I begin on February 1 a 5.5 month sabbatical, much of it to be spent in Wales. My posting this week is the letter I wrote to my church on January 29 as a farewell, an exhortation, and a thank you. Here it is:
I’m writing this at a flood tide of emotion. I am stunned almost to disbelief that, after this coming Sunday, I won’t see you until July, or even later, since my return falls smack-dab in the middle of holiday season. I have a sense my absence will be harder for me than for you. I am already feeling the symptoms of withdrawal.
Happy as I am, I’m also sad.
I have so much I want to say to you. I plead your patience and indulgence – this will be the longest of my letters to you so far.
First, before I wax poetic and become all mushy, a few house-keeping matters:
• I will go off-grid during my sabbatical: I will become as distant and as silent as the stars, but unlike the stars, invisible.
• I will not write to you during my sabbatical. My From the Desk of Pastor Mark will morph into a weekly e-letter by Pastor Shane, Pastor Rob, or Barry Lockwood, and perhaps others.
• I will post regular BLOGS during my sabbatical.
• You will be well-led during my absence. We have always had a team approach to leadership at New Life. Though I am Lead Pastor, in practice we approach decisions in a collaborative fashion. This won’t change in my absence, and the team that already leads well remains intact, minus me. We’ve compensated for that by adding Barry Lockwood as Director of Staff, to oversee the staff team during my sabbatical as well as other duties.
• You will be well-fed during my absence. We have a superb teaching team in Pastor Shane and Pastor Rob (plus some great guest speakers in the coming months), and you won’t be wanting for good preaching (thought it’s still up to you to apply it, and to dig into the word for yourself).
• I have a new book coming out in February called Your Church is Too Safe: Why Following Christ Turns the World Upside-Down. As with all my books, copies will be available through the church to New Lifer’s at a special discount price, and all proceeds will go to missions.
• Who pays for this? New Life’s Sabbatical Policy (available upon request) allows for a 3-6 month sabbatical leave for each full-time pastor every 7 years. The first 3 months are at full pay; any remaining months are at half pay. Annual vacation time on the year of the sabbatical can be combined with the sabbatical leave (as long as the time away does not exceed 6 months). Here’s how that applies to me: I am taking 3 months sabbatical leave at full pay, one month at half pay, and 6-weeks holiday time at full pay.
• What will I do? Cheryl, Nicola and I will be spending 4 months of the sabbatical in south Wales, near the city of Cardigan (well, 40 minutes from Cardigan, but it’s the closest centre). We are doing a house exchange with Stephen and Sulwen Evans. I will preach 4 times in Stephen’s church in Cardigan, Mount Zion Baptist. And Stephen will preach 3 times at New Life. My main activity during my sabbatical (besides a lot of walking) will be finishing my novel and beginning another book, likely based on the Against the gods series. I also plan to conduct an in-depth study of the history of the Welsh Revival and another study of the Old Testament Prophets. Cheryl will be working toward finishing her Masters Degree in Spiritual Formation through Carey Theological College. Nicola will finish her grade 11 year at Kelsey on-line. And we plan to travel a bit – around Wales, England, Scotland, perhaps Ireland, and, once our daughter Sarah joins us in early May, southern Europe.
Now this is what I really want to say:
~ I want to say I am thankful and humbled. Your gift to me and my family of this sabbatical is extraordinarily generous. I am grateful beyond words (but will manage a few anyhow). Your generosity allows me to step out of my daily and weekly routines and responsibilities for nearly 6 months in order to be renewed and recharged. Such a gift is as rare as it is valuable. All I can say, with all of my heart, is thank you.
~ I want to say how excited I am for you. I believe this will be a season of remarkable growth, numerically and spiritually, for New Life – and for you personally. I have felt over this past month a deep pang of regret that I will miss some of our church’s best days. I can’t wait to see the fruit and hear the stories when I’m back.
~ I want to wish you God’s best. I think I have consistently taught during my 16 years at New Life that to know Christ and serve his Kingdom in his power for his glory is the highest calling on earth. I pray you fall more in love with Christ, grow more into his likeness, and press deeper into his kingdom during these coming months. Please don’t miss that.
~ I want to affirm my total confidence in our leadership. God has raised up at New Life a remarkably committed, gifted and prayerful team of servant leaders. I believe that they will, not only lead with excellence and effectiveness, but will take New Life further than it’s ever gone before. I happily pass my mantle to them.
~ I want to say it’s your church. The health and growth of New Life is up to you. The Bible says that, though Christ is the head of the church and the source of its life, any church thrives only when each and all of its members choose to serve her with the same love and passion Jesus shows. Jesus is the head, but we are the body. You get to choose the body’s level of fitness. Please choose a high level.
~ I want to say I hope to finish my days with you. I believe a church needs a new pastor about every 7 years. The pastor gets tired, and tiring. The expensive way to get a new pastor, for both the pastor and congregation, is for the current one to leave and a new one to be sought, courted, called, and settled. The wise and much more affordable way is to provide for the current pastor to be renewed. That’s what you’ve chosen (again, thank you). I intend to come back rip-roaring and guns blazing, so you better get a little rest yourself.
~ I want to say I love you. I feel toward you what Paul felt toward the Philippian church:
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and…; all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:3-8).
I can’t say it any better, and so I echo this with all sincerity.
~ I want to say I will pray for you. Again, Paul’s prayer for the Philippians says it better than I can:
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God (Phil. 1:9-11).
~ I want to say, please pray for me and my family. We cherish the thought of you holding us up in prayer. We feel vulnerable stepping away for almost 6 months. The thought that you, along with hundreds of others, will weekly if not daily lift us in prayer is a consolation and encouragement of the highest rank and deepest order. I am awed by it. Thank you.
~ I want to say I will miss you. Enough said. See you in July.