Pastor John has officially concluded his eight-month leave, and he has written an update about his time away. Read the extended version.
For eight months of this year (May–December), I was on a leave of absence. That meant I was free from all my pastoral duties. It also meant that all my public ministry was shut down (with a few exceptions): no preaching, no writing for publication, no speaking (except for the Desiring God National Conference and two overseas engagements), no blogging, no tweeting. Therefore, this report will be on the blessings of this leave.
My heart overflows with thankfulness to God and to the elders and staff and people of Bethlehem, and the team at Desiring God. I know that the staff in particular bore a heavier burden because one of the team was missing. Thank you for this kindness.
In March 2010, I wrote to the elders about the goals of the leave:
Noël and I enter this eight-month season of detachment from public exposure and public productivity with a view to serious biblical examination, assessment, nurture, and growth in four areas: 1) our own individual persons, both physically and spiritually; 2) our marriage; 3) our relationship with our children and their families; 4) our pattern of ministry on returning to Bethlehem.
I will say a few words about each of these. But please know that the depth and magnitude of the value of these months will take the rest of my life to unpack. For example, I kept a journal that is now 265 single-spaced pages and has 214 entries. Most of these are personal reflections on what God has been doing in our lives. Perhaps I will write a book someday called The Leave.
So this report is a tiny fraction of what needs to be said, and what, Lord willing, will be said over the next months in conversations and sermons and blogs and books. I will mainly speak for myself here in the expectation that in various ways Noël will speak of her own experience. I know she is thanking God with me for the value of these months. She has read this report, made tweaks, and given approval.
I have been able to linger longer in the word and prayer than in any other eight-month period in my life. These times have been sweet. The insights and changes in ourselves that we have seen are owing deeply to these meetings with God in his word. I am jealous that these encounters not become hurried or mechanical on my return.
Our normal place of corporate worship has been Sovereign Grace Fellowship, led by Rick Gamache, who used to serve on the Desiring God staff and is one of the best preachers in the Twin Cities.
This was a soul check: Will I flourish spiritually in corporate worship when I am not leading or preaching? O how sweet to experience the answer to this question! I sang and I soaked. And it was not a chafing to be on the front-side of the precious pulpit of God.
I love the word of God, and to have it cascade over me with clarity and depth and power has been authenticating to my faith and my calling. My faith, because I really did enjoy communion with Christ in worship. I experienced afresh that I love God, not just talking about God. And my calling, because I was on the joyful receiving end of the power of the preached word. Yes, I want to preach like this. I want to do this for people.
The crucible for refining my soul is marriage and family—even more so than the challenges of ministry. So I turn to these now, knowing that I am still talking about the effects of the leave on my soul.
On December 21, Noël and I celebrated our 42nd wedding anniversary. It was peaceful, happy, memory-laden, sober, and sweet. We are in a good place.
I would label my decades-long, besetting (and I hope weakening) sins in this relationship as selfishness, self-pity, anger, blaming, and sullenness (all of them species of pride). There are others, but these are close to the root of our troubles. I put my gun-sights (Romans 8:13) on these with increasing focus as the leave went on.
Time will tell, and Noël will tell, whether the progress I have made is deep and durable. I pray it is. How these changes happened and what God has used to bring them about, will, no doubt, be subjects of messages and writings in the months and years to come.