Thoughts on the First Day of Sabbatical

by Ben Sternke on December 2, 2012

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Today is also the first full day of a three-month sabbatical Deb and I are taking with our kids in Pawleys Island, South Carolina. We didn’t really plan it this way, but it seems liturgically appropriate that we are starting our sabbatical on the first Sunday of Advent and will continue it through Christmas and Epiphany. The Cycle of Light aligning with a season of rest and revelation.

(These three posts tell the story of how we got here and why we are taking a sabbatical at this time.)

Here are a few thoughts I’ve had as I anticipate the upcoming season.

Pruned if you do, pruned if you don’t

Jesus once compared his relationship to his disciples as that of a vine to its branches. Every branch that bears no fruit is cut off, while every branch that does bear fruit is pruned so that it will be even more fruitful. From a practical standpoint, there doesn’t seem to be any difference between being “cut off” and being “pruned,” so when it comes to bearing fruit in the kingdom of God, it’s “pruned if you do, pruned if you don’t.”

Pruning always seems to hurt, because there’s always a “cutting” involved. By definition, a season of pruning is a season of not bearing fruit, and it never feels quite natural to me. It has been disorienting to see my task list dwindling over the past few weeks as we approached sabbatical, with not much planned for the next three months. It’s a discipline of trust to embrace seasons of pruning. In some ways, it has been difficult to let go of something we started that has borne fruit, to entrust to God those we’ve been investing in.

Delight yourself in the Lord

One of the things I have been looking forward to on sabbatical is taking more time to simply delight in the Lord. In the day-in / day-out rhythm of ministry, it’s easy to allow our sense of wonder and delight in God to get dulled. I am looking forward to re-kindling this.

You have to die to make a disciple

I’ve written before about the death a leader dies in the first two phases of discipling others. There is a third phase that’s fun, as those who are investing in are growing in their competence and you’re working together as a team. But this sabbatical represents a fourth phase, where many of the people we’ve been investing in are starting new leadership roles, starting Missional Communities, etc.

It’s all really exciting, but there is another death involved here. For people to really “grow up” we need to get out of the way, so to speak. We release them to their new roles and take a more hands-off position, cheering them on and praying for them from a “distance.” We understand now how easy it is for leaders and followers to avoid the fourth phase because we’re feeling the death of this phase.

At the same time, we are so excited for them to be stepping into new roles of leadership, investing in others as they’ve been invested in. It’s the fruit of making disciples who make disciples, and even though the death of it is a little painful, we wouldn’t have it any other way – this is how we’ll be spending the rest of our lives, no matter what kind of vocational situation we are in.


Hey Ben, We haven't met yet. I'm planning on being a part of the new LC in Raleigh, NC starting in March. Maybe we'll get to connect then/there. Been following your blog for a while now. Really appreciate what you share. Excited to hear you are getting a Sabbatical. My church community gave me the gift of my first Sabbatical this summer after 20 years in ministry. I was reflecting on that time recently and had a couple of thoughts that might be helpful to you: 1. The time (8 weeks) went FAST. As I planned for it, I could barely imagine what I would do with two whole months to rest, learn and listen to God. Looking back- it was a blur. The next time I take a Sabbatical, I'll schedule less. 2. I felt a nagging tug to be productive. Even though I defined productivity for that season as listening to God for what was next for me, my family and my community- there was often an unsettling voice that said I had better hear something good/important to justify the time away. No one in my church community told me this. Probably bubbled up from within me. Or maybe it was the enemy. Either way, it was palpable some days and I had to pray against it on more than one occasion. Hope you are able to savor the next few months and sense God's presence, love and care- whether you hear profound things- or not. Blessings, Fred

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