Friday, June 09, 2006


In Alaska I had a boat that I was rebuilding. Everyone knows that a boat has to have a name. I could have named it in honor of my wife, but that would have been an insult. The same could be said for naming it for my kids. This boat was a MAJOR project. The church member that sold it to me was less than honest about its condition (but that would be another story). I named the boat Sabbatical. I would go work on Sabbatical when I needed to get away for a few hours. Sabbatical never got to the point where I could go there and rest.

Our Presbytery is encouraging every church to begin planning so that their pastor can go on sabbatical. Several pastors I know have received a grant that helped pay for the sabbatical. That’s great! I am happy for them.

I personally struggle with the idea of a pastoral sabbatical (please don’t shoot me!). Let me explain why.

First, no one else in the congregation gets a sabbatical. My wife doesn’t get a sabbatical. She is a CPA that is an audit manager for a huge accounting firm. For months at a time she works six and seven day a week. No sabbatical for her. The single mom trying to raise a couple of kids doesn’t get a sabbatical. She works from morning to night trying to balance family responsibility with one or two jobs. No sabbatical for her. Then there is the Boeing employee that works five days each week, plus working on Saturday, to help the company meet production deadlines. No sabbatical for him. The UPS worker at our church doesn’t get a sabbatical. The realtor at the church doesn’t get a sabbatical. No one in our church gets a sabbatical, while many of the people work as many hours as a pastor. Why should the pastor get “special” treatment? We already get study leave. The pastor could save study leave time to serve as a sabbatical.

Second, I study all of the time. The last thing that I need is more time to study. I study for sermons. I study for classes I teach. I study for this blog. I study for professional enrichment. I study. I study. I study. If anything, I need a break from studying! Pastors aren’t the only ones that study. Any professional that is going to keep current in their profession is going to have to study, and most of that study time will not be on the “company clock.” A true sabbatical is for study. I need a break from having to study.

Third, a two or three month sabbatical would mean that I either have to be away from my wife or else I have to stay home. My wife gets a lot of vacation, but not two or three months. If I have to stay at home I might as well keep working at the church! Imagine… I’m on sabbatical (staying at home) and a church member has a serious accident and eventually dies. What message does it send to the congregation if I don’t minister and care for that family?

Fourth, maybe we could change the name and call it a “time of rest and refreshment.” That would be great except for reason #1 above.

My objections could be summed up with the phrase “special treatment.” As pastors we already receive special treatment. My hours are flexible. I get lots of vacation. I get study leave. My housing allowance can be tax deductible if IRS guidelines are followed. I guess my thoughts are, “Why am I more special than others in the congregation?”

I do see reasons for some type of sabbatical or time of rest and refreshment for a pastor. My whole weekly schedule can change with a single phone call. There are those nights when I am called out due to a death in the church family. I have sat for hours on end at the hospital with someone who was not expected to live. I have stayed with a parishioner as his body was unplugged from “life support” (his family and close friends were in a special “family room” because they just couldn’t bear seeing him die). Most people can leave the job at the office. Not so for the pastor. A time of rest would be nice. But is it really workable for the pastor of a smaller congregation?

When it comes to a “sabbatical” or “time of rest and refreshment” I do not have any answers. This blog isn’t about answers—it is to make me, and hopefully you, think. If presented with an extended time off would I take it? Would I be a hypocrite if I did? I know that I could justify it in my own mind! But, does that make it right?

What are your thoughts on pastors having a sabbatical?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Need for Rest and Refreshment

I believe that most pastors and church leaders “burn the candle at both ends.” They have a passion for the church and Christ’s Kingdom. The “work” will not be done until Christ returns. There are sermons to write, classes to be taught, the elderly & shut-ins to be visited, hospitals calls to be made, grieving families to minister to, etc.

This year I will commit the almost unforgivable sin—I will not go to the Presbyterian Women’s luncheon as it is on my day off. The luncheon is always held at a restraint. One year it was a fifty-minute drive from my house (one way) and on my day off. Once, they had their dinner on a Thursday so as not to impact my day off. Not this year.

This brings up the topic of boundaries. Pastors need to be better at setting appropriate boundaries as it relates to their time. These boundaries need to be communicated to the church family. Most people will respect these boundaries. A few won’t! They will need to be dealt with in a loving and pastoral way.

I am ALWAYS available when there are serious emergencies. Even on my “day off.” On countless days off I have been at the hospital with someone having a health crisis. I have sat with families in grief in jeans and a grubby shirt as I hurriedly left the “day off” yard work.

If I chose to work on my day off, that’s my choice. I just need to be better is setting “day off” boundaries.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Calm Before the Storm

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) begins meeting next week! There will be lots of important topics to blog about during that meeting. With that in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to tackle a light-hearted topic for a few days. The topic… taking a day off.

What day do you take off? Why?

If you are a pastor, are you supposed to have one or two days off each week? Which day or days?

Be honest, how many of you worked on your last day off?

Why do you work on your day off?

What do you do for relaxation on your day off? Why?

Here are my answers:

Friday is my normal day off. During my seminary years a pastor spoke to our groups of Presbyterian-wanna-be pastors. He told us to NEVER take Monday off. He said that taking Monday off forces you to be a day behind when you get to work on Tuesday.

I am a pastor. I am supposed to have one, maybe two days off each week. Since starting a Saturday night worship service I end up working at least 6+ hours each Saturday.

I will be honest (even though I know at least two of the elders of my church follow the bog) and say that I worked almost five hours on my last “day off.” Most weeks I work two or three hours on my “day off.”

The amount that I work on my day off is directly related to whether the church has people in the hospital or if there has been a death in the church’s extended family. The past two years have been brutal in terms of deaths. In just the past few months I had a 21 consecutive day streak at being at the hospital. Our church is in a rural part of the county. There are numerous hospitals in Tacoma and Puyallup. A round trip to the hospital, plus visit time, can take 1.5 to 2.5 hours. Today I am breaking my streak of seven consecutive days of visiting a hospital! I worked last Friday and I will end up working some on this Friday. I do not see a break any time soon.

Sailing is my means of relaxation. No, I can’t afford a sailboat! I belong to a sailing club in Seattle that gives me access to about 25 boats ranging is size for 25’ to 42’. The cell phone is stowed down in the cabin (I wouldn’t want it to fall overboard!). The docking lines (there are no “ropes” on a boat) are stowed. The anticipation of the journey as you motor out of the marina. I love watching the sea lions as they sun themselves on the mid-channel buoy. The only schedule I have is to be back at the dock before the club closes for the day. In case you were wondering, everyone one board wears a PFD the whole trip (unless we are sailing in the British Virgin Islands or on our upcoming Tonga trip). I haven’t sailed much in the past year.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Epic Churches for Epic Times

E-P-I-C Final Remarks

The point of this series was to challenge myself, and anyone else who chose to read the blog, to look critically at our churches and see how we are reaching those who have a postmodern worldview. I love the church that I serve. We are continually looking to Christ to see where he is leading us to change or stay the same. In the past two years we had already started to incorporate many of the Sweet’s suggestions. God has been using our church and its ministries to transform many lives. But here’s the catch, we live in one of the most unchurched regions of the country. Thousands of people are moving into our area and most are not attending ANY church. This should concern every church in our area.

Should we move away from the written word? No. That isn’t what I have been saying (and neither is Sweet). We just need to be aware of how people learn. Using all of our senses helps with the learning process. Some people love and appreciate a sentence that is crafted by a skilled communicator. Others shy away from “words” due to their reading ability or for some other reason. There are others who are visual and to stimulate them visually will greatly aid their learning process. Other people learn by hearing, or doing, or by sitting and contemplating, or… or… or…

Do you see the picture? People are different. We learn and are inspired in different ways. Pastors and church leaders need to keep this in mind. A beautiful hymn can melt the heart, as can one of the just written worship songs. I am not a “good” reader. Never have been—probably never will. I still read. A friend of mine fits that same category. For him to read through the Bible would be a HUGE struggle. So what did he do? He bought a copy of the Bible on CD. He has gone through the whole Bible while driving to and from work. Yes, he still reads his Bible. People are different.

The former “mainline” churches have experienced catastrophic membership loses over the past three decades. This should concern everyone in those denominations. As a PCUSA pastor I am concerned! I see our denomination getting “older.” I see Evergreen getting older. I am getting older. Does that mean that we throw out everything from the past? Heavens no!

“Post-Modern Pilgrims,” by Leonard Sweet, challenges the church to think about what it is doing—to be intentional. The church needs to follow the Lord’s leading as it ministers year after year. THE TRUTH never changes! The way the truth is communicated needs to be adapted for each cultural setting. The church I serve will “look” slightly different than the church you are in (we are in different cultural settings). You may be in a church like Highland Park Presbyterian Church (Dallas, Texas) with rich traditional, liturgical worship services. Praise God! You may be in a church like Adventure of Faith Presbyterian Church (Port Orchard, Washington) where their contemporary worship services are reaching the unchurched masses on the Kitsap Peninsula. Praise God! We have to keep those with a postmodern worldview in mind as we plan and lead worship and the ministries of our churches. Christ does not desire that any should perish. We should have that same mindset. After all, we have been called to go unto all the world…

Note: My wife and I are in the midst of a move. We are about 90% out of our "old" house and about 50% into our "new" older house. I have not had the time to respond to all of your comments--for that I am sorry. We are hoping to have this move completed in a couple of weeks and then I will have more time to keep up on my responding to your comments. When faced with the choice of finding out why the washing machine and the dishwasher have no water or to keep up with all of my blogging, you know which wins out. One thing I have learned through all of this is the MOVING SUCKS! Thanks for reading my blog through all of this turmoil. All of your feedback is greatly appreciated!

Monday, June 05, 2006

Epic Churches for Epic Times

E-P-I-C Thoughts

Observer-participant worship does not give up critical methods but rather places them within a larger matrix of reality of which they are only a part. In the paradoxical harmony of objective and subjective truth, there is opened up an intimate-distance way of knowing that is characterized by partnership in knowledge, not mastery of knowledge, and in which freedom and relationship do not cancel each other out but interpenetrate and help to create each other.

While a worship methodology that is more Experiential, Participative, Imaged-based, and Corrected (sic) will likely be classified as postmodern, its whole life and being inheres in the biblical tradition. In fact, this is one area where the ‘postmodern’ takes us ‘back to the future.’ For Jesus truth was not propositions or the property of sentences. Rather, truth was what was revealed through our participation and interaction with him, others, and the world.”

-Leonard Sweet, “Post-Modern Pilgrims,” page 157.

A person raised with a postmodern worldview is looking for the same thing that a “builder” or “boomer” is looking for—they just don’t realize it. Participation and interaction with the risen Jesus is what the search is all about. Each generation searches for meaning in life—fulfillment. The challenge is that cultures morph and change. Learning styles shift over time. Populations shift. Scientific discoveries are pushing our knowledge base faster and faster. Yet, people are ultimately seeking the same thing generation after generation.

The challenge is that churches (and Christians) are resistant to change. As a pastor in the PCUSA I recognize the challenge before us. I recognize the challenge before me. But my heart breaks because the denomination of which I am a part seems unwilling to keep the essential beliefs of the faith while changing the ways that these great truths are communicated to new generations.

I just completed a sermons series called “Experience Jesus.” The series looked at several of the post-resurrection encounters of the disciples with Jesus. These encounters are what began the transformation process of the disciples. Jesus wants our hearts to “burn within us” like the two men on the way to Emmaus. Jesus wants us to know that he experienced a “bodily” resurrection—not just a spiritual resurrection. His inviting the disciples to put their hands in the nail holes and his eating fish with them would cement in their minds that the impossible had actually happened. Thomas experience Jesus and had his “doubts” challenged. The roots of Thomas’ doubts were his failure to be present on Easter morning and evening to experience the risen Jesus. He needed an experience with the risen Jesus to overcome his doubts. Peter had met the risen Lord but still needed a special encounter with Jesus. He needed to participate with Jesus in the building up of the Kingdom of God. Jesus forgave Peter and then gave him work to do (“feed my lambs,” “take care of my sheep” and “feed my sheep.” Jesus wanted Peter to participate with him in building up the New Testament church. And finally, Jesus gave all of the disciples the assignment of making disciples of all nations (ethnic groups). This would only be possible as the disciples participated and interacted with Jesus, through the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, in changing the world.

The PCUSA has done so wonderful things throughout its history. It has broken down the unbiblical barriers that held women and minorities down. It has provided health care around the world. We have helped people who have been traumatized by natural disasters. “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.” (Revelation 2:4 – NIV) We have forgotten that people need to have a personal interaction with the risen Jesus and participate with Jesus and his church in changing the world.

We “do” church instead of “living” Jesus. Study after study indicates that few, if any, worshippers in Presbyterian Churches “feel” as though they have had an “experience” with God or Jesus during worship. This causes me to weep. How many in my church would say the same thing? Do I really want to know? How can we expect to reach the postmodern person (who demands “experiences”) when we cannot even deliver experiences with God and Jesus during our worship services? We “do” church instead of “living” Jesus.

Tomorrow I will explore some of my thoughts on how we can shift from “doing” church to “living” Jesus.