inspire | inˈspī(ə)r | verb [with object]

  • fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative. • animate someone with (such a feeling). • breathe in; inhale.

– New Oxford American Dictionary

Tomorrow, January 7, Carrie and I will board a plane bound for Florence, Italy, where we’ll spend the next four months. Carrie will be the visiting professor for 54 students at Pepperdine University’s Florence program. I will be on a ministerial sabbatical, which is designed to be a time of spiritual growth, reflection, and renewal, facilitated by a break from normal ministry activities and commitments.

A friend of mine used to compare ministers with sponges that have absorbed a lot of water. Once the sponge has reached its saturation point, it can no longer do its job. But throwing away the water-logged sponge would be a mistake. The sponge simply needs to have the excess water squeezed out of it, and then it will begin to absorb again. A ministerial sabbatical works like this — over time, a minister’s capacity to serve and teach, care and lead, mentor and challenge, becomes saturated. He or she is less able to effectively absorb and bear the burdens of others. A sabbatical season provides the time and space for God to squeeze out the excess and breathe fresh capacity into the minister.

You could also flip the metaphor. Over time, ministry gradually drains the energy, creativity, and vigor out of a minister, like water being slowly squeezed out of a sponge. Eventually, the minister can become like a dry husk, unable to pour out the cool, refreshing waters of Spirit-filled care and Christ-like leadership. A ministry sabbatical provides the opportunity for the minister to drink again in a concentrated way from the living waters found in Jesus Christ, in God’s creation, in Scripture, in great books, and in human-made beauty that reflects the glory of God. In drinking deeply of the good, the true, and the beautiful, a minister can thereby be refilled and refreshed in such a way that living waters can once again flow out of the minister and into the lives of others.

In 2004, the Conejo elders adopted a sabbatical policy for our ministers which understands both of these metaphors: the need to replenish ministry capacity through renewal and the need to refill the wells of inspiration and creativity.  I am tremendously grateful for this opportunity afforded me by our elders, our ministry staff, numerous volunteers, and the entire congregation! My commitment to you is to use this sabbatical season with wisdom and responsibility. I will seek to balance adhering to my plans and schedule with embracing unforeseen serendipities and opportunities along the way. I will seek to balance times for quiet reflection with times of active engagement. And I will seek to balance my desire to document and communicate my experiences with a healthy resistance to posting a selfie at every turn. You can follow my journey at Arrivederci e Dio ti benedica! (See you later and God bless you!)

Andy Wall
Author: Andy Wall