In September of 1990 at my installation service at the beginning of my ministry at Grace, my father (a seminary professor and pastor) spoke, and in giving a charge, described the man that some have called “the perfect pastor:”
The perfect pastor preaches exactly fifteen minutes. He condemns sin, but never embarrasses anyone. He works from 8 a.m. until midnight and is also the church janitor. He makes $60 a week, wears good clothes, drives a new car, and gives $50 a week to the poor. He is 28 years old and has been preaching for 25 years, and is wonderfully gentle and handsome. He loves to work with teenagers and spends countless hours with senior citizens. He makes fifteen calls daily on church families, shut-ins and hospital patients, and he is always in the office when needed. That’s the perfect pastor.
I laughed when my Dad told the story, and I still chuckle when reading it.
But after having now experienced 17+ years of pastoral ministry, I understand more realistically the privileged demands of the task for one who will shepherd the flock of God. And those responsibilities have renewed in my heart a commitment to the encouraging words of Paul to his young pastor protégé, Timothy:
“Pay close attention to yourselves and to your teaching; persevere in these things [showing yourself an example, using your spiritual gift, working hard], for as you do this you will ensure salvation for both yourself and for those who hear you” (1 Tim. 4:16).
With these things in mind, I am exceedingly grateful for the kindness and extravagant grace bestowed on me by this church body in granting me a sabbatical for the next two months. I am thankful for Keith, who has graciously exhorted me to take this opportunity and has happily invited an increased workload to make it possible for me to step away. Likewise, the other elders have not only made this possible, but have established some benevolent ground rules that will facilitate my ability to really be away and study, even though I will still be at home in Granbury. And so many in the church body have offered encouraging words and promises to pray and been willing to take on additional tasks to make this possible. These are all manifestations of the work of God’s grace in our church body, and I thank you exceedingly for it.
Now you may be wondering, “just what does a pastor do when he goes on sabbatical?” I initially wondered the same thing — “what can I do to refresh myself in Christ and the work of the ministry so that I will be more effective in serving God in this flock when I return?”
My primary work will be to do what Paul exhorted Timothy to do: pay attention to my life and teaching — examine and build up my heart to be solely devoted to God and dig deeper in the Word of God so I will be a more capable and effective teacher and preacher of His truth. As I have reflected on that, here are some specific things I am planning on doing:
- Personal reading and edification: I have already awaiting me in several piles at home a number of books I want to read to encourage my own heart and stretch me spiritually in some areas that my heart needs transformation. And for that same reason, I also have a number of sermons that I want to listen to while I’m away.
- I have long been intrigued by the implications of the cross for my daily life. So I am going to pursue that theme by reading a couple new books about the atonement, and doing some additional study about the themes of the cross and how Christ and the New Testament writers viewed how we should live in light of Christ’s death.
- I intend to finish the NANC exam. I am excited about the beginning of the counseling ministry this fall, and my part in preparing myself for that is to complete this exam as the next step in the certification process (you’ll be hearing more from Keith about this ministry in the coming weeks).
- Several years ago, I began writing weekly devotionals for email, and now I am maintaining a blog site. I would like to write some new devotionals and perhaps collate some previously written devotionals into a thematic series.
- I want to begin preparation for my next sermon series.
- One of the fundamental tasks of the preacher is to pray (Acts 6:4); I have a couple plans in place that I want to implement to deepen my prayer life.
- I plan to visit a variety of other churches to hear other preaching and to see how others are doing ministry. So I will occasionally worship here at Grace, since our family will be remaining in Granbury during this sabbatical, but most Sundays I will be worshipping with other believers in other places.
- Have regular dates with Raye Jeanne and with Elizabeth and Emily.
- Purge my file cabinets of some unnecessary and unused clutter!
Knowing that these are some of the things that I desire to do, you can most minister to me during these two months by praying for these specific things for me:
- Pray for Keith, as he shoulders and increased workload and carries out tasks on a regular basis that he has only carried irregularly until now. By praying for Keith, you are also praying for this church body and encouraging and ministering to me.
- Pray that I will be disciplined with my time and affections and do the things that will make me more joyful in Christ and stimulate me to increasing genuine Christ-likeness — and that in all the things I do, I will “pay attention to myself” (genuinely and accurately engage in self-examination).
- Pray that I will do the best things, not just anything. And that the things I study will make me a more able teacher of God and His Word.
- Pray that the Lord will grant me eyes to see and understand His Word and to be transformed by it as I read and study.
- Pray that I will pray.
One more thing: this church is the ministry of Jesus Christ. It is His church. You are His people. These are His purposes being carried out here. So I can think of nothing better than upon my return at the beginning of April that we find that the church has grown in both affection and effectiveness for Christ. What will honor Christ the most is that there would have been numerous conversions in my absence. What will give you and me both the greatest joy is to see that not only has the ministry continued in my absence, but that it has flourished. Not only do I look forward to God’s work in my heart while I am away, but I anticipate what God will richly do within you while I am away.
[While I am on sabbatical, I will attempt to update this blog regularly (several times a week), interacting with Biblical passages and theological books I am reading, sermons I’m listening to, and general thoughts on what I’m learning and thinking about.]