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My First Sabbatical: Why You Should Take One and How to Make the Most of It

Updated: Jul 9



Sabbatical Campsite outside Silverton Colorado

So, I have had the privilege of taking a Sabbatical after 5 years in collegiate ministry and 10 years of ministry in the county I serve. While I could say the reason is the length of service, the truth is the need for a Sabbatical comes from a desire to quench the early stages of burnout.


As I come to the tail end of my time and provide this brief report, I will share the structure of my Sabbatical, the questions that shaped soul searching for me and a few breif takeaways.


The Plan


I met with some seasoned BSM directors as I structured my time. I didn't follow all of the advice I was given and improvised quite a bit to my interest, but here was the essential strategy I adopted.


Timeline


 In the world of college ministry, I chose to take off from May 1st to July 8th. At the point I am writing this, July 8th, I will begin ministry planning, prepping, and training for the semester. This is a slow roll back, but there is already so much to do!


My Sabbatical Goals:


As I received advice from both mentors and some resources I will mention below, I concluded that I was structuring my Sabbatical around the following overall goals:


  1. Rest for my Body

  2. Rest for my Mind

  3. Rest for my Soul


While I will not disclose every personal goal of mine so as to not influence the goals God may be leading you (the reader) to, I will share how I outlined many of  my main goals around this strategy:


Goal 1: Rest for the Mind


  • Let God's Truth Expose/Replace the Enemy's Lies

    • Remove distractions (e.g., social media)

    • Self-Evaluate

  • Play, Cultivate, Learn


Goal 2: Rest for the Soul


  • Let the Word Dwell Richly

    • Memorize more Scripture

    • Make time in the Word deeply intentional

    • Restructure current posture of prayer


Goal 3: Rest for the Body


  • Enjoy intentional time with Family and Friends

    • Spend time with loved ones

    • Reconnect with friends and mentors

  • Get Healthy

    • Meet with a counselor

    • Rest, eat, sleep, fast

    • Get back to the Gym


To shape these goals, one of the greatest pieces of advice I was given was to ask myself a series of questions before I began:


  1. What question am I asking God? What do I hope to learn?

  2. What lies from the enemy have I been believing?

  3. What change do I hope to see? How do I hope to grow?

  4. What do I ask God to heal?

  5. What exciting things do I plan to take on? How can I play?


At the end of the Sabbatical, a series of follow-up questions would be equally important for me to consider:


  1. What lies was I believing when I started and how has God's truth spoken to those lies?

  2. How have I grown in the Lord?

  3. What are my action steps/takeaways?


My Sabbatical Structure


I was advised to break the Sabbatical into 2-week time slots, being generous with myself and showing grace if things were to change. Here’s how it went:


  • Week 1 & 2: Collegiate Conference + Vacation to Greece (Rest for the Mind)

  • Week 3 & 4: Rest & Recovery Weeks (Rest for the Body)

  • Week 5 & 6: Spiritual Pilgrimage to Colorado (Rest for the Soul)

  • Week 7 & 8: Rest & Family Focus (Rest for the Body)

  • Week 9 & 10: Personal Goals - Website & Ranger Development (Rest for the Mind)

  • Week 11 & 12: Work Prep, Planning, and Slow Reintegration



My Sabbatical Resources:


Before I started, I read this wonderfully simple book “Sabbaticals,” that was sent to me by Cody Shouse. His advice was pivotal in forming my goals and structure. My favorite other resource has been "Leading on Empty" by Wayne Cordeiro. These can be found and purchased through the links below along with some other resources I am still digging into:


  1. Sabbaticals: “How-To” Take a Break from Ministry before Ministry Breaks You https://amzn.to/3zzUOxg

  2. Leading on Empty: Refilling Your Tank and Renewing Your Passion https://amzn.to/4cvhUE1

  3. Leading with a Limp: Take Full Advantage of Your Most Powerful Weakness https://amzn.to/3LeW8r

  4. The Fuel and the Flame https://amzn.to/3zrvYj1

  5. The Emotionally Healthy Leader: How Transforming Your Inner Life Will Deeply Transform Your Church, Team and the World https://amzn.to/3XQdcMz


Reading "Leading on Empty" While Camping outside Silverton Colorado
Reading "Leading on Empty" While Camping outside Silverton Colorado


A Few Takeaways


Time is too short to tell you all the things that God taught me during this deeply needed and wonderful time. But I will share some brief takeaways from the center of my time:


  1. Digital Distractions Destroy Devotion (4 D’s): I had no idea how much distractions were destroying my joy in the Lord. The removal of all social media was a blessing. I found that the desire (often ministry influenced) of checking Facebook or Instagram led to a destructive level of distraction. I say this trying to NOT be the guy always on his phone! I was heartbroken to realize that before I get out of bed, that is honestly the first thing I would try to do. Where that has not been there, I find myself now praying before I remove myself to then go spend more time with God.

  2. A Spiritual Pilgrimage is a Great Thing: I have heard about legendary “walkabouts” in Australia. Retracing spiritual routes through an intentional walk (or drive) down memory lane is deeply moving. For more details, I will add more on this in my article soon to be posted “Spiritual Walkabout.”

  3. We Are Inspired by the Adventure: Going to the mountains or a desolate place to pray is something I took directly from Jesus’ example (Luke 4:42). For those like me who become accustomed to the comfort that comes with control, the fear, anxiety, vastness, and wonder of the wilderness is exactly what’s needed for my heart to be humbled. So many lessons were learned and years seemed to be shaved off as I prepared for this spiritual adventure.

  4. Questions are most Honest in the Quiet: For those in ministry, do you ever ask, “Do I actually want to be doing this right now?” “Do I believe what I am preaching?” “Who am I to God and how does He see me?” I found on this trip that after 10 years of blowing and going, self-evaluation has become remarkably hard. After listening to countless stories of those I come across professionally, I had lost a part of my own story. Good news, God is a God who delights in searching and knowing our hearts. (Psalm 139:23) I found that the quiet is the place where we allow that work to be done.


As I conclude this writing, I want to say personally to those of you thinking about, planning, or taking a Sabbatical: this time is what you make it. The promise of God is crystal clear, as His Word says, "Draw near to God and He WILL draw near to you" (James 4:8). This promise is the purpose. When the torrents of life sweep you in all directions, an intentional season of rest is often necessary to put this truth into order.


I am thankful to the pastors and churches who made this time possible for me, to Cody Shouse and Garry Stidham who influenced me, to Bobby Fletcher who safeguarded my time, to my mentor Kevin Tibboel who encouraged me, to Kevin Hively who kept ministry going in my stead, and to my wife Amanda, who blessed me beyond measure throughout this time.


Thank you for taking the time to read these thoughts, and I pray the promise of Jesus would become alive for you and me all the more in the days to come:


"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-29).


Blessings,


Austin Lambert



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1 Comment


This is incredibly helpful to someone (me) who is preparing to take his first sabbatical in over 35 years of ministry! I'm so grateful for the way that you have stewarded your sabbatical and shared these thoughts, experiences, and outcomes with us! It's a blessing to serve alongside you in associational ministry. It's also cool that you're my friend. 😎

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