Lessons from a Sabbatical


Remember that finger motion rhyme we learned as kids? It was called, Here is the Church.  It went something like this…

Here is the church (fold hands, fingers inside)
And here is the steeple (index fingers up)
Open the doors (thumbs apart)
And see all the people (wiggle inside fingers)

That was so fun to do! Sadly, for many churches, you no longer “see all the people.” The Western Church is in decline (unlike other parts of the world). In America there is a growing number of “nones” and “dones” – people who are no longer affiliated with a church and those who are done with the church. In Edinburgh, where we spent much of our Sabbatical, only 1% of the community attends church. One pastor said that at one time people in their city would look to these steeples for hope, now they look past them and no longer see the church as relevant. Much of the culture is simply indifferent towards the church.


Sabbaticals give an opportunity to grow and expand one’s perspective. That was true of mine. During my time away I had the chance read, listen, and to talk to a number of pastors and church leaders. My conversations with them centered around the challenges we face as a church. There is growing gap between the church and the culture around us.

As I learned and listened from others during my Sabbatical, here are some of my take aways:

  1. We need to think more like missionaries than church attenders. We are called to spread the Gospel. To that, we cannot be sidetracked. Christ and the cross must be at the center of all we do. Outreach can be as simple as helping a neighbor or as challenging as providing housing for the homeless.
  2. We should be engaging in the world in such a way that it looks like Jesus! As a church, we are the hands and feet of Jesus, who is the head of the church. We should reflect Him, not our political or personal preferences. If we engage with the world the way the world does, we have lost our mission.
  3. We need a holy discontent. God transforms things! One thing I discovered is that pastors are hopeful. They are seeing God work and expecting greater things in the future. One pastor said, regarding the future of the church, “The church must change to thrive. True revival through repentance. A heart to turn from sin, reach more sinners, seek Jesus, and change the world. I’m hopeful the church is going to be unlike anything we’ve ever been before. But, there’s a change happening. We must become who Jesus wants us to be.”  
  4. Too many churches have positioned themselves perfectly to reach a world that no longer exists. We need to rethink our ecclesiology and strategies to reach the world around us. If we think we are always right, something is wrong with us. We need to be teachable and embrace change.
  5. COVID has stressed us all. We have rediscovered our need to gather as a Church. Online church is like trying to have an online marriage. It may work for a while, but we really need one other in person!
  6. What we focus on is what we worship. Sadly, good things have become our idols. The church must let go of traditions and programs that are no longer effective.    
  7. There are three crises in our Culture: Gender, Race, and Sexuality. How is the church going to respond? Both truth and grace are needed. The world is longing for authenticity and belonging. The church should be a place where people find that! 
  8. The church is increasingly juxtaposed to mainstream society. As we follow Jesus, we will be more marginalized and criticized by the world. But that’s okay, we are called to be different. We should expect persecution. One pastor put it this way, “Stand firm in doctrine or we’ll lose the very strength of the gospel. At the same time, we need to be actively reaching out and welcoming to any and all people…no judgment. We’re not very good at that.”
  9. Prayer is the key bridge to reach the unreached. David Hill, the founder “TryPraying.org” shared with me his strategy of asking unbelievers to “try praying” for seven days. Sounds radical, but it’s working. Also, people are open to prayer in crises. We need to be willing to pray for and with others. Why? Because only God can change a heart.


What are your observations about Church and Culture? Where are we headed as a church? How can we impact the culture for Christ?

Finally, just another reminder that this month is Pastor Appreciation Month. Do something really nice for your pastor and family! Here is a link for a “Guide to Pastor Appreciation Month” from Focus on the Family:  https://www.dropbox.com/s/14l58807am2vjql/2021Clergy-Appreciation-Month.pdf?dl=0

One Comment Add yours

  1. William Harold Vermillion says:

    Thanks Randy. Several of your comments stimulated my thinking this morning. I believe the 3 issues you mentioned need to also include power and money, so when I say that it helps me realize that the early church faced similar issues in gender, race and sexuality. Interesting to study how they faced these and I believe that helps in answering or dealing with your other observations. Certainly, from what we know and are admonished in scripture they did so with truth and grace. Thye were proactive and wiling to suffer for their faith. Maybe that is one of the keys to understanding the growth of the church worldwide. We are indeed dual citizens, one citizenship in this country and one in the Kingdom of God. If we are going to live out inaugural eschatology we must understand that..

    Liked by 1 person

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