Thoughts From a Sabbatical

By Bryan Moak, Converge MSC, VP of Church Strengthening

Recently I finished my first sabbatical with Converge. It was three months long, and it was wonderful. I firmly believe that having the time to rest, refresh and dream will pay dividends for years to come in my personal life, as well as in my work with Converge MSC. I am so grateful for Gary Rohrmayer and the MSC board for giving me the opportunity to take this sabbatical, and I thought I might be an encouragement to share some of my learnings.

  1. Every pastor needs a sabbatical. Being a pastor is difficult, and the daily stress and work begin to deplete you in a variety of ways. A sabbatical allows you to step back and take a fresh look at things without the constant meetings, services and counseling, to name only three. Sabbaticals also require time. The longer, the better. Personally, it took me two weeks to stop thinking about work, and I started thinking about work at least two weeks before I came back. You need the time in the middle, where you really do unplug completely. I recommend 8 weeks minimum and 12 weeks is even better. Finally, too many pastors are using their sabbatical as a “medical leave” of sorts because of abnormal stress or conflict. This is not a good time to take a sabbatical, and quite frankly involves a radically different way of processing the time.
  2. Every pastor needs a Spiritual Director. I have never had one before, and it was a highlight of my entire time away. Michael Bischof, from Soul Leader out of Southern California agreed to meet with me. To date, we have met 6 times and will meet at least two more times. I needed some spiritual counsel, and Michael gave me the space and grace to allow me to discover what God was saying to me. Specifically, I wanted to press into what it will look like to grow deep in my relationship with Christ in the last third of my life. Revisting Bob Guelich and Janet Hagberg’s book “The Critical Journey” was super helpful. I also came across this quote from John Piper, and it was as if he was saying with clarity what I have been struggling to understand over the last couple of years, and it was a real gift of grace. “As I complete my fiftieth year as a professing Christian, I feel the urgency of endurance more than ever. I used to think differently. I used to think, when I was in my twenties and thirties, that sanctification had a kind of cumulative effect and that at fifty, the likelihood of apostasy would be far smaller than at thirty or forty. In one sense this is true. Surely growth in grace and knowledge and faith helps us ‘no longer to be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine.’ I see more clearly now that even after years of such growth and stability, shocking coldness and even apostasies are possible. And I have known movements of horrifying blankness that made me realize my utter dependence on the mercies of God being new every morning. Perseverance is a gift.”
  3. Every church needs to honestly assess why they exist. I’m not sure where I heard it, but it is said that if we aren’t careful, we can allow our Ecclesiology to formulate or Missiology which formulates our Christology as opposed to allowing our Christology to formulate our Missiology, which then forms our Ecclesiology. I think this is important. It came up several times in various ways through my reading. Maybe most succinctly by theologian Karl Barth. Barth felt that the church had almost lost its soul in adjusting to historical trends. He called the church again to be itself. Simply, we need to continue to look for ways to speak into culture, but not allow culture to move us away from being the Bride of Christ. We are and should be different.
  4. The church needs to once again recover its place as a glaring alternative to what the world is offering, and lead the way in caring for the “least of these.” One of the best books I read during my sabbatical was “The Rise of Christianity” by Rodney Stark. This book used anthropological study to help understand how a ragtag small group of Christ followers became such a dominant “force” in such a short period of time. Although there is so much to say, the church father, Tertullian said it best. “It is our care of the helpless, our practice of loving kindness that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents. ‘Only look’ they say, ‘look how they love one another!’” We must be known as a church that clearly cares for the least of these and clearly loves well. Both need lots of work.
  5. I have a great family. I have spent a lot of time these three months celebrating God’s gift to me of my wife, my kids and grandkids. I have been celebrating the gift of my parents and sister as well. We love each other well, and that is no given.

If you would like to know more about what a sabbatical might look like in your context, feel free to connect with me at So grateful to serve you in the next season!