The singing at this year's EMA was superb, thanks in part to a great musical team headed by Richard Simpkin. For those who have been asking, here's what we sang:
- Be thou my vision
- Come, O fount of every blessing
- Come praise and glorify our God
- I stand amazed in the presence
- Jesus, I my cross have taken
- Now unto the king
- O for a heart to praise my god
- Praise, my soul, the King of heaven
- Sovereign Lord, we sing your glory
- There is a fountain filled with blood
- When peace, like a river – only in an album or just lyrics
- Who has held the Oceans
A confession, but I’m not ashamed
I'm sorry, but today I have to admit…..that I read Thomas a Kempis. Of the imitation of Christ (77p on your kindle) is certainly a book of its time (late medieval). It's quite Catholic in some of its outlook, but in many places it is entirely protestant and I benefit from it greatly. Here's one chapter entitled: "That God is precious, above all things, and in all things, to him that loveth Him."
BEHOLD my God and my all! What would I more, and what greater happiness can I desire? O sweet and savory word! but to him that loveth the Word, not the world nor the things that are in the world. My God and my all! To one that understandeth sufficient is said; to one that loveth, to repeat it often is delightful. For when Thou art present, all things yield delight; but when thou art absent, all things grow loathsome. Thou makest a tranquil heart, great peace, and festive joy. Thou makest us to think well of all things, and in all things to praise Thee, nor can anything without Thee afford any lasting pleasure; but if it is to be agreeable and well-pleasing to us, Thy grace must be present, and it must be seasoned with the savor of Thy wisdom.
2.To whom Thou impartest a relish, what will not be rightly agreeable to him? And to him that relisheth Thee not, what can ever yield any true delight? But the wise of the world and the wise according to the flesh are destitute of Thy wisdom; for in the former is found much vanity and in the latter death. But they that follow Thee, by the contempt of worldly things and the mortification of the flesh, are found to be wise indeed; for they are translated from vanity to truth, from the flesh to the spirit. Such as these have a relish of God; and whatever good is found in creatures, they refer it all to the praise of their Maker. But great, yea, very great, is the difference between the relish of the Creator and the creature, of eternity and of time, of light uncreated and of light enlightened.
3. O Light perpetual! transcending all created lights, dart forth that light from above, which may penetrate all the secret recesses of my heart. Cleanse, cheer, enlighten, and enliven my spirit with its powers, that with joyful ecstasy it may cleave to Thee. Oh, when will this blessed and desirable hour come, that Thou mayst fill me with Thy presence, and become to me all in all? So long as this is not granted, my joy will not be full. As yet, alas, the old man is living in me; he is not wholly crucified, he is not perfectly dead. He still lusteth strongly against the spirit, he wageth war with me, neither suffereth he the kingdom of the soul to be quiet.
4. But Thou, Who rulest over the power of the sea, and assuagest the motion of its waves, arise and help me. Scatter Thou the nations that delight in wars, crush them in Thy might. Show forth, I beseech Thee, Thy wonderful works, and let Thy right hand be glorified. For there is no hope nor refuge for me but in Thee, O Lord my God.
Sabbaticals – some practical tips
Perhaps you're thinking in your church – we could never do that! We don't have the resources, time, people etc. You may be surprised. Try it. Put it like this – if your minister burns out, you may have to carry on his ministry anyway, with the added burden of having a burnt out minister, quite possibly a broken marriage and a deflated church. Don't risk it.
Here's some practical ideas
- We used to say in our church (an idea we nicked, indirectly, from Woodlands Evangelical Church in Derby). For every year I worked I accured two weeks sabbatical entitlement. I could take this off in a block in consultation with the elder. So, in the event, after five years I took at 10 week leave. If I had left it 10 years, it would have been 20 weeks and so on. We all knew where we stood, and it was fair and agreed by the church in advance.
- In terms of what to study, if that is your thing, look for advice from WEST or Oak Hill or the John Owen Centre, all of whom will help you with planning a study sabbatical.
- Don't let the church see a minister's sabbatical as downtime, but rather training and developing opportunities.
- Plan a minister's sabbatical carefully but don't be overly ambitious
- If a minister has a family try to think how a sabbatical might be enjoyed by all of them.
- Consider, if possible, making sure that a minister does not lose out financially. He should certainly be paid – but if you agree ministry trips with him, consider funding them properly. Don't forget, paying for holidays, say, carries tax implications.
- Make sure your minister does not cut himself off from other Christians. If his friends are mainly in the church, this could be a real risk. I don't think ministers need to stop attending church during their sabbatical. It is, after all, their Christian family.
- Be rigorous about what a minister does (or rather doesn't do). Don't stand for "I'll still come along to elders meetings, of course…."
Sabbaticals – seven good reasons (7)
7. Sabbaticals protect ministry families
This will not apply to you if you're minister is single, but let's assume for a moment he's not. Do you know the pressure ministry puts on ministry families? It's greatly underestimated. Now is not the time to rehearse why is this. Trust me. It's true. Sabbaticals allow a minister to rediscover his family if they are lost – and, at least, spend good time with them. Families need this kind of break as much as a minister. Let him pick the kids up from school. Let him read bedtime stories. Let him date his wife and even cook her a meal. Let them take an extended holiday. A happy home will be a happy ministry.
Sabbaticals – seven good reasons (6)
6. Sabbaticals allow a church to exercise a wider mission
It does depend, of course, how a minister shapes his sabbatical. But unless he's just inward looking – focusing on his own walk (a dangerous path if that's all he's doing), there is a great opportunity to widen the church's influence. I personally think that world mission can benefit greatly from sabbaticals. Of my 10 weeks, I spend 3 abroad – two in India, writing a systematic textbook for translation into Hindi, and one week in Cameroon training pastors. The church really got behind it – financing, praying, supporting. Our outlook was broadened as a result and our commitment, I trust, to world mission deepened. That kind of ministry was not my main ministry (I was a local church pastor) but it was healthy for the church, healthy for me and, we hope, good for the church across the world.
Sabbaticals – seven good reasons (5)
5. Sabbaticals allow churches to reshape leadership models
Chances are leadership works in your church the same way it has always worked. That may be great. But there's no incentive (or time) to step back and think whether the shape is right and proper. Are the right people doing the right things, suited to their gifts. Are there nascent talents that need to be developed. The only way a sabbatical can work is if a church sits down and plans for the leadership change that will inevitably take place for a month or two or three. People may have to learn new skills. Some things may have to be dropped – and you may discover you don't miss them anyway! Again, it would be nice if this kind of assessment and reshaping happened all the time, but we all know……
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4. Sabbaticals are great ways to develop local church leadership
Even those of us who put our money where our mouths are and identify and train up new leaders know that it can be a bit of a hit and miss affair – and, simply put, there aren't the opportunities to demonstrate leadership for up and coming leaders that a sabbatical actually provides. Take preaching. I might encourage a young guy to preach, say, once a month. All well and good. But that does nothing for him like giving him a month long series of his own where he's got to work at a book and wrestle with a weekly message. Quite a different skill, as anyone knows who has done it. Or any other leadership issue.
Sabbaticals – seven good reasons (3)
Here's my next contention:
3. Most ministers overwork
I recall going to an FIEC fraternal years ago when the ever-youthful Andy Paterson (he's really 82, he just looks 36) said that most ministers were either inclined to the sin of laziness or the sin of overwork. I think he's right, and what's more – most of us tend towards the latter. That's because we're always wrestling with self-righteousness, trying to solve the problems of the church and world single handedly. That's sinful of course, but it can be a vicious cycle that it's difficult to break out of. Many ministers struggle with sabbaticals themselves for this reason. A sabbatical requires them to think differently and will help them recover from the addiction that ministry may become.
Sabbaticals – seven good reasons (2)
Part two of seven…
2. Rest is a biblical idea
A sabbatical fits the biblical pattern of work and rest. Now, we most clearly recognise that demarkation in the working week. But think about this – the working week for most ministers is, at best, slightly odd. I maintain that most ministers work at least six day weeks because that is the nature of the role. So, a clean break to recharge and refresh is necessary. Biblical sabbath for the land allowed it to refertilise and refresh. So it is giving your minister a few weeks or months rest. It will allow him to think of the ultimate rest and, at least, experience some of its eternal and physical benefits in the here and now.
Sabbaticals – seven good reasons (1)
This may not be a blog series for you – you may need to pass it on (carefully and graciously) to your church leaders. However, here are seven (geddit?) good reasons for ministers to have occasional sabbaticals.
1. The ministers walk with Christ shapes the church's walk with Christ
We've got to be careful making this link too strong, but there is a link. Paul thinks so when he writes to pastor Tim. "Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers" (1 Tim 4.16). To deny the link is to deny Scripture. Now, we're good evangelicals so we understand what this doesn't mean and what it does – but the link is real. Sabbaticals are an excellent way of making sure that the ministers spiritual health is in good order. Of course, it always should be. But time away from busyness allows time to cultivate this spiritual walk which will benefit the whole church.