Dear Missio Dei Church Family,
Last year, I asked the elders of our church for a sabbatical for the 2017 calendar year, and they graciously granted my request. So from August 13 through September 10 of this year, I will be on sabbatical. That means I will be disengaged from life and ministry of Missio Dei Church, and my regular work here at the church will be handled by others. Upfront I want to say thank you for this gift. I can say, with St. Paul, “you are all partakers of grace with me” (Philippians 1:7).
You may be wondering why now and curious as to why pastors get “extra time off” when other good hard working people do not. These are good questions so, I will do my best to address them and other questions here as well.
What is a sabbatical? A sabbatical is not a vacation. It is an intentional time away from the regular duties of pastoral work for deep-soul rest and spiritual renewal. It is not simply vacation, although it certainly involves rest. The word sabbatical is derived from the biblical word that means “to cease”. We are instructed to cease weekly and observe the Sabbath day keeping it holy. In the Old Testament there were other times of ceasing every seven years. In the same vein, being an effective pastor involves continued spiritual growth and therefore requires time to cease for rest and renewal. The cessation of pastoral ministry is intended to provide physical rest, spiritual renewal, and overall refreshment. You can consider a sabbatical as a church’s investment in a pastor’s renewal and longevity in ministry.
Why am I taking a sabbatical? This past spring marked eleven years of ministry with Missio Dei Church (one year of organizing and preparing for the launch of the church followed by ten years of public work and worship), and in that time the church has changed considerably. In many ways, though, I find myself paddling just as furiously as I did when we started the church.
One reason I welcome a sabbatical is that I am acutely aware of pastoral requirements. Unlike other vocations, my calling requires spiritual vitality. I cannot be a faithful pastor and remain busy. I must, as the apostles put it, “devote myself to prayer and the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4). This includes periods of silence and meditation, reflection and prayer, and biblical study—essentially hearing from God. While I have practiced this “on the fly” over the past ten years, and in yearly conferences, I feel the need to withdraw, evaluate, rest, and draw near to God to be refreshed and gain clear vision for the next ten years.
Additionally, working away steadily at the complex task of caring for eternal souls, addressing sin and suffering, maturing in the craft of preaching God’s Word, and growing as a leader to guide a church from the ground up requires an energy that is not purely physical or mental. While many vocations are demanding, pastoral work is spiritual war. Satan prowls like a lion, sends wolves after sheep, and deploys snares at every turn. I need a break from the war and long for time “back home.” I am looking forward to and needing extended periods of time alone with the Lord.
I have noticed over the past few years that my limits have been pushed with a number of different things: the change in denominations, funerals of friends, a major renovation and the subsequent move into our leased facility, a change in staffing, getting involved in the Chicago Metro Presbytery as the Shepherding Committee chairman, and a plethora of other church related things. So, on top of doing all the other things I love to do (preaching and discipleship), I wore myself thin to the point that I am nearly leading on empty. I want to be poured out for Christ, but not burned out.
One of the symptoms by which I can see how tired I’ve become is the gap I’ve been noticing between the words I’m preaching and the experiential sense in my own heart of Christ’s presence to strengthen me. The lifeblood of a preacher’s true effectiveness, long term, is his own integrity. You can’t give away what you do not possess.
Perhaps even more concerning, I’ve tried to close this gap through my own efforts, my own flesh, and my own ego. My deep pride has manifested itself in impatience, more often using the church to prop up my fragile sense of self worth, rather than resting in Christ alone for my identity.
What am I going to do during this month? Rest. I really don’t know how to rest. I too often live for the praise of man rather than the praise of God (John 12:43). I need to learn how to be still and sit quietly before Jesus. I need to learn how to live in my true identity as God’s beloved son, not just His servant.
I am also going to be spending time playing. Yes, playing. I am going to learn to have fun again - with my wife, with my kids, with friends, with God. When pastors are asked about fun, it’s not uncommon to hear, “I don’t know what would be fun for me.” Play is a form of re-creating (recreation) and healing your soul. I will be vacationing with my family in Colorado and Wisconsin, and taking a mancation to Michigan with a good friend.
Additionally I will be enjoying some intentional time away with just Laura. I want to delight in her by having plenty of date nights with her, caring for her, studying her, learning from her, laughing with her, enjoying her, and reflecting on our years of ministry together. I want to seize time to delight in her while the busyness that often cuts into our time together is temporarily relieved.
On top of the playing, I am going to mix in some personal reading that is not sermon related, but reading that will feed my soul. I am also committing to have times of reading God’s Word that are long and cover large portions of text. You see, when it comes to sermon preparation I usually spend most of my time “staring at the trees;” for this break I am going to allow “the forest” to feed my soul.
I am also going to have intentional times of silence and prayer for the sake of my own soul, asking God for guidance on a vision for our church for the next ten years, as I’ve just finished up my first ten as pastor.
What are my fears for this time? So much of my identity is rooted in my competency in my work. It’s hard to imagine where that confidence will come from when my work is out of my hands. I don’t know who I will be without my work – and I write that as a confession of sin.
Another fear, of course, is how my short time away will affect our church. In my pride, I wonder, will things fall apart? Will people be turned off by different pastors preaching while I am gone? Will giving go down? Will people just not be a part of Sunday morning worship? Though the church belongs and has always belonged to Jesus, in many ways it feels like my baby. And it’s hard to let go.
One fear I don’t have, in case you are wondering, is about my marriage or family. Our marriage is far from perfect, as we deeply committed to growing in our love for each other. But she too has long sensed that I need to slow down.
What are my hopes for this time? As difficult as it will be to lay down my idols of work, control, and professional competence, I am full of hope – for myself and for our community.
I truly believe this will be a sweet season for our community. I’m excited for our leaders and for our whole church to step into even greater levels of ownership – for each person to see how essential you are for our church’s true health. It is dangerous for any church to depend too much on any one preacher. It’s not healthy. For anyone.
I hope this will be a time for renewed commitment. I hope that more people at Missio Dei Church will say, “This is my community. This is my imperfect family. This is where I seek to serve Christ - with or without Paul Vroom.”
I pray that this season will be a wonderful reminder that when we gather, it’s not the preacher of the Word that matters, but the preaching of the Word (1 Corinthians 3:7); and that what matters even more is the quality of our love for one another (John 13:35).
Friends, there is only one person we need to hear from each week, only one we need to see, only one who is essential, and that is Jesus. Christ is and has always been the center. Jesus is the only person necessary for Missio Dei Church to flourish. And to the degree we lose sight of that, our work is in vain (Psalm 127:1).
I also hope that our community can grow in our ability to celebrate rest and embrace vulnerability. I pray that God will use this season to sing a new song at Missio Dei Church, to stir us to repent and lead our city – not with our competence, but with our weakness – that Christ might be exalted among us. It’s my dearest hope that people will say, “Paul, that time when you were away – that was the best time in our church’s life!”
It is my deepest privilege to be your pastor, and I will miss dearly standing before you and being with you on Sundays.
Please pray for me during this time, for my soul’s health, peace, and joy. Be assured that I will be praying for you as well.
Lastly, thank you for this great gift you are giving to me and to my family!
Together for the gospel,
August 13 - September 10
Will Pastor Paul be paid during this time?
Yes. The church will continue paying his salary and benefits.
No. The purpose of a Sabbatical is not for pastoral transition to another job, but for rest and renewal. Sabbaticals tend to make the relationships of pastor and congregation healthier, more sustainable and more fruitful.
Pastor Paul has arranged for five quality preachers who will take good care of the congregation’s spiritual well-being while he is away. Here is the line up:
During this time the congregation will have a sabbatical from Pastor Paul which will allow for members and staff to explore their gifts in new ways. Because of this, we ask that you not contact him for anything church related (this would include counseling, advice, scheduling, etc.), but instead contact one of the elders, deacons, or one of the appropriate ministry leaders.
If you would like to send him encouragement, we would encourage you to write him a note. His mailing address is:
8122 West Sauk Trail
Frankfort, IL 60423
First, you can be praying for him. Pray that he be refreshed spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Pray that he rediscovers the art of play and the joy in resting in Christ. You can pray that when he comes back he has a renewed sense of God’s specific desire for him as the pastor of Missio Dei Church.
Secondly, you can offer to occasionally care for their children so that Paul and Laura can reconnect before reengaging ministry again. If you are interested in doing that, please let Pastor Paul know by Friday, August 11.
Lastly, be the church. Look for ways to serve one another during this time. Step up to the plate and offer your services gladly and without prompting. Encourage one another. Continue sharing the gospel your life by inviting neighbors, friends and family members to be a part of our great family!
If you have any other questions, please feel free to contact either Elder Nathan Phillips or Jake Mudde.