Saturday March 21, 2020
Hello from Divide, Colorado. Mary and I are enjoying our third week of sabbatical, now working with the theme of ministry enrichment. I look forward to telling you about where we are and what kind of progress we are making. But first…
We spent the weekend of March 14/15 driving back to Colorado from California and it seemed the world was coming apart at the seams. The coronavirus was disrupting grocery stores and erupting in widespread anxiety (and in some cases panic). After additional decisions from our governmental leaders, I received a text from our elder team inviting me to a combined elder and staff meeting Tuesday morning. It was at this meeting that we decided to close the Aspen Ridge Church building for eight weeks! My first reaction was disappointment that April will not be a restoration to church life “as usual.” I also felt a degree of uncertainty and anxiety. But as I have processed things, I believe this is an opportunity for our whole church to gain prayerful benefit of what we are receiving during sabbatical. Further, we will use this time to emphasize small group life and generate teaching and worship material by electronic means.
I/we then departed for our ministry retreat. It is entitled “Sonscape” and generally includes four couples for a given week. In our case two of the couples had to disconnect due to travel uncertainties and illness. We are being invited to walk deeply and intimately with Jesus. Two additional couples serve us; one couple leads in teaching and counseling and the other provides meals and serves us in practical ways. At full capacity each session is limited to 12, but with two couples cancelling there are 8 of us total the entire time, so we are under the limit of 10 people prescribed by the White House. The first day we arrived and settled in. The second day we engaged in devotional materials and reviewed challenges in pastoral ministry.
Sonscape is specifically designed for those in vocational ministry. Our leader reminded us of Acts 20:28 and the need to watch out for ourselves and for the flock. He said pastors and wives are generally good at taking care of others but not always so good at taking care of themselves. There are four “S’s” to Sonscape: Sympathetic, Safe, Silent, and Sacred. We were challenged to receive this retreat as a provision from God and remember that self-care is not selfish, it is necessary for ourselves and for those we love and serve.
The next day we discussed a personality inventory we took in preparation for this event called “Myers Briggs.” We were invited to study ourselves. One of the challenges pastors and wives can face is letting people’s expectations gradually rob us of ourselves. We were asked four questions. First, do we know who God created us to be? Second, are we living as that person? Third, if not, why not? Fourth, what keeps us from being the people God intended us to be? These deserve great consideration.
On the third day we talked about the challenges of pastoral work. We heard statistics of how few pastors and wives were really fulfilled and happy. Our lives were described like trout living in fresh rivers which have continual currents. These “currents” may include expectations, preaching, providing leadership, resolving conflict, living in the public eye, etc. In the same way trout find places to escape the constant pressure of the current (like behind a rock, in a pool, or going deep), so we were invited to take refuge in Christ, come away from the pressures, and go deep with God. We also had some personal time with our counselors.
We are being coached in what sabbath-rest may look like. It includes releasing control, learning to rest, and intentionally including silence and solitude. Also we were encouraged to play, be light-hearted. I believe these principles may be put to excellent use by all during the coronavirus closures. Why don’t you have discussions among yourselves or your Christian friends and small group as to what this may look like? Mary and I have some three additional days at Sonscape. We return on Tuesday, March 24.
Affectionately, Jeff & Mary