Sabbatical Reflections

Seven Sabbatical Reflections

Pastor Wes Terry
September 24th, 2023

As I’ve been reflecting on these past several months and the way the Lord has used them in my life, my heart is overwhelmed with gratitude. I know there are many pastors who don’t receive a sabbatical much less one like you’ve given me. That has made this time all the more special to me and my family.

I didn’t really understand how badly I needed this time until I began to experience several important changes in my heart. I wanted to summarize seven of them for this update. This is a “sabbatical” update after all.

Renewed Joy and Contentment in the Lord

The first and most important change was a renewed joy and contentment in the Lord. One of my mentors told me that the sign of a good sabbatical is that you don’t care whether or not you come back. When I first heard that it was jarring and sounded awful. “Maybe I DON’T want to do this,” I thought to myself. From this vantage point, however, I can see what he means.

There’s something about pastoral ministry that fundamentally weaves your heart and soul to the local church in which you’re serving. I think it’s something God does in the heart of a pastor so that we can be a useful shepherd wherever he places us. But it also has a tendency to wrap your joy and contentment up with the “success” of your ministry.

It’s subtle and benign so long as the ministry is going well. But as soon as things get challenging or complicated, your soul begins to suffer. You begin to forget that your fundamental identity is not pastor or leader (or any other title). It’s child of God and follower of Jesus.I can honestly say whether the Lord leaves me at Broadview for another 2 decades or takes me to some other assignment that’s useful to his kingdom, my heart would find contentment because it’s at “home” in the Lord. It’s been the greatest gift of my sabbatical.

I’m not saying that I no longer want to be the pastor of Broadview. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. As C.S. Lewis said of marriage, “When you love God more than your earthly dearest then you’ll love your earthly dearest better than you do right now.” When your affections for Christ are rightly prioritized, everything else just falls in the place.

It was this mindset that enabled the apostle Paul to say, “In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret to being content…I am able to do ALL things through Him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13) This characterizes my mindset for whatever the future may hold.

Renewed Love for and Commitment to my Family

The second most important change from my sabbatical was a renewed love for and commitment to my family. I heard a message on leadership a few weeks ago that highlighted the importance of prioritizing the things that “only you” can do. It’s easy to get sidetracked and worn out by things that others are better suited to do and that ultimately take you away from your primary calling. This sabbatical has been a reminder of that truth in my home.

My calling to be a husband to Audra and father to my three children cannot be outsourced or neglected because I’ve been uniquely called to fulfill those roles. Nobody else can do it. Obviously, I would never intentionally outsource those responsibilities! But, the regular structure of my weekly schedule was beginning to communicate otherwise. This extended season of time with my family has reoriented my heart back to that essential calling.

Looking back over the past ten years as senior pastor, the job has just gotten more and more complicated. There are challenges pastors face that are unique to our time and our culture. I think it’s one of the reasons so many pastors are getting out of the ministry. I think I had let the complexity and demands of pastoral ministry drive me to a place of neglecting the things that were most important in my life.

As one pastor put it, “Everybody chooses to cheat something. You can cheat your job or you can cheat your family but somebody is going to get the short end of the stick.” My family had been getting the short end of the stick for far too long.

The saddest part, looking back, is that it wasn’t even necessary. I wasn’t doing what “only I could do” at home because I wasn’t focused on what “only I could do” for Broadview. Instead, I had filled my weekly schedule with things that felt like they were “urgent” but they were ultimately unimportant. Somebody else could’ve done them better and some things were better left undone.

That’s not to say there will never be seasons when the needs of the church take priority over my family. But that shouldn’t represent the “norm” because my first and most important ministry is to them.

It’s been fascinating to see what my house looks like between lunch and dinner. I’ve gotten a taste of what an evening meal feels like on the regular. Moving forward I’m going to restructure my schedule so that I’m present more often during the times that matter the most. It may require a change to my sleeping habits and weekly schedule but it’s worth whatever the cost.

Renewed Energy in my Physical Body (Clarity of Mind)

That leads me to the third big change in my life from the sabbatical which is a renewed energy in my physical body and renewed clarity in the thinking of my mind. Before the sabbatical my sleep habits were terrible and energy levels were shot. I had stopped working out and my body was keeping the score.

The stress of pastoral ministry combined with the unhealthy choices I was making with my lifestyle culminated with the doctor putting me on blood pressure medicine and telling me to get back in shape. That always stings a little when you first hear it, but I took it to heart (literally.) After we got done traveling and taking some vacation time, I committed myself to getting back in shape. Thankfully, I’ve been able to make good on that commitment.

I’ve been getting a workout in at least four times at week (if not more) and my energy levels have drastically improved. I actually feel like getting out of bed most mornings! With that change in energy also came a renewed clarity of mind. Before the sabbatical, I thought I had the “long covid” symptoms of brain fog or maybe even old age. But my mind feels much sharper and I’m remembering things that I used to forget.

I knew better than to let myself get to where I was. Thankfully, this sabbatical has given me the margin and the time to stop making excuses and get back to a healthier place. I want to sustain this lifestyle so I can keep up with my children and stay physically healthy for whatever ministry the Lord may bring in the future.

Renewed Commitment to my Calling as your Pastor.

The fourth and most essential contribution of this sabbatical has been a renewed commitment to my calling as the under-shepherd of Broadview Baptist Church. It might sound weird to say after what I wrote in my first reflection, but the Lord really has renewed my commitment to Broadview in particular.

I know there are some pastors that use their sabbatical as an opportunity to leave. That was not my desire going in nor my experience going through this season. The year prior to my sabbatical was difficult because the Lord did test my commitment to follow Him wherever he might lead. Going into this sabbatical, I was prayerful that the Lord would continue that work in my heart.

Not only has the Lord reconfirmed my calling to pastoral ministry, He has given me a fresh vision for and commitment to my assignment at Broadview Baptist Church. Points five, six and seven are all aspects of this basic change.

Renewed Passion for the Future of Broadview.

First, God has given me a fresh passion for our future. After 2020 came and went I lost my vision for the future. My perspective on leadership went from anticipating the future to surviving the present. That was necessary in that season but we’re not living in that world anymore. The changes brought about by that season have actually put us in a position to build for the future.

Before the sabbatical, our staff and strategic leadership team were in the middle of a process to ascertain a new vision for the future of our church. In God’s sovereign plan, that process got railroaded due to a series of unfortunate events outside of our control. I was frustrated. I wanted to go into this sabbatical with a plan in place so I could “disengage” from thinking about leadership for a while and come back to a plan that I could execute upon returning.

Instead, I went into this sabbatical with no plan in place and a mental wariness from the project having failed. As usual, though, the Lord knew what he was doing. There are things that happened during this sabbatical that needed to happen before the strategic planning process this fall.

The time I spent studying and meditating on the life of Abraham from Genesis 12 onward were uniquely used by God to shape my own thinking on how we navigate our future. The mental clarity and increased energy have enabled me to listen better, dream bigger and pray with more boldness than I did in the months leading up to this season. Finally, the changes that happened in our church throughout my absence will shape the nature of our conversations and the vision for our future.

I confident that the greatest days of our church lay ahead. Not only that, I’m eager and willing to do whatever it takes to lead us towards that destination. I think 75% of a leader’s job is to infect other people with passion and excitement around the vision. Senior pastors are the “chief cheerleaders” of the local church. Senior leaders create and sustain the energy so everybody else can be motivated by it. God has used this time to create that kind of spirit in me so I can share it with our strategic leaders and entire congregation.

Renewed Love for the People of Broadview.

In addition to this renewed passion for the future of Broadview, the Lord has also given me a renewed love for the people of Broadview. The old saying is true. “Distance makes the heart grow fonder.” The thing I missed most about Broadview wasn’t the preaching, or the leading or even the property insurance renewal process (haha). It was the people.

It’s not uncommon for me to hear people talk about Broadview. One of the things I hear most often - even from the people who are leaving our church for one reason or another - is how deeply they’ve been loved and impacted by our community. The church is not its music or it’s building or it’s leadership. The church is it’s people. And our people are so so special.

I don’t know when it happened or why but I had lost my perspective on that core truth. The demands of pastoral ministry had blinded me from the treasure of our Christian community. Throughout my sabbatical, I would visit these other churches and learn things from what they did well. But every Sunday I wasn’t at Broadview I missed the thing we do the best: love people well.

I’m not saying we’re perfect and certainly there are areas we need to improve. But, by and large, there’s a love and compassion present at Broadview that I didn’t experience as a “stranger” in these other places.

Don’t miss understand me. The reason I didn’t feel that love is exactly because I was a STRANGER. Were I a member of that community I’m sure I would’ve felt much different. But those churches were not my home. Home is where your heart is and Broadview is my home.

Renewed Burden for the Lost.

Finally this sabbatical has brought about a renewed burden for reaching lost people. I hate to admit it but there were two Sundays during the sabbatical where I didn’t even go to church. Well, I didn’t go “in person.” One of those days, I went out into the city to see what Sunday morning looks like for people who aren’t in church. It was an informative experience.

Pastors spend so much of their time in a church building and among church people that they can forget what “normal life” looks like for the vast majority of the rest of the world. This sabbatical has forced me to go to places I wouldn’t normally go and interact with people I wouldn’t normally interact with.

When Jesus would look out at a crowd - even a religious crowd who was trying to live up to the man-centered traditions of the Pharisees - he would look upon them with compassion. He saw them as sheep without a shepherd. I’ve been asking the Lord to renew that Christ-like spirit in me.

One of the books I read during the sabbatical was a book called “Street Smarts” by Greg Kokul. In it, he distinguishes between “gardening” evangelism and “harvesting” evangelism. Our culture used to be marked by “harvesting” evangelism because most Americans subscribed to a “Judeo-Christian” worldview even if they wen’t Christians. Billy Graham crusades and evangelism courses leveraged this dynamic with great success. But our culture has gone from Christian to post-Christian with no signs of reversing.

We must be equipped not only as harvesters but also as “gardeners.” If you remember the parable of Jesus, it was the “good soil” that received the Word and it took root so that it bore fruit. In the other soils it had a very different effect. I believe most Christians have been intimidated away from evangelism because they don’t see themselves as a ‘harvester.” The truth is, though, that everybody can be a gardener. Everybody can help prepare the soil in another person’s life to receive the Gospel with gladness when God moves upon their heart.

I’ve even begun to weave this gardening perspective into my daily conversations with people and my daily decisions on where I go and why. We cannot say we live a Spirit-filled life if we have no Christ-like burden for the lost. Moving forward it’s one of the lifestyle changes I’m hopeful to maintain.

Final Thoughts

There are so many other things I could say and lessons that I’ve learned from this season. I’ve done deep dives into subjects that are totally unrelated to pastoral ministry. I’ve explored the world of Artificial Intelligence, Austrian economics, monetary theory, American politics, gardening and raising chickens. It was interesting and refreshing but I’m so ready to get back to what I love the most.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how grateful I am for our staff other church leadership for stepping up while I’ve been gone. It’s been awesome to see our church continue to thrive under their watch. It’s been humbling and encouraging to realize just how replaceable I truly am.

I’ve been particularly encouraged by how well Taylor has done in preaching and in leading while I’ve been away. I’ve listened to every sermon and I’ve been blessed by his diligence and wisdom in preaching God’s Word. I’ve also heard from so many other people just how impressed they were as well. We’ve been very blessed to have him lead us during this time. I hope the Lord’s plan for Taylor enables us to continue to benefit for years to come.

My first day back in the pulpit will be October 22nd. But I’ll officially suspend the sabbatical on October 8th. October 10-12 Taylor and myself will attend a conference on equipping our church to pray. On October 15th my brother is being ordained as a deacon at FBC Roby so I’ll be participating in that. I will be at Broadview for the Sunday morning services, though. From there, I’ll hit the ground running and resume my full responsibilities.

That very next week our staff will finish our strategic planning process through StratOpps and then work with our Strategic Leadership Team to present something we can act on in 2024.

Once again I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I didn’t know how badly I needed this sabbatical until I actually began to benefit from it in all of these ways. If anything, I wish it would’ve been a little bit shorter so I could’ve come back to you sooner. Looking forward to what the Lord will do!

With Love,
Pastor Wes

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