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The Gift of Sabbatical

By Barry Jones
In eLetter
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Dear IBC Family,

I’m writing this to you all on what is my last day in the office before I begin my sabbatical. Years ago, our elders established a generous policy that provides a three-month time away for pastors every seven years. I have one more Sunday to preach, and then I’ll be out May, June, and July.

The impetus behind a sabbatical policy for people serving in ministry comes from the biblical admonition to keep sabbath. Where a weekly sabbath is a day of rest in the regular rhythms of life, a sabbatical is an extended sabbath period intended to replenish the soul of a pastoral leader. In the Old Testament we see the pattern of a sabbath year, every seven years, when the people were to let their fields lie fallow, allowing both the people and the land to rest, and teaching them to trust God to supply their needs.

As I enter this season away, I am already finding that this is one of the key lessons God has for me, my learning to let go and trust him with IBC in my absence. I know that our church family is in good hands, ultimately because we are in the hands of God, but also because you all will be in the very capable hands of our leadership team, our elders, our preaching team, and our amazing staff.

In preparing for this time away I came across this quote from one of my heroes, the late Dallas Willard, that really resonated with me: “I can state without wavering that the single greatest need of the church today is the restoration of ministers. What is required is a quite different approach to their life and work. It is a matter of leading them into a massive shift of the dynamics of their personality under God, and one that cannot be done by more books and conferences. They need to be taken out of circulation for a sufficiently long time to re-vision and re-structure their lives in communion with Jesus and his kingdom.”

That’s what I want from this sabbatical. I want to deepen my discipleship to Jesus. I’m not so much focused on coming back a better pastor or a better leader as much as I’m focused on coming back a better disciple. And, I believe, if I come back a better disciple, I’ll be a better pastor and a better leader as a result.

I came across some questions that one leader had proposed to help guide others through a sabbatical, and his questions inspired me to adapt them and make them my own. So here are the questions I’m taking with me and taking to God as I enter this sabbatical:

What’s thriving that needs nourishing? What’s dry that needs replenishing? What’s gone that needs grieving? What’s disconnected that needs reconnecting? What’s hurt that needs healing? What’s missing that needs finding?

Those are the questions you can pray about for me as I process them with the Lord, as I get time away alone and with my family, as I rest and reflect, and as I pursue deeper discipleship to Jesus. As I leave, I am mindful that a sabbatical is not something one “takes.” It is a gift that one receives. And you all have made this gift possible. For that, and so much more, I am so very grateful.

Much love to you all,


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