Why Sabbatical?

After ten years of working at the Tarleton BSM I’m taking a two month sabbatical this summer.  It has been on the calendar since November and I have to admit COVID is really jacking with some of my plans, but the summer is the best time to take it in campus ministry.  The more I’ve talked to people and planned out the summer I’ve gotten several questions as to what am I going to do for sabbatical.  The truth is, I don’t know the specifics, but I have some general plans.

Perhaps I need to define “sabbatical” before we go any further.  If you’re not in higher education or ministry sabbatical can be a weird concept.  In the Bible, God’s people would take a Sabbath (day of rest) every seven days.  Every seven years there was a Sabbatical year where the entire nation would take the year off (slaves set free, debts forgiven, let the land rest, etc).  It was a nation-wide reset button and a tremendous act of faith! Sabbatical comes from this concept of rest.  Google defines it as “a period of paid leave granted to a university teacher or other worker for study or travel, traditionally one year for every seven years worked.”  Essentially, it’s a focused time away to gain perspective, to study, and reflect.  Often times professors and pastors will take several months to go somewhere and research something or unplug in order to gain fresh legs and a fresh vision for the road ahead. I have four kids still at home, so taking two months off and going somewhere would be exceedingly cruel to my wife.  My hope is to sabbatical in a way where my wife doesn’t need a sabbatical after I get done!  So we are still negotiating the practicality of this whole thing.

So why do I need a sabbatical?

Even as I write that sentence I laugh.  At first I didn’t want one.  The idea of stepping out of campus ministry felt like a betrayal of my staff and my calling.  I think I’ve always subconsciously viewed rest as weakness.  It wasn’t until my wife, a few of my mentors, and my boss suggested it that I began to realize sabbatical was something I might need – something my family needs – but mostly something my soul needs.  I need a reset button.

I love my job!  I can really only think of maybe 30 days over that past 3,600 days of campus ministry where it felt like work – maybe a total of about a month of all 120 months where I hated my job.  That is a huge blessing!  Mark Twain said that there are two days in a man’s life that are most important: The day he is born and the day he finds out why.  I’ve gotten to live in the sweet spot where myhen my giftings, calling and passions align with my job description and vocation!  I am a blessed man!  So why take a break from it if it really isn’t that big of a burden?

Picture this: someone hands you a bottle of water and asks you to hold it out in front of you.  It’s not heavy; it’s just a bottle.  But imagine having to hold that bottle out in front of you – arm straight – for an hour? for an entire afternoon? for a couple days?  Even the strongest person’s arm would begin to shake with fatigue.

The joy of “holding” Tarleton BSM is not burdensome and it’s not heavy.  Anybody can do it! Believe me, countless others have done it before me and I stand on their shoulders and countless staff and students have come alongside of me to help these past years and I stand in their debt, but over the past several years fatigue has set in.  I need to set it down in order to rest my “shaky arm”.

In 2010, I walked into the Tarleton BSM and I was the only staff. I mowed the yard, I cleaned the building, I was the only one with a key.  If I was sick, BSM was closed.  If I took a week vacation the building was empty, but to be honest I was always on call.  We didn’t have any money so we didn’t have many options.  We didn’t have any committed student leaders yet, so everyone who showed up was a gift.  It was just me and the campus and it was beautifully simplistic.  Who do I minister to today? The answer was whoever I could find on campus!  No one was looking for me, I was always trying to connect with people.

We finished Spring 2020 with 8 full-time staff.  We have work on 4 campuses with a larger network of work on 15 campuses.  Our budget has grown by 400% and our church partners are spread across 10 different counties.  Believe me, it’s a miracle of God! I’m not bragging; I’m just trying to articulate how complex it is now.  Between the different committees, teams, and networks I am leading, I feel like someone is fighting for my attention every minute of every day. Going into most weeks I have just a handful hours that aren’t already planned and those are filled by Monday at noon.  It seems like someone else is planning out my life.

The past 10 years we have continued to add layer upon layer of complexity to our ministry and now our reach extends past Tarleton to campuses in several states as well.  We’ve been running fast and taking chances.  I’VE LOVED IT!!  But for 10 years, I’ve been shoving things in my mental and spiritual junk drawer saying, “one day, I need to pull this out, think about it, and write it down.”  I’m sure there are some great things in there.  I’m sure there is a TON of junk in there too.  I’m hoping there are some missing nuggets of wisdom that I’ve been looking for that I wasn’t sure where I put them.  My hope is to spend the summer pulling things out and taking inventory.  I need to organize my thoughts and file things away. To be honest, I’m really excited about this part… I think the fruit of this is going to be great!

So with all that said, I’m stepping out for a couple of months.  I look forward to seeing y’all in late July. God has been faithful these past 10 years.  I never dreamed that God would have invited me into all that he has done.  I feel like every season of my life has been better than the one before, so I’m excited about the next 10 years!

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