Reflections from the Beginning of Sabbatical

This week has been unlike any other I’ve experienced in my years of pastoral ministry. It has been different, not necessarily because I am in Kenya (although that is an important difference), but because of the way being here has impacted my thinking and prayers.

Most of you who read this are aware of my situation, but for the few who are not, here is the biggest difference: my church family at Lansing First Southern Baptist Church has graciously afforded me the opportunity to take an eight-week sabbatical from work in the local church. Eight weeks away from my normal responsibilities to travel to Kenya to complete research for my doctoral thesis, to finish writing that thesis, to reconnect with my wife and son in an undSeat Beltistracted manner, to pursue spiritual refreshment, and to seek wisdom from pastoral mentors and peers. In short, these eight weeks will be radically different from anything I have yet experienced as a pastor.

Now that I have been in country long enough to shake off the effects of jet lag, I feel as if I can finally organize my thoughts enough to share with some of my thoughts and experiences to this point.

Air travel is the ultimate picture of living by faith. Starting off on a lighter note, may I remind you of how insane the concept of flying in an airplane really is? I paid hundreds of dollars to sit in an enormous metal tube powered by turbines that produce enough thrust to hurtle hundreds of souls through the air tens of thousands of feet above a frigid ocean, all the while trusting in the integrity and the skill of a couple of men I have never met and cannot see to deliver us safely to another continent. I have a brother who hates flying, claiming that he knows too much about physics to relax as he flies. After my flight from Washington DC to Zurich, Switzerland, I’m not sure a deep knowledge of physics is necessary to doubt the wisdom of international flight. Strapped loosely into the seat of our enormous Boeing 767, the beginning of our flight was mostly uneventful. However, as soon as we left the perceived security of the Canadian coastline and ventured out over north Atlantic waters, the fun began. I’m not one to enjoy roller coasters anyway, but I would wager good money that our experience rivaled the best of man-made thrill rides. We rocked, we rolled. We dipped and bumped. I’m pretty sure we pulled off a barrel roll at one point. Strong men wept and old women prayed. Atheists abandoned their convictions and cried out for mercy to a God they do not acknowledge. Four times the captain barked over the intercom for flight attendants to strap into their jump seats. I’m pretty sure I heard a co-pilot crying in the background on the last announcement. Finally, after about three hours, the turbulence subsided and we flew more comfortably for the last part of the journey.

Why share all this? Because I credit the extension of my life to your faithful prayers for safe travels. So whoever you are mighty prayer warriors, from the depths of my heart, I thank you.

[Editorial insert: Certain portions of the preceding description of the flight have been altered to make my journey sound more interesting than it really was. I will leave you to sort through which details are true and which can be attributed to overly indulging my creative writing flair.]

We are a blessed church family. I know I am supposed to say that, but I may be more keenly aware of that in the beginning of this absence than I normally am. I have said multiple times before, and I will continue to repeat to anyone who will listen, that I am continually humbled when I consider the people and the families that our Father has gathered together in our church. We have leaders, thinkers, prayers, singers, servants, planners, lovers, encouragers, givers, listeners, bringers, and go-ers. Many in our church do many of these things with grace, energy, and excellence. It’s a humbling thing to step away for a moment and see all the ways that the Holy Spirit carries out His work among our church. Let me illustrate how impressive our church is through this list of all the things I did NOT do this week:

  • I did not return any phone calls.
  • I barely checked me emails.
  • I haven’t followed up on any visitors from Sunday morning.
  • I haven’t met with any ministry leaders.
  • I haven’t done any exegesis for a sermon.
  • Haven’t searched for any sermon illustrations either.
  • I didn’t spend any time with my Life Group.
  • Definitely didn’t plan a study for that group.
  • I didn’t even think about what needed to be included in our worship for tomorrow.
  • I didn’t do a power point.
  • I didn’t give any input to the bulletin or the weekly email.

For the sake of space, I’ll cut off the list there. But here’s what you might notice, someone else in our church handled every one of those tasks, plus many more. If you are one of the many who are stepping up to cover these responsibilities and others, THANK YOU for your faithful, sacrificial service to the Lord’s church. If you know someone who is stepping up to cover gaps during this sabbatical, please thank them. We are a blessed bunch in Lansing, Let’s keep ourselves reminded of that.

You can take the pastor out of the church, but you can’t take the church out of the pastor. Lastly, I’ve joyfully disregarded the instructions I received from some. A couple of leaders who have blessed me in making this time away possible instructed me to do everything possible to completely disconnect from all ministry responsibilities while I am away. The problem is, I can’t do that. I’ll share more about my experience here in Kenya in my next post, but I’ve discovered something even in my first few days here. This church has gotten stuck in my head, and in my heart. Each new situation and conversation seems to bring you all to my mind in prayer. I find myself thinking, “Harland would get a kick out of this;” “This guy reminds me of Andy;” “Joe would love to see this;” “This would definitely make Sandy cry.” And each of these thoughts turns into a prayer of gratitude for our church. So if any of you have a few days free in the next couple weeks, grab a ticket to Nairobi. I’d love to introduce you around.

KBTC8

Baraka Hall at Kenya Baptist Theological College. This is where I spent most of my first week here in Kenya.

Prayer for Lansing First Southern today:
“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
Philippians 1:9-11

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