Randy Greenwald

Concerning Life as It Is Supposed to Be

Author: Randy (Page 2 of 136)

Theodicy and the Cross

Tuesday morning my wife and I read together these words:

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? (Psalm 13:1, 2)

In my experience, “How long” questions generally morph into “why” questions and when those who ask them don’t hear an answer from God they often ask their pastor. When asked I would love to answer with words that make the pain disappear. I listen and empathize as a fellow struggler.

That day that began with these questions ended with the terrible news of a friend’s tragic and sudden death.

Kevin Collins was a faithful minister of the Gospel, a servant who had given his life (that part not irretrievably captured by his love for the University of Tennessee!) to Christ and his church. As such he had loved and ministered to me and served and strengthened the church I pastor. His kindness was legendary and his pastoral heart irrepressible. I was shaken by this and was reminded how often death steals from us the things, the people, we love.

Why, God? How long shall our enemy be exalted over us?

Our souls cry out for explanations that satisfy our hearts. We want what theologians call a theodicy, a justification of the ways of God, an explanation of how evil can seem to still exert sway in a world purportedly governed by a loving God. We want a word to satisfy the ache in the heart caused by death.

God, however much we might plead, chooses not to answer all our questions. The scriptures do not exist to assuage our curiosity but to ensure our salvation. What we are told is that in the light of the cross, no matter how great the inexplicable evil around us, there are no grounds for questioning the love of God for us nor his devotion to our welfare. The God whose ways we so often question leaves us no question of his love for us.

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us…. (1 John 3:16)

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)

No matter what we face, we need to be once again stunned by the depth of the love of God in the cross.

“We learn from John [1John 3:16, 4:10], then, that although in this world our attention is constantly arrested by the problems of evil and pain, which seem to contradict God’s love, we will be wise not to allow it to be deflected from the cross, where God’s love has been publicly and visibly made manifest.” (John Stott, The Cross of Christ)

God’s love has been revealed to us in a dazzling and objective display of sacrifice. Will he who died for us not care for us in every other way?

We will still not understand the evil we experience. Life will continue to confuse us. Hard things will come. Questions will be asked. We will not get the answers we want. It is then we must look to the cross and know the unwavering love of God for us.

Senator Rubio’s Instructions on Prayer

On Monday Florida Senator Marco Rubio tweeted

For the senator this was a good political move. It will stir his base and none can argue a prayer for peace. Points all around.

And yet this vexes because it plays into a common misreading of the psalm to which it refers, a misreading which often poisons evangelical political thinking.

The Psalms of Ascent, of which Psalm 122 is one, were hymns of hope sung by Jewish pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem for one of Israel’s annual feasts. Jerusalem was their focus because it was where God’s house was.

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!” Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem! (1, 2)

Jerusalem fills the psalmist’s heart not as a piece of real estate or civic entity but as the place where God is. It was a place of worship and a place of justice. It was held in his heart as the place where things are as they are supposed to be.

Jerusalem— built as a city that is bound firmly together, to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the LORD. There thrones for judgment were set, the thrones of the house of David. (3-5)

This is the psalmist’s vision, but it is an idealized vision. He is aware of the city’s inability to effect all he longs for and so his hope is seated in Jerusalem as a symbol of what God will and can do when he dwells among his people, not in the city itself.

The failure of the physical Jerusalem moved Jesus to tears.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37)

Jesus did not weep for the city per se (cities don’t throw stones) but for the people the city represented. The city stood as the symbol of the people among whom God was determined to dwell, the people who bore his covenant promises. And so Jesus spoke of the destruction of the city (which came) and the consequent re-centering of those covenant promises in his church.

The psalmist is making a pilgrimage to a city which would fall under judgment and eventually be destroyed. But the hope his pilgrimage represented would not be touched. It would be relocated.

We all ache to be in that place where God is. The Jerusalem the psalmist longs for and is heading for and longs to be a part of is a society in which worship is unfettered, where judgment is rich with justice and mercy, and where God’s people are one. We long for the garden, for that deep impulse to be in naked fellowship with our God and with one another, and it is a longing that will be fulfilled. But it will be fulfilled by a city God brings from above, not one that is built on earth.

In the meantime, the hope and the prayers encouraged by this psalm are not for the protection of the residents and political stability of a city in Israel, appropriate though such prayers might be. The prayer this psalm encourages is for the peace of that people and that place where God’s worship is now centered, and where now God’s purposes of justice and unity are now worked out. To pray for the peace of Jerusalem is to pray for the stability, purity, and prosperity of the church.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that this is not what Sen. Rubio had in mind.

The Exact Book

A popular eatery in town has fun asking customers to identify their orders by  answers to questions and not by name. One’s order may be identified by The Beatles if the month’s question is “What is your favorite band” or by “Main Street” if the question is “On what street did you grow up?” This month’s question is, “With whom would you most like to have lunch?” Being there with my wife, I knew the correct answer on that occasion. I have a hunch, though, that most people populated their answers with the names of famous people. Fame and celebrity dictate our interests.

And our reading choices. And that can be a shame.

Faced with a choice of what to read recently, my choices narrowed to three: Ron Chernow’s biography, Grant, Neil Gaiman’s retelling of Norse mythology titled, not surprisingly, Norse Mythology, and Margie Haack’s memoir, The Exact Place. Chernow wrote the biography that inspired Lin Manuel Miranda to create the Broadway hit Hamilton. Gaiman is the masterful storyteller both dark and delightful behind movies as diverse as Coraline and Stardust. And if we ask “Who is Margie Haack,” Wikipedia has no idea. Some know her as one of the key persons, with her husband Denis, behind a ministry called Ransom Fellowship. If fame was the deciding factor in my choice, Haack would not be in the race.

To help my choice, I read the first ten pages of each.

Fame be damned.

The Exact Place winsomely tells Haack’s story of being raised by her mother and stepfather on a farm in a piece of rural northern Minnesota that should be Canada. The family’s house gave up no floor space for bathroom facilities (those being conveniently located in a separate building) but it was still small for a family of eight. The neighbors were memorable, some for their primness, some for their libertine tendencies, some for the terror they would bring. All the delights and hardship of such a life are lovingly told. Life, death, love, and bringing the horse into the house. Lack was normal, family ties were tight, and life was mostly okay.


There is an ache in these pages as she reveals her deep longing for the love of a father. She carefully unfolds this longing and weaves it through the story of her spiritual awakening, finding in God the love her heart was unable to find elsewhere. She lets her stories reveal this longing, its frustration and its satisfaction, without any tone of preachiness. Content with gentle nudges she helps us see the longing to be known and loved we all possess. I felt befriended and confided in, not lectured. There is power in that.

At times, fame is deserved. I’m now reading Grant and it is worth the praise it brings for Chernow. But lack of fame is not necessarily a reflection on quality. The Exact Place is s a wonderful book that was agented and rejected by thirty-five publishing houses before being given life by Kalos Press, a small independent publisher. I get that larger publishers must base their decisions on what will sell. They know that a book such as this by a relatively unknown, though profoundly gifted, author would not sell in the numbers they needed. And so they passed on giving it the kind of visibility they could give.

But this is our fault and not theirs. As readers we flock to the well known often over the well written. We prefer the Chernows and Gaimans and neglect the Haacks. And we are all the poorer for it.

🕰 Books Worthy of Your Time 🕰

I had occasion the other day to resurrect all the book reviews I’ve written and posted on this site. For ease of access I’m posting them all here and taking the opportunity to categorize them.

The first groups the books I have read or would be likely to read more than once. Being worth such time, I’ve awarded them four “clocks.” 🕰🕰🕰🕰

The second grouping, receiving three “clocks,” 🕰🕰🕰, is for those that I genuinely liked. They are quite worthy, but did not have the same impact on me as those in the first.

The third lists books for which I did not much care. 🕰🕰,

And the fourth are books which I would not encourage any to invest their time. 🕰

I don’t start to read books I’m not likely to like. So, for books to end up in the bottom two categories means that these were books that I entered hopefully and was subsequently greatly disappointed.

These are only the books I’ve taken the time to write about. I could populate each category with many more selections, as could you.

I’m interested in hearing from you, especially if you disagree with my rankings.

Cry, the Beloved Country

Knocking on Heaven’s Door

Moby Dick

Gilead and here

The Brothers K


The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

At Large and at Small

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War

The Jesus Storybook Bible

How Starbucks Saved My Life

The Elegance of the Hedgehog


Between the World and Me

Hillbilly Elegy

Strange Glory

Surviving Ministry

Being Mortal

The Name of the Wind

The Wright Brothers

George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father

In the Garden of Beasts

Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith

Just Do Something


The Bullpen Gospels

New Bible Commentary

Physics for Future Presidents

The History of the Ancient World


Mornings on Horseback

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

Crazy Love

Counterfeit Gods

The Color of Water


Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God

The Pastor

The Silence of Adam


Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy and here.

With Reverence and Awe

A Resilient Life

A Reader/Pastor/Preacher/(Writer?) Attends the FF&W

[For a spell I was away from my computer and easy access to the internet. Five thousand miles away, in fact. Hence, this post is a bit dated but I hope not wholly disposable.]

* * * * *

Off and on I ponder what God might want to do with my impulse to write.

That’s a lie, of course. I think about it all the time.

Writing is a large part of what I do as a pastor. But there are those who encourage me to push my writing to a larger platform. Such urgings stir something inside of me which I sometimes ignore. Other times, I feed them, as I did in April by attending the Festival of Faith and Writing, a biennial writers’ conference hosted by the Calvin College Center for Faith and Writing.

The attractiveness of this event is conveyed in this summary of the event’s history:

“Since our first gathering in 1990, we have been privileged to host hundreds of writers, including Maya Angelou, John Updike, Elie Wiesel, Marilynne Robinson, Zadie Smith, Miroslav Volf, Salman Rushdie, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, George Saunders, Christian Wiman, Jonathan Safran Foer, Tobias Wolff, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Mary Karr, Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Yancey, Anne Lamott, Ann Voskamp, and Michael Chabon.”

One need not have writerly aspirations to be drawn by such a lineup. My wife (who cannot understand why anyone would want to write) thoroughly enjoyed attending with me. She was moved by the presentations of Walter Wangerin, Jr. and Kate Bowler touching upon suffering and joy, and she was challenged by a number of panel discussions on racism and diversity in contemporary publishing and church life. Books create community among readers. To meet and interact with their authors enriches that experience of community.

We both were particularly engaged by Kate Bowler, a young professor of church history whose cancer diagnosis two years ago spawned her wonderful book Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I’ve Loved). She has not yet escaped this diagnosis. She is still on a journey that may result in her early death. Her affirmation of life, that it is both beautiful and awful, is necessary for us all to hear. “I am not special,” she pointed out, meaning that sadly many, many others are on her path. This was confirmed during the question and answer period as one person after another stood up to ask questions preceded by statements of context, “My brother/mother/wife/friend has cancer/is bedridden/is suffering….” Her voice is a hopeful one in this broken world, and her voice draws people into a community of hope.

As a pastor with a conservative bent, I found myself sailing an unfamiliar ocean of theological diversity. I suspect that some of the nearly 2000 people in attendance are moored in the same theological harbor as I. Others, though, clearly sail from different ports and some struck me as genuinely adrift. I am grateful for my rootedness in historic Christianity. I find security in the sound doctrine and clear definition given by the creeds of the church and I find no need to jettison any of that (even if I had the right or desire to do so). When people differ it is easy from a distance to pass judgment and to condemn. When, however, I meet these people, when I have coffee with them or engage them in conversation, they become people with real questions and concerns. I may still disagree with them, but I am moved to treat them with greater charity and to ponder how my well moored theology might bring answers to the questions and struggles that they raise. Though uncomfortable this is good.

All the while, the preacher in me was moved to preach. And this came from a surprising source. The church in which I serve does not ordain women to ministry and does not permit them to preach. Consequently I did not expect to have my flickering belief in the power of preaching so magnificently fanned into flame by a woman preacher. Fleming Rutledge, one of the first women ordained as a priest in the Episcopal church, is renowned as a preacher in many circles. (She has recently been widely praised for her book, The Crucifixion.) She spoke passionately on the power of the word of God preached. Her words challenged me to remember what I often forget. There is power in the word preached. The Holy Spirit of God carries that word forward to the hearts of His people. It is a great privilege as a preacher to stand in the pulpit every Sunday and participate, not in a show or display of oratorical or rhetorical prowess but in the work of God among his people. She moved me to want to preach fourteen weeks before I will be able to do so again.

As a reader, as a pastor, and as a preacher I benefited. But as a writer? Did attending confirm my impulse to write? One session, wonderfully titled “Publish or Parish?” featured a panel of men and women (including Lauren Winner) all who have found ways to balance pastoring a church with their writing . To this panel I posed the question, “Is writing a hobby or a calling?” Their unwavering answer was that if it were a hobby, they would have abandoned it long ago.

I’m not so sure. I’m still processing whether this is a part of my calling or just a notion that needs to be put to bed. If it is calling, the question becomes what will or should I do to serve that calling? The jury is still out on that.

Sabbatical Plans (or “I May Go Dark Again”)

“Had we not been awarded the Lilly grant,” I told the congregation at our congregational meeting last September, “the sabbatical would still have happened. But Barb and I would be renting a kayak to paddle up and down the Little Big Econ (an oxymoronically named river near the church, pictured in the heading to this blog) rather than taking a cruise on the Mediterranean.”

But we were awarded the grant. Kayaking the Econ may still be a good idea, but what the grant is allowing us to do is far more dream-atic, if I may coin a word.

The sabbatical will launch this Friday, April 6, with a party at the church for the congregation and all who have some relationship with the church or with me. A food truck will feed us, and a bounce house will swallow the children. Capping the evening, magician Marc Vergo will make the children disappear (or at least entertain them for 90 minutes) and the adults will enjoy a concert by the Jimmy Buffett tribute band, The Caribbean Chillers. We want to celebrate and have fun together, and that we will do.

The following week, my wife and I will first wander up to Michigan to attend the biennial Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids. On that Sunday we plan to worship in the building in which we were married which, since that day so many years ago has, ironically, been purchased by a congregation of our own denomination, before returning home.

A kayak

A few days later, we’ll fly to Rome to begin a ten day Mediterranean Cruise. My guess is that it will be more relaxing than a kayaking trip.

In June, seeking a time of renewal, I’ll spend a week at the Abbey of Gethsemani, a Trappist monastery in Kentucky. I plan to take minimal supplies beyond a Bible, a journal, and a heart to pray.

There are other plans in place for this time, much of which will be spent at our home in Oviedo. We will end the sabbatical celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary in a lodge in the Canadian Rockies in Banff, Alberta, Canada, a far cry from our honeymoon in the Smokies.

For the congregation we are publishing a book to guide the congregation through the same seasons of the sabbatical as I will be following. As well, a special lineup of speakers and programs are designed to enrich and bless the congregation. In addition to five of our church’s ruling elders, Jeff Brown, Nathan Ilderton, Jake Levee, Jon Boardman, and Mike Sacasas, three former staff members, B. J. Milgate, Rob Edenfield, and Josiah Katumu and former interim pastor Rod Whited will all preach for us.

One slot will be filled by Drew Dinardo, the father of one of our members. The remaining slots will be taken by Steve Brown, Bill Mills, Richard Pratt, Michael Allen, and Carl Ellis, Jr. This will be a rich three months of preaching.

As I have suggested elsewhere, I plan to hijack this space for occasional posts bringing reports and reflections during the sabbatical.

But, then again, I may not.

The primary goal of the sabbatical is to strip my life of the constant pressure of deadlines and responsibilities. If all I do is rest and reconnect with Jesus, then the time will have been a success.

But I do hope to check in here a time or two. Maybe.

“A joyful heart is good medicine.” – Proverbs 17:22

“If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.” – Jimmy Buffett

Sabbatical Funding

My sabbatical is being funded by drug money.

That’s only kind of true. The question is rightly raised, though, as to how a church can afford to give a pastor three months away while continuing to pay him. Some churches see sabbatical as so essential for the pastor’s and the church’s health that they budget a yearly amount to build a fund into which they can dip every 7-8 years.

For churches which have lacked such foresight, there are other ways.

In January of 2017 I sat down with my eager and gracious sabbatical committee, one ruling elder and two members of the congregation. We began to brainstorm what a sabbatical might look like. We began to dream. As well, we got down to the business of positioning ourselves to apply for the very generous Clergy Renewal Grant of the Lilly Endowment.

That sentence raises three questions.

What is the Lilly Endowment?

In 1876 Eli Lilly founded a pharmaceutical company which he named after himself. In 1937, three members of the Eli Lilly family with significant shares in the now very profitable company determined to do good with their wealth and started the Lilly Endowment, funded entirely with stock in the company. The endowment shares nothing with the pharmaceutical company other than the stock that funds it.

The founders of the endowment had a deep commitment to the importance of religion in people’s lives, and so the endowment has had a long history of funding religious initiatives, among them those which “nurture the excellent ministers who practice their faith every day.”

What is the Clergy Renewal Grant?

It’s this commitment to nurturing ministers that drives Lilly to offer yearly grants up to $50,000 to churches wishing to give their pastor a sabbatical. Up to $15,000 of the grant can be earmarked to pay the costs of his absence and to underwrite initiatives to enrich the congregation in the pastor’s absence. Our understanding is that Lilly distributes 45-60 of these grants each year.

What did we do to apply for the grant?

The grant application is a lengthy and detailed creature.We had to map out exactly how the time would be spent and the objectives we hoped to accomplish. We had to document details of my standing and of the church’s. We had to prepare detailed budgetary information, and we had to put it all in the right order.

More importantly, we had to think big. Lilly encourages pastors and churches to dream big, to consider the kinds of things that would bless us which would ordinarily not only be out of reach but beyond our imagination. And so we did dream big, and worked hard, and kept the congregation informed. The congregation approved the plan overwhelmingly in early April and we submitted the application at the deadline of April 21, 2017.

On Sunday, August 13, after my church’s worship service, I walked into my study accompanied by one of my elders. I glanced at the week’s mail which the church’s financial director prunes and puts on my desk each week. On top was a letter from the Lilly Foundation. With hesitation I opened it. The letter began, ‘It is a pleasure to inform you….’

I was dazed. My elder disappeared to find people to tell. People told people. I was afraid that word would get to my wife before I could tell her. I told her. I cried. The things we dreamed would become real.

Because of drug money? No. Because of Lilly’s generosity, because of God’s good favor, and because of a congregation’s love.

Sabbatical: A History

On August 1, 2006 I ordered Eugene Peterson’s book The Contemplative Pastor. Reading it was a balm to this pastor’s soul. Peterson rails against the idea that a pastor is called to ‘run’ a church. He believes that the adjective ‘busy’ modifying ‘pastor’ should grate against our ears with the dissonance of ‘adulterous’ attached to ‘husband.’ He invites pastors, who have been culturally set up to rise and fall with the numerical success of their congregations, to return to their calling to shepherd, to pray, and to preach.

In this book he told the story of his sabbatical. For a year, he and his wife disappeared to a cabin in the woods and emerged refreshed and energized.

“I returned with more energy than I can remember having since I was fifteen years old…. The experience of my maturity was now coupled with the energy of my youth…. The sabbatical had done its work.” (page 150)

At the point I read this book I had been in ministry and at the same church for a month shy of 21 years. Vacations had come and gone. The church had graciously given me study leave and the opportunity to attend occasional conferences. But I had never experienced the kind of rest and renewal Peterson spoke of.

And I was ready.

When I broached the subject with my elders, they were supportive. We began to develop a sabbatical policy that would apply not only to the pastor but in a modified but meaningful sense to ruling elders as well.

And then, sadly, dynamics in the church began to unravel. Stress points to which I was blind, or which I did not want to see, became fissures and the fissures became chasms. Sabbatical was put on hold and then in 2010 it became necessary for me to leave that church for another.

The church to which I came longed for stability and a building to call it’s own, hopes which God over the next few years granted. In June of 2016, I raised the subject with these elders that I had had to abandon in 2010. They were receptive and eventually adopted a policy governing sabbatical leave for pastors and elders. In October of that year I spoke of this for the first time to the congregation and recruited a committee to help in the planning of a pastoral sabbatical. The fruit of their work has already been felt and will be experienced in earnest on April 9 when my sabbatical begins.

And it was all set in motion by a book purchased nearly 12 years ago.

Why Sabbatical?

[These thoughts explaining the rationale for a sabbatical first appeared on Covenant Presbyterian Church’s sabbatical oriented blog, Covenant Pastoral Sabbatical. There are other good articles on that site related to this theme.]

Talk of my taking a sabbatical spawns the question (thought, though rarely spoken), “Why are we giving Randy a 13 week vacation?”

It’s a great question. ‘Sabbatical’ can easily look like ‘vacation.’ After all, I will stop coming to church. I will stop preaching, stop planning and moderating meetings, stop visiting the sick, stop mentoring or discipling others. I will stop doing my job, and that looks like a vacation.

But sabbatical is more than stopping. It is a period of intentional rest, renewal, and re-imagining.

As a time of rest the sabbatical most resembles a vacation. Rest for people in ministry is essential but hard to find. Jesus commanded his disciples to ‘come away and rest’ (Mark 6:31) because ministry depletes the minister. Ministry demands an intentional period of disengagement so that strength for the work can be renewed. The minister’s body needs rest and renewal, but so does his soul. Over time, though the pastor fights to retain his passion for Christ, the demands of ministry can deplete it. This leaves some ministering weakly on the fumes of their prior devotion. Churches end up with pastors merely going through the motions of ministry.

A sabbatical, as a part of a pastor’s regular routine of spiritual health, can renew the depth and vitality of his walk with Christ, restoring his ability to give needed spiritual care to his congregation.

Such intentional rest and renewal can also refresh a pastor’s vision. Men and women from all professions report that disengagement from their regular responsibilities allows them to imagine a future they might have been unable to see before. A properly planned sabbatical (and much planning is being given) can give a renewed enthusiasm for the vision God has for the church.

The sabbath year in the Old Testament law required that farmers let a field lie fallow for a season. Obedience to this was an act of faith by the farmer and an act of renewal for the field. During that year nutrients drained by prior use would be restored to the soil. Similarly, a pastoral sabbatical is a congregation’s act of faith, hoping for the restoration of their pastor’s depleted spiritual resources.

What Is a Sabbatical?

The story is told of a pastor who bought himself a nice, but modest houseboat and docked it on a small lake near his town. He named his boat ‘Sabbatical.’ This way when the urge to fish overwhelmed his sense of responsibility, his secretary could answer all calls by saying, “He can’t come to the phone. He’s on Sabbatical.”

And if that seems shady, to many so does the pastor who persuades his congregation to give him thirteen weeks away from his duties and responsibilities. But that is what I have done.

Sabbaticals are a common feature of academia. It is understood that professors are occasionally given time away from their teaching responsibilities to do research, to study, or to polish off their latest books. What is less well known that some of the most successful and innovative companies (as diverse as McDonalds and Apple according to a report published online by the University of Illinois, a report that no longer seems to be posted) have policies of giving members of their teams sabbaticals. These times have no particular goal or purpose beyond allowing their people to rest, to refresh, and to renew. Sabbaticals like this have been shown to be hedges against burnout and long range stimulation to engagement and creativity.

The idea of sabbatical is very much rooted in the biblical idea of sabbath.

Sabbatical for a pastor is a time for him (or her) to disengage from the regular duties of  ministry. For a time, preaching, visiting, planning, and putting out fires are laid aside that he might find rest and renewal. He is to let go of the control he once owned and to entrust the care of the church to God and to the leaders whom God has raised up. It is a time for him to rest physically and emotionally and to embrace the revelation that the church does not need him to prosper.

The length of time away varies from church to church. Three months is often recommended, but I’ve heard of durations as short as a few weeks to as long as a year. Depending on their stage in life, some pastors leave their towns and live elsewhere for a time. Some travel. Some garden, paint, read, learn an instrument, or rebuild engines. Some, I’m sure, buy houseboats and fish. All detach from the 24/7 nature of their calling so that when they return to that calling they can do so from a position of renewed vigor.

If the sabbatical is done well they return to churches who have learned something of themselves. Pastors are by no means superfluous to the prosperity of churches. But neither are they essential. And churches who learn that they have gifts sufficient to carry on genuine ministry on their own are churches ready to form a healthier bond with their pastor when he returns. In the end, this benefits all.

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