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Pastoral Leader's Blog

Upcoming Summer Sabbatical

Upcoming Summer Sabbatical
From Senior Pastor, Mike McDonald

Dear Grace Anglican Family,

I thank God that he has counted me faithful enough to entrust me with leadership of his people. June 4th will mark the 8th anniversary of my ordination as a priest. Serving God in this way brings me a deep sense of fulfillment and joy. I love ministry and I love our church. I also feel cared for and loved by our church. The leadership in place when I came onboard gave me a gift that is intended to care for my soul. For every year that I have served our church, I have accrued one week of paid sabbatical leave. With the vestry's blessing, I will be receiving a sabbatical this summer June 5th to August 21st. Our Associate Pastor, Dan Wolf, will serve as priest-in-charge, ensuring the seamless continuation of activities and ministries during my time away.

What is a Sabbatical and why is it needed?

The concept of sabbaticals goes all the way back to God's initial giving of the law and even to the story of creation in Genesis. God rested on the seventh day, then told his people to do the same. Rest is so important to God that he has listed it as the fourth commandment. Even the land of Israel was supposed to receive a rest from farming every seventh year (cf. Leviticus 25:4). Such a rest allowed the soil to recover to continue producing in future years. The idea of a pastoral sabbatical is similarly intended to increase the longevity of fruitfulness by an extended period of rest. A sabbatical provides rest from actively serving God's people so as to make room for listening to God and to oneself.

Ministry burnout is a real problem in my line of work. One of my seminary professors told our class that half of us would no longer be in vocational ministry within five years of graduation. What a disheartening statement, but he was basing that statement on real statistics. I am not suggesting that I'm on the verge of burnout, but I am daily aware of the weight of this office and the very real spiritual battle I wage. This is by far the longest I have served in one ministry and there is a buildup of fatigue that I have not known before. I want to burn long, not burn out. This means giving serious attention to appropriate rest and reflection. I long to read the Bible again for my own personal growth, without the constant temptation to mine it for sermon material. I intend to evaluate the patterns and habits that have developed in my family around ministry, both intentionally and not so. I want to sit with my family in church once again.

Some Possible Misconceptions About Sabbaticals

A sabbatical is different than a vacation. It is meant to serve as a hinge in my ministry. I am seeking God for new insights into his calling on my life both as a pastor and as a husband and dad. I am stepping back from the strokes of the canvas, so to speak, so that I can see the big picture. This is not a long sabbatical, and the time will go by quickly, so I am putting in place a specific plan for how to use the time. I will share with the church some reflections of my experience upon return. I hope some of you will be able to see the benefits in tangible ways.

This is also not a job transition but an intentional time with the Lord. I'm not looking for a new job or using the time to interview at other churches. I do not want to leave. I believe that God has a lot more for me to do at Grace Anglican Church. I have seen what great fruit lengthy pastorates can yield. I tell the Lord often that I intend to stay as long as he will let me. I resonate with Eugene Peterson's phrase, "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction."

The church will actually be strengthened by a summer without the Senior Pastor. As much as it makes me feel important to think I'm indispensible, it's just not true. I am excited to see others have an opportunity to share the yoke of leadership. Equipping others and empowering leadership are high values for me. This sabbatical will give our Associate Pastor, Dan Wolf, an opportunity to experience some new aspects of church leadership and grow as a priest. Dan will be supported by a strong staff and a faithful church body. The summer is already a naturally slower pace for ministry (with the exception of VBS, Soul in the City, and mission trips).

The Plan

On Sunday, June 5th, Dan will begin a new preaching series for the summer. As part of worship that day, the vestry and I will commission him to take authority to lead in my absence. We will be bringing in a few guest speakers to help with the preaching load, especially on the weekends when Dan is in class. Gus Richard is planning his summer schedule with my absence in mind so he can be available to help. We will also have a new deacon on the team next month. More information on that will be included in a separate announcement. Then, I will officially resume leadership on August 21st.

On the personal side, my time away will include several short trips, five weeks at a lake house in Georgia and some seminary work. I am enrolling in a masters program at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston. This degree focuses on preaching and is comprised of weeklong intensive classes in Boston over the next several years. I will take the first one or two classes in August.

Our current sermon series is about prioritizing our relationships, first with God then with each other. I am looking forward to this special time set aside with the Lord to deepen my relationship and grow closer to him. I want to thank you in advance for this gift. I ask that you pray that this time would be restorative and helpful. While I am away, the church will be on the forefront of my prayers. I pray that God will grow in each of us and strengthen the work and mission of Grace Anglican Church for a broader reach with the gospel. I would be glad to answer any questions you might have about my sabbatical. Feel free to respond via email or call the church office. If you want to know more about ministry sabbaticals, here is a link to a well-written article by Focus on the Family.

Yours in Christ,

Mike McDonald