“The Lord replied, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest – everything will be fine for you.” Exodus 33:14 (NLT)
I personally have just completed my first sabbatical. I have been doing full-time youth ministry for 19 years now and my church was so supportive to grace me with a two-month time of intentional rest, relaxation, and a chance to recharge. From Thanksgiving week to the end of January I did not really do any work, read emails, or visit my church. I thought I knew what to expect… but it turns out like most things in ministry I had no idea.
Sabbatical: An extended period of time when ministry leaders set aside their normal responsibilities for the purpose of rest and renewal toward sustained excellence in ministry.
THE WRONG APPROACH
I am a type-A personality who enjoys checking off tasks lists and getting things done. So I loved my work as a full-time student ministry pastor. I love working in the church and doing ministry. So most days it never felt like work. But because of my personality and enjoyment, I would most likely classify myself as a workaholic. It just so happens that my work was ministry, or so I thought. So I approached going into my sabbatical as just another task to accomplish. I was going to not do “church work” but I had a whole nother list of personal projects, honey-to-dos (things my wife has been asking for), and wild goals to accomplish. I wanted to write a book, if not at least 10 blogs. I wanted to clean out my garage fully and reorganize the basement. I was going to lose 20lbs with diet and exercise. Build a new bed for my daughter and even develop a board game (yeah I know that’s crazy).
I had all these ideas of things I have always wanted to accomplish but I thought I never could get to them because my ministry or life in general never gave me enough time. So now I can check off those tasks that I have always wanted. But God had other plans.
For the first week back I went straight to “work” without leaving my house. I reorganized the garage in two days and worked on as many things as I could each day. By the end of the week, I didn’t feel accomplished. I felt guilty but I didn’t know why. It was a strange feeling when you have an expectation for one feeling but you end up getting the opposite feeling. It brings a time of self-awareness that I wasn’t expecting.
After that first week, I finally stopped long enough to listen to God. He was telling me that His plans were a bit different than mine when it comes to how I spend my time on my sabbatical. I wanted to accomplish more and He wanted me to rest. I wanted progress. He wanted me to have peace. So I finally listened. It also helped that God used my very wise wife to keep me in bounds when I started to doubt or drift. She was truly an amazing, supportive, partner during this time.
NOT TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH SOMETHING WITH GOD
It’s hard for a type-A personality, workaholic, passionate person to rest. I didn’t really even know what rest means. I thought it was just waiting for the next task. But God showed me in his quiet, intentional way that not taking time to rest was robbing Him and me of the time He has given. So one Friday I just sat on my couch, closed my eyes, and listened to some worship music on my phone. I didn’t read, even pray much, I just listened and tried to relax. I felt like I was going through some kind of detox of doing something all the time. I felt guilty at first but then I didn’t feel anything and finally, I moved on to this strange peace.
Over the next several weeks I took time each day to be alone with God. This wasn’t a quiet time (that’s another task for me) this was just to be. Sometimes I listen to a sermon or worship music, sometimes I read a book or from the Bible. Sometimes I prayed. But I just relaxed and didn’t try to accomplish something with God. I took a nap almost every day in the afternoon, just before my kids got home from school. Before I would take naps because I was physically or emotionally exhausted. But during my sabbatical, I took naps because I was relaxed. I didn’t know that feeling existed really.
I started reading about Moses and just how often he interacted with God. After they left Egypt Moses was in charge of a lot of things and he had a lot of responsibility. I couldn’t even imagine just how much. Oh, and he also was the spokesperson for God to all the people. Yeah, there was that too. I came to the story right after the Israelites made the golden calf while Moses was getting the 10 commandments. I can’t even imagine what Moses must be thinking when he sees that betrayal from his own people. So in anger Moses breaks the first copy of the 10 commandments. Then in Exodus 33, there is a small break where God and Moses were interacting. In verse 14 it says, “The Lord replied, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest – everything will be fine for you.” God answers Moses’ request in the verse before “If it is true that you look favorably on me, let me know your ways so I may understand you more fully and continue to enjoy your favor.” Moses was asking exactly how God was going to get them to the promised land after God told Moses repeatedly they will be going there. Moses sounded worried and concerned and somewhat mistrusting when I read it. However, God doesn’t answer Moses really.
Instead of God saying “Okay, here is your next step, and then this, and that, and then finally you will make it to the promised land. See I have it all mapped out.” God simply says two promises to Moses.
Both are tied together with and from God. Without Him neither can really be fulfilled nor enjoyed. My sabbatical taught me that ministry is good, working for the Lord is good, but God by himself is so much better. I finally had the chance, really for the first time in my life, to open and receive the gift of rest from God. And I couldn’t really open it without him being present.
For the first time in my entire Christian life, I just was with God with no agenda. As my time closed as I got closer to my return date I began to feel excited about getting back into ministry. Not because of the joy the work gives me but because of the fact, I learned of the joy that I get from God allowing me to do ministry. As I write that it sounds silly and too subtle. But it’s really that simple. I find my joy in the Lord because He gave me rest. And because I am rested I can do the work He has set up before me.
I know how improbable it is for a youth worker to get a sabbatical, but if you ever do find yourself with that opportunity take it. Plan ahead before you leave so you don’t feel overwhelmed when you come back or guilty when you are gone. And while you are there find a way to open the gift of rest and find the peace that God wants you to have.
If you don’t have the opportunity for a sabbatical. Then find the times during your week when you can relax without guilt or distractions. This is different from a quiet time. This is a time for you to be with God without an agenda. Find a place where you can feel that it’s just you and God. Find those brief moments of peace that bring you rest and joy to finish out the day. I wish I could be more specific and more practical but it’s so unique and personal to each person.
I don’t really feel that different from two months ago but I know I am. I don’t have any big decrees, life-changing decisions or new callings. They may come from many people’s time during the sabbatical. For me, it was just a time to experience true Godly rest. And I feel so much better about it. The best way I can describe it is I feel like one of my kid’s favorite toys that just got brand new batteries put in. It’s like experiencing the toy all over again but this time you have wonderful memories of how good it was before. My spiritual batteries have for sure been recharged and I am more thankful for it.
For The Glory of God,
Chairmen of USMB Youth
Food is mentioned 90 times in the Gospels and another 109 times throughout the Bible. It is a crucial social activity in both the Old and New Testaments. In the first church, the followers devoted themselves to four things: the apostle’s teaching, fellowship, prayer, and the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42-47). This could mean communion or a more broad description is sharing a meal together. This wasn’t once a month potluck it was an everyday thing for the first church.
“They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity.”
Acts 2:46 NLT
They followed the example set by Jesus. Jesus spent many times interacting with people around meals. He ate meals with all kinds of people disciples, tax collectors, Pharisees, men, women, and notorious sinners. Jesus even got some pushback with who he ate meals with like Zaccheaus the “notorious sinner” or even Simon the pharisee. The only other miracle besides the resurrection that is mentioned in all four gospels is Jesus feeding the 5,000. Food played a crucial role in the ministry of Jesus. And the first church followed it by sharing meals with each other. Jesus also used part of a meal to symbolize his death and resurrection with communion. So the question is how important are meals to your ministry?
Over the years I have come to realize food and particularly sharing of meals can be a valuable element to any youth ministry. A few years ago we added a free meal to our Sunday night high school ministry. I was skeptical at first because I didn’t know if it will work, was worth the hassle, and would my budget support it. So we tried it for one year. I couldn’t believe how it improved the experience of our high schoolers. It changed the whole culture and atmosphere to the night. Sharing a meal made the adult small group leaders feel more connected to their students. It created new connection points to the rest of the church as ministries and families donated or even cooked meals. It also increased attendance and students showing up early or on time so they don’t miss the meal.
So after the trial year, we added 15 minutes to our programming and changed our schedule to make it a permanent part of our ministry. This was a big commitment for us because we have to feed about 90 people each week. That’s a lot of food. And it’s been a crucial element ever since.
Why should you include more meals in your programming? I could say, “because that is what Jesus and the first church did” but I want to share with you four other benefits you might not be aware of for providing more meals with your youth ministry programming.
Very few things can provide a natural environment to engagement than sharing a meal together. The people are connecting with each other throughout the whole process, while waiting in line, with the servers serving their food, and at the tables while they eat. It’s psychologically more motivating for humans to open up more if we have something in our hands or if we are eating. So this helps more shy or introverted students to interact than normally would not if they were just standing around waiting for the night to start.
Students who feel welcomed and accepted are the students who come back. It’s that simple. And meals provide an excellent way for students to feel welcomed. There is laughter, discussions, debates, jokes, and everything else that comes with interacting with people when you share a meal together.
Some of the best ministry times are the non-programmed moments where the leader and students can just interact and meals provide that better than most. The adult leader has 20-30 minutes of undivided attention with their students. Asking about their day and hearing about the student’s life without it feeling forced or structured like sometimes small group time is.
Adult leaders can ask questions in a more natural way than they could during small group time. They can talk about anything during this time because it’s not programmed. We have seen students brighten up during this time because they get to talk about subjects that they really care about and they have the leader’s undivided attention as well. This also helps with leaders meeting new guests for the first time in an informal setting.
One thing we noticed is our adult leaders have started to show earlier just so they can greet and interact with their students while waiting in line for their food.
There is something about walking into a room and seeing everyone eating and interacting at tables than standing around in groups. What we found when we added meals made it way easier for guests to get assimilated with the group. We try to foster a culture of “invite to an open seat” where if people see someone standing around looking for a spot they are to invite them to sit at your table. A natural “greeting” ministry started when we started providing meals.
It also was super easy to naturally go around the table and share names for new guests. They are all equal sitting at the round tables so no one needs to stand out if they don’t want to, but also no one can hide either. Meals equalize people and that improves the experience.
Having a meal with another person gives you a shared experience right off the bat, that is more powerful than just sitting next to a person waiting for the night to start. So when a student brings a friend the first thing they do is have that friend get connected with other students in a natural environment. I cannot think of another element that is better than that for getting new guests assimilated into the group and making them feel welcomed.
Our meals have even been a “selling point” when our students invite their friends to youth group.
The most difficult yet surprisingly impactful benefit we found was how meals allowed ministries and parents outside the youth ministry to connect and interact with the students. We need almost 90 meals that needs to be provided each week it was too much for one person or group to handle, and our budget certainly couldn’t. So from the beginning, we created a system for groups/ministries/parents to sign up to donate or prepare the food online. This helps us know which week has been planned and what they are bringing so it avoids repetitive meals.
Each summer we do some promoting to get people to sign up for that school year’s meal schedule. We talk to groups like women’s/men’s ministry, adult small groups, Sunday school classes, 65+ groups, and even our lead staff of our church has provided a meal. For parents, we encourage them to “group up” to provide a meal and it helps with parents who are newer to the ministry to get to know other parents!
Most people prepare the meal either beforehand or in our church’s kitchen but a few just donate funds and then we provide a catered meal that week. We encourage ministries and parents to prepare and serve the meal because there is more interaction that way than just a catered meal from a restaurant. We announce who is providing the meal and then pray for them each week. It has even become a promotional tool for our men’s and women’s ministries when they have a big event coming up that students can attend. Most people say one of their favorite parts is actually serving the meal and interacting with the students in line. So we now have several returning ministries and parent groups who sign up each year because of the positive experience they have in serving a meal.
Have you ever struggled with finding gifted leaders? What if there was a pool of trained and called leaders to draw from; a place to find potential applicants for an internship or even a permanent member of your staff?
One of USMB Youth’s passions is to develop up-and-coming leaders who are equipped, empowered, and ready to rise up and make a big impact for the Kingdom of God. So, after years of dreaming and planning, we are very close to launching a new national leadership development program.
Where did this come from?
The dream first came to the national youth conference planning team (now called USMB Youth) when they were planning for the 2015 and 2019 YouthCon gatherings. The team noticed a huge turnover rate in the youth pastors and lead youth workers between conferences. This meant new connections had to be reestablished with churches through a new youth worker. Most of these new youth workers were hired from outside of the denomination which meant many had no experience or connection with their districts nor national events. Curiosity and a little investigation uncovered the need for a leadership pool where churches and organizations can draw from in the Mennonite Brethren world. A new focus on leadership development rose to the top of USMB Youth’s priorities. Let’s raise up the next generation of leaders to make a greater impact for the Kingdom of God.
Introducing the Leadership Pipeline…
This is the first step in a grand vision of identifying, investing in, and empowering leaders for vocational ministry by providing real-world ministry experiences through working with churches and organizations throughout the US. The Pipeline will begin by providing a national summer internship program designed for college students and young adults. The plan is to then expand training to include year-long residency positions and potentially the addition of working with high school students to help them confirm their call to vocational ministry.
Launching in early 2022 will be a national summer internship program for churches and candidates who sign up. Our goal is to expand the opportunities in the years following.
How does it work?
Churches and organizations create internship openings. Undergraduate students then apply for the openings. The goal is to connect churches and organizations with students who are seeking career-building experiences through internships. During these short-term internships, weekly training will be provided by the Pipeline in the desired ministry areas.
For Churches and Employers:
By creating an organization profile and posting your internship opportunities, you can reach a talented pool of interns gathered from our educational institutions, churches, and other areas across the nation. These candidates will be approved and background checked by The Pipeline.
For Students Seeking Ministry Experience:
The Pipeline provides a one-stop portal to opportunities posted by churches and faith-based organizations from all over the United States. These paid internships may be offered in a variety of ministry related fields including youth, worship, kids, education, arts, finance, tech, and more! Just create your candidate profile and get connected through our internship search.
What does it cost to sign up?
There is no cost for churches or potential interns to sign up! All internships will be paid so there will be an expectation of some form of financial investment by the churches and organizations that secure an intern. Funds may be available to help the hiring church or organization through grants and scholarships from our ministry partners.
What is the goal?
Our goal is to raise up the next generation of leaders by creating a leadership pool of qualified and trained leaders for our churches to draw from and fill positions for years to come.
When will this launch?
The website to sign up will be launched in January 2022. With that launch, churches, organizations, and potential interns will be able to start signing up and getting matched. The included online training will happen during the summer internships on a weekly basis.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
But wait there is more…
We are hiring 2 part-time positions to help launch and grow this new program. These National Leadership Mobilizers will work 5-7 hours a week recruiting, overseeing, and leading this pipeline. We are taking applications right now!
Our ALL THINGS YOUTH BLOG is looking for people who are passionate for youth and leadership to be contributors!
USMB Youth wants to resource, equip, and inspire youth workers from all walks of life. So we are looking for passionate people who can bring a fresh perspective and different experiences to share and resources our youth workers will enjoy. So it doesn’t matter if you are full-time, part-time, or volunteer we want to hear from you! You don’t even have to work with youth to contribute, we are looking for leadership tips and other helpful ministry training.
If you are interested please email us at email@example.com.
Here’s what you’ll get as a blog author: