Sabbatical: A Year Later


It’s been a year since my sabbatical. Last summer I had the privilege of taking three months off (June, July, and August). I blogged quite a bit about my sabbatical a year ago, but it’s probably worth reflecting on the experience a year later.

I’m going to use John Frame’s triperspectival approach to think about my sabbatical last year. Frame writes:

You can’t understand the situation fully [situational] until you know what Scripture says about it [normative] and until you understand your role in the situation [existential]. You can’t understand yourself fully [existential], apart from Scripture [normative] or apart from the situation that is your environment [situational]. And you don’t understand Scripture [normative] unless you can apply it situations [situational] and to yourself [existential]. (The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God

, p.34)

In other words, there are three ways of looking at this and every subject. All of them are related.

Normative (Knowledge of God)

The normative perspective focuses on God and what he’s revealed. Leading up to my sabbatical, our elders studied the biblical principle of sabbath. This is not an easy topic. Regardless of whether you think that the sabbath is an ongoing command, or a command that no longer applies to Christians, we agreed that sabbath is a gift that points to our limits, to our value, to God’s sufficiency, and to the ultimate rest that we find through Christ.

It’s my conviction that we really need to develop a theology of rest and sabbath. Our drivenness and busyness is a symptom of the fact that we don’t recognize our limits; that we don’t realize that God values us apart from what we do; and that we don’t find our sufficiency and rest in God. Books like The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath

, or the chapters on sabbath in The Doctrine of the Christian Life

, can be helpful here. We benefited from bringing in a seminary prof who guided our elders through the issue of sabbath and rest from Scripture.

Situational (Knowledge of the Situation)

The situational perspective focuses on how the normative perspective shows up as we look around us. Over the past year I’ve realized how many pastors are close to burnout. These are good pastors who have taken their ministries seriously. Most pastors get used to playing through the symptoms of burnout, which actually makes things worse. Often people around them realize they’re in trouble before they realize it themselves. They often feel guilty about this as well.

I don’t want to assign blame here. It’s not like churches want to burn out their pastors. The reality is that most people in the church have no idea that pastoring involves a set of unique stresses which take their toll over time. (Many people can’t understand how the pastorate could be stressful at all, actually.) The effect of these stresses are cumulative, and most pastors don’t realize this until it’s so late.

Regardless of the causes, this is a real problem. I’m glad more churches are seeing sabbaticals as a proactive way to allow their pastors to rest before they reach burnout.

Existential (Knowledge of Self)

The existential perspective focuses on one’s personal perspective or attitude. Here we get to how Scripture is applied in our situation to ourselves so that we are transformed.

My sabbatical transformed me in a few significant ways:

  • it forced me to rest and to examine how much I was trying to find meaning and fulfillment through ministry;
  • it also gave me the opportunity to identify some of my idols and how they were hurting my intimacy with God and my ministry;
  • it allowed me intensive time studying and reading and refreshing myself in God and his Word;
  • it reminded me (many times) of God’s faithfulness and care

Last September, when my sabbatical ended, I didn’t know whether the sabbatical had made any difference. By October I began to recognize that the sabbatical had changed me. In the months since then I’ve continued to experience the effects of the sabbatical. Ironically, the period of rest was more productive in the long run than if I had worked.

I’m glad to see others taking sabbaticals. There’s still room for a lot of growth in this area. I hope that more pastors take sabbaticals, and that these sabbaticals will lead to greater health and fruitfulness among our pastors and in our churches.

Sabbatical: A Year Later
Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada