Dave: Marty, you and Sandy recently came back from a three month sabbatical. Why a sabbatical at this time in your ministry?
Marty: Dave, you are the guy who really planted the seeds in my heart and mind that a multiple-week sabbatical was not a luxury for pastors but a life or death necessity. Over 25-plus years of pastoral ministry, I’d never taken time for a sabbatical, nor was I ever taught that it was anything other than a vacation for pastoral weenies. Then, when the wheels started falling off my wagon three years ago, I started to listen to you say that it just might be time for an extended sabbatical. You were right. Still, it took me two years to finally get it scheduled on my busy calendar.
Dave: How did you prepare your leaders and your people?
Marty: At first I was very ashamed to tell them that their pastor was slowly burning out. Pride, you know. That ugly thing inside each pastor that wants to believe that with Jesus all things are possible. While the Bible does say that, I don’t think the Scriptures call us to go down in flames trying to build the successful Americanized church we all envision. Actually I was thrilled, on one hand, to know that my board and leadership team fully agreed to my 10-week plan. On the other hand, I was scared to realize how obvious it was to each of them that their pastor was running on fumes. So with your help, Dave, we charted a course with our church several months ahead of the sabbatical. Your help there was invaluable.
Dave: What did you do for those three months?
Marty: Assignment number one: Sandy & I didn’t go to church for ten weeks. Our goal was to stay away from anything that looked like a church. We did that fairly well except for one Sunday in July when we were visiting our two favorite people in the State of Oregon. You were preaching at your home church that Sunday and we didn’t want to miss that. Otherwise, our goal was to relax, spend time having fun, time with family, read, pray, talk to God and each other, and generally bum our way through ten weeks of bliss.
Dave: So now you’re back. How did your church do while you and Sandy were away?
Marty: In talking to some pastors who had done sabbaticals, I heard that getting ‘back in the saddle’ was tougher than leaving. On one hand, Sandy & I were ready to get back on board, yet things went absolutely super while we were gone, so we didn’t want to reverse any of that good stuff by coming back and grabbing the golden ring away from those new heroes who stepped up in our absence. All in all, we’re quite pleased how Jesus showed us once more how this church we planted 13 years ago is not really ours, but belongs to Him. A multiple-week sabbatical can really bring that subject front and center for all us insecure pastors!
Dave: What did your sabbatical do for you? How is Marty different?
Marty: That’s a loaded question. I feel so refreshed, yet I’m coming back with a whole different approach to ministry than when I left. Sandy & I took one author with us on our sabbatical and it was Eugene Peterson. The author of The Message Bible has always been a hero of mine, but I’d never taken much time to read some of his other books. His newest, The Pastor-A Memoir and his classic, “The Contemplative Pastor” absolutely messed up my life (in a wonderful way) and I’m coming back with a whole new approach to pastoral ministry. I recorded a lot of what God did in and through me during my sabbatical in my Blog. I entitled the series: ‘THOUGHTS & MUSINGS FROM OUR 10-WEEK SABBATICAL.
Dave: I noticed you have a new Facebook page up called The Small Church That Works. What’s the story behind that?
Marty: My gut feel is that there are thousands of pastors out there, faithful shepherds of God’s people in smaller churches across North America, who struggle with two primary battles: The first is aloneness. The second is significance. The Americanized church (as Eugene Peterson calls it) measures our success as pastors using what I like to call the 3-B Syndrome. It’s a measuring stick that evaluates us on three basics: BUILDINGS, BUCKS, and BUTTS. If we are doing well with our buildings, there is a good flow of money in the offering buckets, and if there are an ever-increasing number of people in the pews, bingo—we’re a success. Yet, if we struggle or fail in feeding any of these three sacred cows, watch out! The pastor of the smaller church in America knows well the hardships attached to these three barometers of church life. Yet my gut tells me, Dave, that ‘success’ in pastoral ministry, according to Jesus and the New Testament, is much different than the 3-B Syndrome. My heart is to gather pastors of smaller churches around a network of support where we all believe that SMALL can actually be BIG when using God’s economy. My hope is that we can re-discover, with the help of God, the small church that works, thus empowering pastors of smaller churches to feel much more confident about their lot in life and ministry! Check us out on Facebook.