Last week a former member of my last church said to me, “Why didn’t you just take a sabbatical instead of leaving the ministry?”
Now, I know this person loves me and wishes I never left the ministry and had continued as their pastor. But there are so many problems inherent in this question that I felt I had to write about it.
I didn’t need and I didn’t want a sabbatical!
But this was the big misconception of my church. I heard rumors:
“He’s burned out!”
“He’s lost his way!”
“He’s lost his pastoral gift!”
“He needs to go figure things out and then come back when he’s okay!”
In other words, I was broken, needed to get away to get fixed, then come back and resume where I fell off the rails in the same old way.
I saw it as spiritually evolving but they saw it is spiritually dissolving.
I saw it as spiritual progressing but they saw it as spiritual regressing.
I saw it as spiritual freedom but they saw it as spiritual recklessness.
This, I contend, is one of the major problems of the church. The church is pretty good at helping people progress from one stage to the next up to a point. Sometimes people evolve spiritually to a place where they are beset with questions, doubts, and even experience an erosion of their faith. What do churches normally do then? They usually try to convince them to resist this movement, and if they can’t, to return. Few churches consider that venturing into the personally uncharted territory of questions and doubts is progress.
I remember an old preacher who gave an illustration during his sermon about backsliding. He told a story about he and a friend who in the middle of the day went into a dark restaurant. Coming into this dark place after being out in the sun was overwhelming. They could hardly see a thing. But after a while, he noted, his eyes adjusted to the dark and they could see, no problem. His point was that if we backslide into the darkness, just because we think we’re okay because we can still see doesn’t mean we’re okay. We’ve certainly backslidden! But we’ve just gotten used to it!
I can’t tell you the amount of guilt that story aroused in me.
But now I say, “What’s wrong with being able to see in the dark?” I think it’s a great skill to be able to enter into the dark night, the dark valley, and to not allow the darkness to intimidate us into denial or retreat.
No! I didn’t need a sabbatical. I just needed space and time! That would have been marvelous if it was given to me within the church. But it wasn’t. I had to leave it to find it.
I’m sure many of you know what I mean.