Here’s another recommendation that’s really important when you consider the need for a sabbatical– visit other churches. As part of resting and thinking with God about direction for your church, get out and visit all kinds of churches – small, medium, large, Catholic, Presbyterian – whatever. To see and experience what’s happening in other churches is a great way to learn. You get to feel what it’s like to be a visitor. You see God moving differently than he moves at your church and in your context of what you think church is. Go and look: Is there energy? Is there life? Is there authentic community? Why? What’s making that work?
You’ll also see things you don’t like. On my sabbatical I visited a church where I was greeted, but no one really talked to me. I was asked by an usher to leave the sanctuary with my cup of coffee, and pointing to a prominent NO FOOD OR DRINK ALLOWED sign. At the time, we had that same policy at Friends, and when I came home we changed it. In God’s economy, carpets don’t matter much. And yes, we’ve had spills, but we really don’t care – carpets can be cleaned. I never want a guest to feel the way I felt in that moment.
Visiting other churches changes the way you see your own church, and that’s hugely important. If you have one free weekend, visit 4-5 churches. Go somewhere Saturday night and somewhere else Sunday morning – you don’t have to stay for the entire service – and you’ll get a feel for culture, parking, ushers, air-conditioning, worship styles, sense of community. And you’ll come back with new energy and creativity.