Leading a faith community is a privilege and a joy; it’s exhilarating, fulfilling, demanding, draining and sometimes costly. This is not exceptional – it’s part of the nature of the calling and responsibility we share and with which we have been entrusted. For some of us this is our ‘full time’ commitment; for others this leadership has to be exercised in the midst of all manner of work, community and family commitments.
This does not always sit easily with the words of Jesus – “I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly”. There are inevitably difficulties and challenges in leadership but even in good and ‘successful’ (whatever that means) times leaders don’t always seem to be an advertisement for abundant living, weighed down with responsibilities and an over-full diary.
Some Christian traditions, and others, have a practice of ‘sabbatical’ time for their leaders, when the minister is given a period of between six weeks and three months in which to step back from daily ministry for a time of rest, refreshment and renewal. This might simply mean lying low locally or maybe travelling further afield or undertaking a particular piece of work or study or learning a new skill.
I was privileged to have such a time in January and February of this year – which was given over to some reading, walking, praying, reflecting, visiting other churches and exploring new ideas.
I was struck on my return that the most commonly asked question was ‘What have you been doing?’ – with the implication that I should have been able to reel off a series of achievements, tasks completed and places visited. I resisted this with ‘Not much’: partly out of a fascination to see the reaction and partly to try and lead the conversation elsewhere. I had discovered or rediscovered something really rather important. Too often our identity is inextricably tied up with purpose, activity, function and role. If those are put to one side for a while – what remains? I was reminded that our core identity is not defined by any of these things but far more importantly shaped by being a cherished, loved, valued child of God. This is the case not because of what I do but because of who God is and who I am.
There is the heart of abundant life and abundant living. Whilst sabbatical time may give special opportunity to rediscover this, the daily challenge is to remember this when life gets busy and the diary fuller.
Chris Skilton, Archdeacon of Croydon May 2019