Saturday, February 02, 2013

The Gift of Time

            Being a pastor is not about making a lot of money. At least it shouldn’t be. My call is to love and serve the local church to which God called me. I’ve been privileged to serve four Covenant churches. Each one was unique and each one was blessed. Each one had saints and each one had curmudgeons.
            But the biggest gift two churches have given me was time. At Salem Covenant, New Brighton, MN, I stayed long enough to take advantage of a sabbatical leave. This was a fully paid three-month time off that was not counted as vacation. For a variety of reasons, we took a two month sabbatical in 2000 and returned so refreshed, the church granted me the freedom to “bank” two weeks of vacation from one year into the next, allowing me to be away from the church six weeks straight every other year.
            There are all sorts of advantages and disadvantages of being gone that long from a church. We found a way to go to France every other year for six weeks. Granted, we were empty nesters at that point in our lives, so child-care was not an issue we needed to face. But what happened to me was surprising. The first two weeks, were chaotic and tiring. I went to bed earliest and woke up latest. I did not realize how deep-tired I was. The third week was anxious, as I wrestled with guilt about being gone and boredom with big canvases of time without an agenda. By the fourth and fifth week I began to relax and read longer, pray longer and think and write freely. In week six I began to long to get back to being productive (preach, teach and lead) and I hatched sermon series, teaching series, and ministry ideas.
            In my current church, Montecito Covenant in Santa Barbara, they also granted me this “banking” schedule for vacations. But now, after serving here seven years, I am also facing a three-month sabbatical beginning in February. What amazes and blesses me is how enthusiastic church leaders and members are for me to get away. There is no resentment about being gone so long. No fear that the church will experience trouble or decline. Other staff members are stepping in to leadership during my absence in delightful and collaborative ways. So I’m getting ready to leave soon with a happy heart and not one worried or anxious.
            I am so grateful to a church that thinks proactively ahead about what makes for refreshment and vitality. My father, who was a long term Covenant pastor (Norbert Johnson), once told me that the greatest thing any church can give its staff members is time. Churches do not have large cash reserves to allocate as bonuses. But they do have time to give. Bless you Salem and Montecito Covenant for the gift of time!


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