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A Fruitful Sabbath Rest

By Steve Gregg

I’ve had several folks ask me about my sabbatical this summer, and to describe that time it’s simplest to break it down into three parts.

First, it was a time of deep gratitude and thankfulness.  Sabbaticals serve to give us as pastors time to reflect on our shepherding in a way that isn’t possible when you’re in the hectic pace of ministry; I know our pastors don’t take that for granted.  I continue to be grateful for the transition we enjoyed in April with commissioning Mike to be our next lead pastor. A successful, drama-free transition of lead pastors has been a goal, a focus of prayer and a desire of many of us for a number of years. It was deeply rewarding to go on sabbatical having seen just such a transition take place, and to witness God’s faithfulness on full display.

Second, it was a time of sustained reflection: This sabbatical not only marked the conclusion of my serving as lead pastor, it came as I approached 30 years of serving on staff at Creekside, and almost 40 years since I started attending as a college student.  As I reflected on the fruit seen over the years, I was struck anew that what we are doing as Christians is an awful lot like farming. There is skill and diligence involved in preparing the soil, in planting and tending, and yet growth and lasting fruit only comes from the work of God and the Holy Spirit. That is both encouraging (my efforts can make a lasting impact) and humbling (true lasting fruit comes by the grace of God, not me.)

Having time to stop and reflect also brought with it a time of grieving and lament. We know we live in a fallen world, but stopping to look back on 30 years of friends and colleagues lost, unresolved conflicts that will need to wait until heaven to see resolution, along with the pain and suffering experienced by so many in our church family over three decades, was at times overwhelming. The untold truth of sabbaticals is they often bring a period of heartache and self-doubt as pastors stop to really look around and deal with subjects long put away in a closet for later. It’s important to know that this time of grieving was just as beneficial for me as the times of encouragement because it led me back to Jesus who has walked with me through all of it. He knows where I failed and forgives me. He knows where I have been hurt and calls me to extend the same grace I have received. He reminded me that because of the Gospel, all these painful things are not losses or defeats, but birth pangs of what is to come (Romans 8).

Lastly, it was a time to refocus and look forward: The sabbatical let the truth sink in that the days behind me are more than the days ahead. As much as I wanted to see us enjoy a good pastoral transition, I realized also how much I want to finish well, whatever that might look like. Toward that I’ve started talking to friends and mentors about what finishing well looks like to get their perspectives. In addition to conversations about vocation and spiritual health, I have also decided to invest time with a counselor to talk through some of the things I have been reflecting on, as well as talk to my doctor about a plan for how to walk through my 60’s in better health. Closer to home, Kim and I are talking and thinking about what it looks like to finish well together. As much as I love the church, finishing well with Kim is my top priority.  

I am excited and encouraged in all these things, including this next season for our church family. I don’t know what fruit God will bring us, but I know it will be good. I know because I have seen it time and time again here in our church family over the past 30 years. There will be challenges, of course, there always have been. I have every confidence, however, that when another generation passes and looks back on these coming years, they’ll be encouraged as well.