I stayed in touch by meeting once a month. We kept each other informed on how the congregation and our family were doing during the summer.

OBSERVATIONS ON THE SUMMER

The rest and break were valuable. I averaged eight hours of sleep per night for June, July, and August. Back and sciatic pains were nonexistent.

I enjoyed being unorganized during the summer.

I wouldn’t want to do what I did during summer continually. I’m more convinced I don’t want to retire but to change directions in a few years.

I like to be organized: to-do lists, time to get up, responsibilities.

I was able to study in general: reading, memory work, forty sermons started on my computer.

I looked forward to coming back. The time seemed just right.

I think I’ve experienced an alternative to burnout or moving, which is often from overload without seeing any way out. It’s my observation many preachers move because they see no other way for relief and renewal. It’s harder to preach for a congregation the longer a preacher stays. Old sermons are depleted. More activities and tasks are accepted. There is less time to do more. The break is a way to start over.

It’s my observation that often members go to another congregation for similar reasons. They’re active and take on more jobs. They don’t know how to resign or rest without guilt. The only way they know how to get relief is to relocate and start over. There’s an alternative—take a break.

Some things that helped the summer work well for me and for the church were:

  1. Planning. We talked for two years before the sabbatical. A general announcement was made to the congregation in January. The elders read a detailed letter at a Family Meeting in April with questions and answers following.
  2. Repeated communication about what I would and would not do. Some thought this was my time to find another congregation and I’d resign at the end of the summer or the church was ready to look for another preacher. The elders and I made a commitment that neither of us would even discuss the possibility of a change in our working relationship for two years. It was interesting I received two of the most attractive and challenging approaches in years to consider moving soon after we made this agreement.
  3. Consistent and quality preachers at Berry’s Chapel while I was gone. John Parker and Jim Bill Mclnteer delivered masterful sermons during the summer. The general comments I received on returning were, “We missed you, but we had a wonderful summer!”
  4. Good leadership in the congregation. Our elders, a fellow deacon, youth minister, and secretary handled some extra tasks and for them I’m grateful.

I enjoyed visiting other congregations and telling them of the love and generosity of the Berry’s Chapel congregation in giving me this time for rest and renewal. There was a pattern. As I introduced myself as a preacher, I’d be asked, “What are you doing here, vacation?”

I’d reply, “The elders and congregation gave me a three-month sabbatical—June, July, and August.”

Especially if I were talking to an elder, the next comment would be: “With pay?”.

To which I would respond, “Yes. In the Old Testament, the dirt got to rest once every seven years. I’m more valuable than dirt” (Leviticus 25:1–5).

At one of the congregations, an elder said, “We’ve been trying to get our preacher to take off for years and he won’t do it.” Most preachers thought it was a great gift, but some expressed apprehension they might lose their job while they were gone if they took off.

I’m working on this manuscript at the end of a week in seclusion—much like the one I had last summer. I preached Sunday, arrived at Fairfield Glade Sunday night, and have spent an intensive week in study. It’s thrilling to have five days of uninterrupted time to read, study, think, and put sermon ideas on the computer that had been in a cardboard box from one to twenty years. I hope to continue this in the future. This is not a “vacation.” I worked thirteen hours a day, only leaving the room once each day.

I appreciate my elders: Dennis Crowder, Ron Gambill, Dennis Makins, Mike Norwood, and the Berry’s Chapel congregation for permitting me to recharge, renew, and continue to prepare to work. I look forward to times of worship, my time at the church building, service opportunities, and elder’s meetings.

I believe our time apart helps keep us together.

These reflections were written a year after completing a three-month sabbatical during the summer of 2000.

Another blog post on my sabbatical: Trade Your Preacher for a Better One

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Jerrie Barber
Disciple of Jesus, husband, grandfather, preacher, barefoot runner, ventriloquist

4 Responses to “”Come Aside . . . and Rest Awhile”: A Preacher’s Sabbatical

  • Ron Vick
    1 month ago

    I think this is a great idea. Some people could really focus and accomplish a lot. Judging how I acted on vacations, I’m afraid that personally, I’d just be lazy for 3 months. 😊 I’d probably be better taking a short break and going back to having more structure.
    I’ve always said that the Christian race is a marathon and not a sprint. I’ve seen too many people burn out too quickly. This might just be the ticket for them.

  • EDGAR C. BEARD
    1 month ago

    I KNEW YOU HAD DONE THIS BUT IT WAS A GREAT JOY TO READ…WHAT A WONDERFUL THING FOR THE ELDERS TO DO..

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