What I Learned on Sabbatical: Lesson 1

I founded and pastored Emmaus Church for 9 years. During that time, I learned a ton. Yet, ironically, some of the most important lessons I learned in that pastorate were learned during a six month period of actively not pastoring. The elders of the church graciously gave me a six-month sabbatical when it had become clear that my mind, soul, and body had reached a point of burnout. Since not everyone has the privilege of taking an extended leave from their work, I’ve decided to share the lessons I learned in a new blog series “What I Learned On Sabbatical” in hopes that others might benefit. The other lessons will be linked below as they are posted.

Lesson 1: Rest is Necessary for Self-Awareness

During my pastorate, I fancied myself a rather self-aware individual. I lived with confidence that I was acutely aware of my strengths, my weaknesses, my sins, my temptations, and was well-equipped to deal with them. As such, I had little patience for people who appeared to be less self-aware or less active in embracing their strengths and fighting against their temptations. What I didn’t realize, until recently, was that I was wrong. The truth is, I was far too busy “being a pastor” to adequately and accurately self-evaluate

I’m sure this is true of many professions, but I know from experience that this is true of pastors: if you do not intentionally schedule time to mentally rest from your work, you will never mentally rest from your work. There is always a sermon that needs to be prepared, a text that needs to be studied, a leader who needs to be developed, a mourner who needs to be comforted, a sinner who needs to be rebuked, a believer who needs to be encouraged, a prodigal who needs to be pursued. Even when I was not actively doing one of these things, I was thinking about how I was going to go about doing it. Thus, the physical rest I allowed myself was not enough. I needed to allow myself mental rest from the tasks I was so focused on.

@@If you don't schedule time to mentally rest from your work, you won't mentally rest from your work@@

From the beginning of my morning to the end of my night, my thoughts were solely on the next task that needed to be completed, either for my church or for my family. This meant I never made the time to reflect on how I performed the prior task, or how I felt about the preceding day’s events, nor time to reflect on why I did what I did, why I responded as I responded, what I wanted from various relationships or even from myself. This all amounted to an absolute shock to my system when I woke up on the first morning of my sabbatical and had no work to do and no people I believed I had to rescue.

I was alone with myself.

And it was frightening.

For every moment I was not focusing on someone else’s heart I was finally focusing on my own. And I was not expecting to see what I saw. Much of what God revealed will be shared in future posts in this series. For now, it is sufficient to say that I had a very incomplete and inaccurate view of myself prior to taking time to rest and to slowly and intentionally self-evaluate. The costs of such an incomplete and inaccurate view are very high. It is impossibly difficult to repent of sin you do not know you are committing, to fight against temptation you do not know is drawing you, to forgive people you do not realize have hurt you, and to pray for things you do not realize you want.

I do not ever want to be unaware of such things again. This doesn’t mean I cannot be self-aware unless I take another sabbatical. It means I must say “no” to work and “yes” to rest at specific times during my workweek in order to know where my heart is. To that end, Lesson 2 will be very helpful for me and perhaps for you.

Question for Reflection: What can you do to ensure you make time to adequately and accurately self-evaluate?  

lesson 1   lesson 2   lesson 3   lesson 4

Cole Brown is a Humble Beast author and speaker. He is the founding pastor of Emmaus Church, a multi-ethnic church in Portland, and now serves as a missionary helping plant churches in Mexico City, Mexico. Connect with him on twitter or facebook