In less than 48 hours my family will be embarking on an unexpected, scary, and exciting adventure known as a sabbatical!
If you're reading this blog, you know that the last 2 years have been anything but easy for The Pathway and our family. We're in our 8th year in Tacoma... 10th in Washington... and we are, in a word, tired. I almost said exhausted, but I actually feel like tired is more appropriate. Exhausted is the way I feel after an intense run or a vigorous game of basketball. Tired is a feeling that creeps up on a person after an extended time of physical, emotional, and spiritual exertion. Sometimes you don't even see it coming or realize it has arrived. That's where Kelli and I have found ourselves. Tired.
In April 2015 we were having a blast! We finally felt like the Holy Spirit was busting through some significant growth barriers. We were seeing people come to faith in Christ, we were on our way to 7 Intentional Communities and for the first time ever we averaged over 100 people at our Sunday gathering for the month. That summer we hosted 8 mission teams and saw God do incredible things in and through our 6 summer interns. Everything was clicking. Until it wasn't.
I can look back and identify the warning signs. I can point to dozens and dozens of mistakes I made, decisions I would have made differently, conversations I wish I could take back and so on and so forth. I've had to confess and repent of sinful choices I made and wounds I caused. At the end of the day, I know that Satan wants to stop the good work of God through the local church. He wants to stop it and he'll stop at nothing to distract, disrupt, and destroy what God is doing in and through a local church. And here's the hardest thing for me to acknowledge and accept... Satan won a battle in the life of The Pathway church. He won a battle and he won it on my watch.
But here's another reality. My God has already won the war! My God is not finished yet and there is no mistake, no decision, no disruption that can thwart the sovereign plan of God being carried out in and through his church. There is nothing Satan can do, no battle he can wage or even win, that will stop every knee from bowing and ever tongue confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord!
Fast forward 2 years... We're 2 days away from April 2017 and as I mentioned, we are more tired than we realized. We are now a church of 3 Intentional Communities and this month we averaged just under 60 people at our Sunday gathering. However, I truly believe God has been refining us. He has been teaching us about worship, love, patience, community, mission, and discipleship. I believe we are a church on the mend. I believe we are a church getting healthier. But I also believe that I am a pastor that needs to rest and heal.
A couple months ago we were in the midst of making some pretty big decisions in regard to our church. I was doing my best to lead us forward, but I was struggling to believe that we could make any real progress. I wasn't seeing clearly. I was tired, irritable, impatient, discouraged. I was exhibiting all the signs of burn-out. I struggled with things I've never struggled with before. I was struggling with vision for the church, confidence as a leader, motivation to accomplish daily tasks, and on and on the list could go. I didn't know what to do.
Thankfully, one of our best friends in the world had been praying for us. Not just praying, asking God seriously for answers. Fasting for our family... for me as a pastor. She approached our Church Council and proposed a 3 month sabbatical for me and my family. They were immediately and completely on board. They approached me and graciously said they wanted to do a better job than ever before at taking care of me and my family. They said they wanted to figure out how to send us on sabbatical, how to make it happen quickly, and how to ensure it would be as beneficial as possible.
My first reaction? Gratitude.
My next reaction? This is impossible.
But it wasn't impossible. So far (and the actual sabbatical hasn't even started yet), it has been amazing. Our Church Council and other leaders have stepped up to fill the roles Kelli and I have been playing. Our entire church has been supportive, encouraging, prayerful, willing to serve, and excited for our family. Everyone has been open and teachable, wanting what's best for God's glory, God's church, and our family. It has been a humbling experience.
Where are we headed? God has provided a place for our family to stay for the majority of April, May, and June in Takoma Park, MD. Jagen and Rylan will be enrolling in school there for the last few months of 1st grade thanks to the incredible support and guidance of their current teacher and principal, both of whom love Jesus! We're excited to step out of Tacoma, step out of our normal routines and step out of ministry leadership... for a season... for the purpose of resting and healing, worshiping and recalibrating.
How can you reach us? For the most part you will not be able to reach us during April, May and June. I will be leaving my cell phone behind and logging completely out of e-mail and all social media. If you have an emergency and need to get a hold of us, our Church Council (contact info at www.thepathwaytacoma.com) will know how to get a hold of us. Other than that, we will be "going dark," to steal a phrase from my favorite TV character Jack Bauer.
How can you pray for us?
1) Please pray that we will rest with a depth that we’ve never experienced before. Pray that we will rest our hearts, our minds, and our bodies.
2) Pray that we will laugh. I know that sounds funny, but pastoring a church can be a very sobering thing. There are so many joys, but many of those joys come in the midst of pain, challenge, struggle, and heartache. One of our goals is to laugh… a lot.
3) Pray for Jagen, Rylan, and Hazel. Jagen and Rylan will be leaving their friends for 3 months, enrolling in a new school in Maryland and trying to make new friends. Please pray that they will enjoy this time, learn a lot, grow in their love of Jesus and look back with gratitude rather than bitterness. Pray for Hazel and all the logistics of traveling and staying in a place that’s not “home” with a 19 month old. Pray that she will sleep well, stay healthy, and continue to grow and learn the way she has been to this point.
Ultimately, we have no idea what to expect and no idea what life will look like when we return to Tacoma in 3 months. What we do know is that God has orchestrated this opportunity and we are going to walk forward in faith! God led us to a passage of Scripture that we've decided to make the theme of our sabbatical and a primary focus for our family the next 3 months. It's significant for many reasons, but one verse in particular God used in my parents life during a difficult season many years ago, and I'm thankful that God brought it back to us during what has been a tough stretch for our family. The chapter our family will be meditating on during our sabbatical is Psalm 118. I'll leave you with a short excerpt so you can get a glimpse into our hearts through God's Word. Thank you for your prayers and your support these last 8 years and over these next 3 months.
 I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
but the LORD helped me.
 The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.
 Glad songs of salvation
are in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the LORD does valiantly,
 the right hand of the LORD exalts,
the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!”
 I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the LORD.
 The LORD has disciplined me severely,
but he has not given me over to death.
 Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the LORD.
 This is the gate of the LORD;
the righteous shall enter through it.
 I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
 The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
 This is the LORD's doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes. (ESV)