Okay, I know your deacons will never go for it. I know the little old lady with the ingrown toenail expects you to be at her outpatient surgery. I know all the excuses about how the devil never takes a day off. Forget all that and hang with me for a moment.
First of all, Jesus got away from the crowd. He calls us to come apart and rest awhile. We’re too busy, and it’s showing. Stress, high blood pressure, heart attacks and a host of other health issues are all signs we’re stressed and need to re-evaluate what’s important.
For the last thirty years, I’ve taken study breaks. These are not vacations. They are concentrated times to get away and hear from the Lord, study His Word, meditate, rest and pray. When I was serving as a staff member, I would ask the pastor or personnel committee if I could do that instead of attending a conference. I was never turned down. I found being alone with God was more helpful than hearing another sugar stick sermon or discovering the newest program from the denomination.
Sometimes I take my wife—it’s a good time for her to have a break as well. Now that our kids are grown, it=s easier for us to go together, and I enjoy the company at meals and times when I need to give my brain a break. Sometimes I’ve gone with other pastors. We agree to study during the day and then go out at night for a meal. It=s a time of good interaction, talking about ministry and what God is doing and saying to us.
On my tenth anniversary, the church gave me a six-week sabbatical. It was the longest stretch I had ever taken. I must admit, I didn’t use the time well. I went to three different places instead of settling into one place. I was by myself most of that time, and I got a little stir crazy. I now know things I would do differently—I would either go to one place to do an extended study and writing break, or I would go somewhere and audit a summer course on some aspect of ministry.
Today, because of some money we received from my dad’s estate, we have a place in the mountains outside of Gatlinburg. I do my best studying in the mountains. I have a clear view of the Greenbriar Ridge, and it is a constant reminder that I serve a great and mighty God. I usually try to go at least three times a year. We have a number of pastors who use our place for study weeks. I have a desk set up in one of the bedrooms so I can spread out my books and my laptop. I consider these trips to be life savers.
When I leave on a study break, I either leave on Sunday morning after church or bright and early Monday morning. I try to plan these trips when (a) I have a guest speaker coming the next Sunday or (b) I can take an extended time and miss the next Sunday. The reason is simple: I don’t need to be stressed about Sunday all week. I need the time to think ahead, plan ahead and pray.
Gregg Matte, pastor of First Baptist Church of Houston, recently wrote about his study sabbatical. I love what he said: “People are often confused about what that really means. Some think it is a spiritual way to say ‘vacation’ while others picture me imitating John the Baptist, eating locusts and wild honey in the woods somewhere. So I thought I would take a brief moment to describe the ‘why’ and the ‘what’ of my time away. The ‘why’ is to refill my tanks emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, and physically. Ministry is a calling that requires continual outflow spiritually and socially. My weeks away give me a chance to have ‘inflow’ that doesn’t have to become ‘outflow’ by Sunday.
“The ‘what’ will be made up of mornings with the Lord and the study of Nehemiah to prepare for our Fall journey, afternoons of planning, and evenings spent with family. I don’t check emails, make appointments or phone calls. I seek to handle the important things – not the urgent.”
I would encourage you, if you do not have a study time built into your schedule, to make one. I would also encourage you to ask for at least two weeks a year for study breaks. If you are in a situation where you do not have one, give this article to your deacon chairman or your personnel committee and ask them to consider it. The church needs to pay for your travel, accommodations and meals. This is an investment, not an expense to the church. My people always say I’m better after study weeks than any other time of the year.
Here are some suggestions to help you on a study break:
Jesus said, “Come apart and rest awhile.” Either you come apart with Jesus or eventually you’ll come apart at the seams.
© 2006, Michael Catt
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.