Are ‘extended sabbaticals” pastoral examples of how to care for the soul?
Recently a few high profile Christian leaders have taken long sabbaticals from public ministry to give attention to the care of their souls. This is a luxury that most of us in and outside of ministry cannot afford but perhaps one which we all desire from time to time. However, most of us are caught up in the exigencies of daily life, family, ministry, community, etc. and depend upon the gospel to nurture our souls in the midst of the stresses and challenges of daily life.
If there is a pattern of sin in the lives of these men that disqualifies them from ministry, then I understand the extended sabbatical and would recommend that they get a job and learn to live the Christian life in the midst of the challenges of life outside of ministry.
If there is no disqualifying sin, then is this growing pattern of ‘extended sabbatical’ a pastoral example setting forth the way for everyday Christians to deal with their sin and failures in life? Or has elitism evolved in Christianity in which a privileged few need special treatment to address their superior spiritual needs?
I do not mean to be cynical. The men whom I have in mind are men from whom I have learned much and have been encouraged in my walk with the Lord and my pursuit of faithfulness in ministry. I have read their books, listened to their sermons, and have been encouraged by them to look to the sustaining power of the gospel. I have learned from their careful exegesis and exposition, but now am a bit confused by their pastoral example. Their approach to dealing with the issues of their lives is one that cannot be followed by many. Paul’s frequent admonitions to follow him as he follows Christ and his exhortations to Timothy to be an example leave me bewildered at the examples of ‘extended sabbaticals’ which cannot be followed by most.
I am a pastor who seeks to follow the Lord faithfully, as I believe these men do. Yet, I know that I follow the Lord imperfectly. I fail my wife and often need forgiveness. I perpetually fall short of being the husband I am called to be; yet I seek grace to pursue that. I fail in my relationships with people and often need forgiveness. I perpetually fall short of the ideal of what a pastor should be, yet I seek grace to pursue it. I know of no area of my life in which I can say I have arrived. But, I am on a journey of growing in grace and knowledge; a journey marked with imperfections; a journey always needing repentance and renewed faith in the gospel.
I cannot follow an example of ‘extended sabbatical.’ It is out of my reach. I need an example of transparency, humility, repentance, forgiveness, and renewed passion, but I need this example displayed in the midst of the challenges of life and ministry.
To my friends in ministry, if you have sinned in such a grievous way to disqualify you from ministry, then resign, repent, and seek restoration. I will love you and pray for you. On the other hand, if the challenges of life and ministry are revealing the imperfections of your character, then show me and those who follow you how the gospel works while facing the everyday challenges of life and ministry.