This week I began a three-month sabbatical. In another sphere of life, you’d call it a Professional Development Leave. I’m calling it a Study Leave.
Whatever you call it, it’s happening because of the generous love, faithful service, and forward-thinking of the members of Covenant. This is a church-wide investment in my growth as a minister for the benefit of the whole church.1 And we’re excited to see what God is going to do during this time.
So what am I up to? While the lion’s share of my regular duties are being met by our elders and a guest minister, Pastor Kim Kuhfuss—all of whom I couldn’t be more happy about—I am spending focused time on growing in a three key areas: capability, character, and compassion.
One broad goal I have is to improve my ability to think and serve theologically in local church ministry. To do that, I am reading throught he works of Gregory the Theologian. I like to think of this as another pastoral internship. I chose Gregory because he is an interesting and important example of what I’m seeking to grow in. It helps that Gregory wasn’t afraid to share. “Arguably more than any other Father of the Church, Gregory draws attention to the way he thinks, the prayers he makes, the sufferings he endures, the illnesses he bears, the enemies he fights, and the causes he champions.” (Andrew Hofer, “The Stoning of Christ” in Re-Reading Gregory of Nazianzus: Essays on History, Theology, and Culture, 144-145.)
I am also working on learning more Greek with the help of my friend, David Noe, and his amazing Moss Method. Knowing Greek better will help me with my Gregory reading. It will also help me to be more like Gregory and other church fathers (and mothers), who are role models for their deep knowledge of the scriptures and intimacy with God.
As I grow in my abilities as a minister, I want to do so in a way that reinforces my core commitments and values. Pastoral skills, like apps on a computer, are useless without a solid internal operating system. This means that in addition to studying, I’m working on strengthening healthy habits and routines in my personal and family life. I’m talking about spending time with God in scripture-rich prayer and mediation, connecting with family and friends, staying on top of household tasks, and giving sleep, diet, and exercise their due.
Improving my workflow is a big part of this as well. I’m good at generating and drafting ideas, but want to improve my ability to store, retrieve, and share them.
By making some good things more automatic in my life, I can reduce stress, increase integrity, and expand my capacity to serve others.
Building my capabilities and character ultimately serve and flow from the most important area for growth: compassion, or more generally, love. If anything is developed in me during my sabbatical, my prayer is that it would be devotion to the Lord out of a growing faith in and hunger for his devotion to me. I want to grow closer with God and from the overflow, love others more.
Documentation: The temporary transfer of my work to the elders and Pastor Kuhfuss meant I had to document some things so that others could work while I was gone. This will benefit us in several ways even after I return.
Perspective: The study leave helps all of us at Covenant get outside of what’s normal. It gives us opportunities to see things in new ways, of which there can be many benefits.
Encouragement: One member described my study leave as a big hug from the church. It sure feels like that. And it’s very motivating.