METAPHOR Disclaimer: I am not an automobile mechanic. A car with a standard transmission has a clutch pedal and a stick shift lever. The gear shift stick is commonly located on the floor. (One old car of ours had a set up called “three on the tree” with the stick on the steering column.) The clutch pedal is located to the left of the brake pedal. Depressing the clutch pedal makes the clutch work. The clutch has a throw out bearing that helps the transmission to disengage in order to shift gears. If you don’t fully depress the clutch pedal, then the gears will grind when you try to shift. There is a way to shift gears without using the clutch. You must time the speed of the car and carefully sense the RPMs of the engine. At just the right time you can move the gear shift stick or lever to the next gear. It is shifting on the fly with never disengaging the transmission. Guess wrong and you will grind the gears.

Too many pastors try to take a break from ministry without ever fully disengaging. They never depress the clutch. Some try to shift gears on the fly. The funny sound you hear from them, their spouses, their children or their church is the noise of gears grinding. Eugene Cho is a successful church planter (Quest Church) in Seattle and director of the non-profit One Day’s Wages. Recently, he decided to step down from the senior position role from the church he began 18 years ago. For the full story you can Google <eugene cho stepping down> and read the Christianity Today article. His ministry capacity is far beyond mine, but I enjoyed reading the interview.

Here’s how he can tell if the gears are grinding, or not.

“I can tell how I’m doing in my soul and in my calling by answering these questions: How am I sleeping? How am I eating? How am I exercising? How are my Sabbath days? How is my relationship with my spouse and my children? How am I with conflict resolution within my parish and my staff? How am I with my rhythm of sabbatical? Am I still making time for the things that give me life?”

In order to reflect and be refreshed and repurposed in ministry he decided on a plan.

“When I was a young follower of Jesus, I went to a church where pastors took a one-year sabbatical every seven years. That’s a long time between sabbaticals! And I can’t imagine being away from my congregation for a full year. So 18 years ago, when I started Quest Church, I started a rhythm of taking a three-month sabbatical every three years. That’s been a humongous gift for me and my family.”

UPDATE The first six weeks of our three month sabbatical have been times of engagement and ministry. Before the clock started ticking, we spent one week in Estes Park, Colorado at the 75th anniversary of the founding of WorldVenture mission. It was a rich time of hearing ministry reports from around the world. One missionary who was barred from Western China ended up in the Philippines and the Filipino church he worked with sent a missionary back to Western China. Both of these amazing people were present! Our time was focused on prayer, the power of God, and the work of Christ–Christ died (sin is defeated), Christ was raised (death is defeated), Christ will come again (injustice will be defeated–there is hope). We were busy, but very blessed.

Ten days later we were off to Kenya with Lahash International for a three week mission trip. The first week was a training conference for East Africa partners where we had ministry responsibilities for five mornings of Bible teaching, informal prayer, and the final evening session of group communion around the Lord’s table. The second week was a ministry tour in two separate places in Tanzania followed by three days at Bible Camp. The third week was a chance to revisit our former mission location among the Digo people and have two days of R&R before flying home. In 21 days we were on nine separate airline flight segments (each with a plane change); slept in ten different locations; and, took 31 separate trips by vehicles–including several buses, minivans, taxi cars, two motorcycle rides, five short trips in three-wheeled motorized rickshaws, and two ferry crossings! We were busy, but very blessed.

Ten days later our middle daughter, Clarissa was wed to Tim Jones. The social dynamics included times with out of town guests, stressful times, family times, and happy times. It was a special treat to see so many friends and be able to perform the wedding ceremony for Clarissa and Tim. Our church family stepped up in a huge way at all the right times to make it a memorable and Christ honoring celebration. When it was all over we were out of energy and low on money but they were married! We were busy, but very blessed.

What’s next? Finally, the clutch is pushed all the way to the floor and we are disengaging the transmission from all things work and ministry related. Sherie and I want to draw closer to each other and to God. We want to tackle home chores–both inside and outside work that needs doing. We have planned two vacation breaks, one in Sacramento and one at the Oregon Coast. We will seek the Lord’s will and direction for us personally and for the next several years of ministry at First Baptist Church. We look forward to extended times to pray and play together. We are practicing rest in little steps. The rhythms of grace take time to develop and grow. We will not be busy, but very blessed.

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