As I write this article, I am in my third week back at Indiana Ministries following a three month sabbatical. I cannot thank the Indiana Ministries Board of Directors enough for having the wisdom to include provision for a sabbatical in the Indiana Ministries Employee Handbook. And I especially appreciate the 2014 Board telling me to plan a sabbatical for 2015. The past three months have been so rich and have given me renewed perspective and resolve.
Since returning, several people have asked me to share insights or takeaways. This article is an endeavor to do that. Part 1 focuses on the single greatest insight I gained during the sabbatical. I want to find a variety of ways to communicate this insight as it is something I think pastors, organizational leaders, board of directors, and congregations do not realize.
Stress and fatigue have a compounding affect on the leader of an organization (church, ministry or even a business). I love leading. It is something that I feel called to do by God and something that He has equipped me to do. I find leading fulfilling and satisfying. What I was oblivious to is how stress from leading builds up over an extended period of time, much like multiple coats of paint on a wall. The result is that 10 years of leading doesn’t equal 10 years of stress. Much like interest compounds on savings, stress compounds so that 10 years of leading may equal 15 years of stress. While taking vacation helps to dissipate stress, it doesn’t neutralize it.
Vacation also renews and refreshes one’s energy. But overtime the energy drain of leading exceeds the refreshment rate of vacation. As a result, one’s battery doesn’t fully recharge, and eventually it has trouble holding a charge for very long.
There are emotional, relational and spiritual aspects to leading. Stress and fatigue can negatively affect all three areas.
- Like everyone else, I have issues. Leadership has a knack of pushing my emotional buttons and bringing my issues to the surface. Compounding stress and fatigue make me ripe for self-sabotage. Sabbatical provides an opportunity for God to bring emotional issues to the surface so that we can talk about them.
- I fall pretty much in the middle of the introvert-extravert continuum. Generally, I recharge by being alone so that causes me to lean to the introvert side just a little. Most people probably don’t realize that because when I am around people my energy level goes up, and I join in. But afterwards I feel the energy drain. Ministry creates a lot of opportunities for relational overload. Sabbatical provides an occasion to escape the daily demands of leading so that one can develop a new comfort level in just being alone.
- I tend to be more aware of the emotional and relational aspects of leading than I am of the spiritual. But it is very real. When we embrace God’s call to lead, the enemy of our soul targets us. He resolutely stalks our relationship with God looking for opportunities to undermine it. He seeks to capitalize on the busyness of life to erode the quality of our time with God. Sabbatical provides for extended and unhurried time with God so that the connection can be deeper and stronger than it was before.
Because I love to lead and love what I am doing at Indiana Ministries, it wasn’t until week four or five that I discovered the compounding effect of stress and fatigue. Please hear that I wasn’t exhausted when I went on sabbatical. The Board insisted on the sabbatical because Indiana Ministries was making great progress, and they wanted to ensure that I remained fresh as the point leader. When I was one-third of the way through the sabbatical, I began to realize that I needed to shed layers of leadership stress and fatigue from the previous 35 years of ministry.
About five weeks into the sabbatical, I felt like the stress and fatigue that I had accumulated for years was evaporating from me. That doesn’t mean that I am stress and fatigue free now. Rather, as God and I spent time processing my life and ministry, I could feel His Spirit renewing and refreshing me from deep inside. If I had simply been on a two or three week vacation, much of the recharging I was experiencing would have been depleted by the first crisis or two that I would have addressed after returning to work. But since the sabbatical was 13 weeks, I was able to trade years of compounding stress and fatigue for an extended time of recharging. As I return to work, I’ve resolved to pay more attention to the buildup of stress and fatigue and endeavor to minimize it as much as possible through daily time with God and mini-sabbaticals.
This article is continued in Sabbatical Reflections Part 2 which will arrive in approximately two weeks.