Yesterday my congregation gave consent to my request for this rest, and today I am sharing the fact with the wider world.
How vulnerable should one be on social media? I will risk sharing because I feel the need to explain why I’ve asked for rest and how I hope to find it.
Over the past year I have been tracking the symptoms of ‘burnout’ in my life and ministry. That term isn’t necessarily helpful, so let me define it. I have felt more tired than usual week by week; it never seems there are enough hours in the week to complete my work; I find myself feeling low about things that have never caused me to feel discouraged before; my interest in reading has waned and I struggle to find desire to read good books that will nourish my soul; I find myself feeling stressed on Sunday mornings instead of looking forward to worship; and I constantly feel guilty for not working hard enough, even though I often work 70 hours in the week with rarely an evening at home.
WIth some concern I have tracked these feelings wondering if I am on track for burnout. I have read about men who have had a physical or emotional breakdown due to exhaustion and have even lost heart for ministry. I love my church, my people, my congregation. I don’t want to burnout on them. I don’t want to leave them. I don’t want to wake up one day and not be able to function as a pastor.
But I will honestly say that I felt guilty whenever someone suggested a sabbatical to me. Why should the church pay me to ‘not work’? Is any of this even biblical?
But as the sense of weakness has not left me for over a year, I began to look more closely, to ask more questions, to wonder whether sabbaticals were taken by the sort of pastor I look to with respect. I was surprised at the evidence I uncovered.
Elijah, a day after his greatest triumph, fled into the wilderness in seeming despair. God restored him to ministry, but not before providing him with 40 days rest while feeding him day by day. Moses was called up onto Mount Sinai for 40 days to be alone with the Lord and receive instruction for leading Israel in the wilderness. Jesus regularly called his disciples away for times of rest and prayer. Paul went on three very powerful missionary journeys, but it seems apparent that in between those times there were times of rest when he was being prepared for further ministry.
Amongst ministers of a later era, I reflected on the fact that Charles Spurgeon spent most winters of his later life resting in the South of France. His rest was a reality forced upon him by a body that was breaking down, but he did go and he did rest. John Piper, a man whose ministry I highly admire, and a man who cannot be faulted for lack of productivity, took an 8 month sabbatical with the distinct purpose of NOT working, but resting.
As I considered these things, I realized that even when I am on vacation I am often working. Over the past number of years I’ve used half my vacation time to serve in camp ministries; and on many of my other family vacations I find myself preaching at another church. Preaching 7 weeks of Sunday’s each year means that every 7 years I preach a year’s worth of Sundays. In my 17 years at Walsh I’ve preached over 2 years worth of Sundays. The time has come to rest and be restored.
Most denominations recommend a sabbatical period be granted every 6-7 years for a period of 3-4 months. Usually these periods are intended to be a time of study or honing new skills. As I communicated to my deacons, this sense of burnout will not be helped by a seminary course. I need to take off the harness and set it aside. I do want to read and write and reflect and pray, but not in a classroom setting, nor in a preparation to preach or teach material setting. I want to go outside and look at creation. ‘The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky above proclaims his handiwork’, so says the Psalmist in Psalm 19. I need to go drink in the glory of creation, to walk in the woods and gaze at the stars and reflect on the creator.
I want times of silence and solitude for reflection and thought. I want to read books for the sake of reading the book. I want to journal again, I gave that up a couple years back.
To that end, my congregation has graciously released me for the summer and I will be riding my bike across Canada. This will give me times of quiet, times of solitude, time to rest and think. Someone will say, ‘How can riding 7300 kms be considered resting?’ For a man who works with his body, this might sound like the opposite of rest, but for the man who works with him mind, physical exercise is an excellent source of rest.
This is not a vacation, it is a sabbatical. It has specific goals and purposes. It is intended to bring me back rested physically, mentally and spiritually.
I would covet your prayers as I prepare for this time and as my congregation prepares to function somewhat differently this summer. It is my hope that they will thrive in my absence, that they will find new strength and new delights. I know that they are in good hands under the preacher that has agreed to lead the services. I will need help to gather certain resources for my journey this summer. I hope to keep this trip simple - simplicity and ruggedness are good for me. So I plan to ‘wildcamp’ most of the way, sleeping on Crown Land which borders much of my route. I’ll also be stopping in to see friends along my route. I plan to rest on Sunday’s from cycling and attend a local church to worship and soak in the word. Most of the other days will see me riding for 5-6 hours which leaves ample time for reading, meditating upon God’s word, and writing… and resting.
I expect to have the cost of two flights, one at the beginning of my trip and one at the end. I’m also budgeting for a few hotels along the way to allow for a good shower and some time to do laundry. I expect to cover most of the cost on my own, but if you’d like to share in my expense, I would be grateful. I’ve set up a ‘Go-Fund-Me’ account figuring on $0.50 per km I hope to secure $3500 for the trip to cover flights and hotels. I’ll also share a ‘wish-list’ of supplies I still need to purchase.
Finally, I am grateful to my wife, my deacons, my congregation and my brothers in ministry who have enabled this journey. My wife and fellow pastors for encouraging me to see my need for rest; my deacons for stepping up to bear some added responsibility; and my congregation for graciously allowing the time to go. I will be praying for you and trust you will be praying for me too.