My First Sabbatical

I leave for my 1st Sabbatical ever on June 16, 2013! I am both excited and nervous!
I am excited because after 15 years of fulltime pastoral service I need it; 10 years as Senior Pastor at Mercy Church and 5 years a Student Pastor elsewhere. Previous to that I served as Student Pastor for 7 years, but it was on a volunteer basis, so I don’t count that. And nervous because I’ve never been away this long before, but thankfully we have a very capable staff and leadership team to handle things.
If you are a part of any denomination you know that they highly recommended their pastors take a sabbatical every 5 to 7 years. So it’s a long time coming for me, I should be on my 3rd Sabbatical by now. Ha ha! Of course, I can’t complain I could have taken one in previous years, but I didn’t. No one to blame but me.
So this blog entry is really more for the Mercy Church congregation, but I also hope to inspire any pastor that reads it to take the recommended sabbatical. You not only need it, but deserve it; whether your church is 100 people or 10,000 people you should take a sabbatical.
Frankly, the reason I never took a sabbatical is that I didn’t feel our church was “big enough” to deserve one. Sad I know, but it’s how I felt. I felt that if we were huge I could justify taking some time away.
Now, mind you, I am not taking an elaborate Sabbatical like some pastors of larger churches do (nothing wrong with an “elaborate” sabbatical if your church can afford it) I wish our church could send me on an trip to the Holy Land to walk where Jesus walked … that would be so cool!)
I am taking just some time away to rest, refresh, and recharge! And I am even doing it combined with my yearly family vacation.
So let me be clear here, Mercy Church is NOT PAYING for my vacation or Sabbatical, but they are paying me while on my sabbatical. Make sense? There is not going to be any additional expenditures for Mercy Church during this time.
Sabbaticals can range in length from 1 month (which is what I am doing) to taking 1 year away … and everything in between. Again, just depends on the size of your church and abilities of staff to run the church while you are away.  
I have done some reading on Sabbatical Guidelines, a “what-to-do” while on sabbatical. And there are a million different ways to do this, and I am doing my own variation.
During the first half of my sabbatical I am going to detox myself by not even thinking about church related stuff (believe it or not this is extremely difficult for me.) It’s difficult because I actually do enjoy what I do; I am one of the lucky ones, doing what I love to do. I hope to accomplish this by reading fiction books and enjoying time with family. “Clearing the palate” as they say. Then during the latter half of my sabbatical I will begin journaling and looking into the future for what God is doing in me and through me as well as through Mercy Church.
If you think about it say a prayer for me that while away I will be rested and refreshed and ready for yet another 15 years of pastoral ministry.
Further Reading on Sabbaticals:

Don't Let Ministry Kill You

(This blog entry is for anyone considering being a pastor)

This month Mercy Church (formerly known as Olathe Life Fellowship) celebrates its 10th Anniversary. I almost wanted to say, “Mercy Church survives 10 years of ministry by the grace of God!” On some level that is totally true! Sometimes that’s just how ministry feels … almost like running a marathon. It’s extremely rewarding and euphoric at times, but also difficult and grueling. It’s been a wonderful 10 years, though my hope and prayer is that the next 10 are even more fruitful.

I am a part of a wonderful church planting organization called ARC (Association of Related Churches) based out of Birmingham, Alabama. Because of that relationship I get calls from young soon-to-be church planters/pastors asking me to share the wisdom from my experience of planting a church 10 years ago and we are still up and running.

I am not sure if what I have to share would be considered wisdom, but I have learned some things, though not all good, but it is my experience, my journey of planting a church. So here you go, a few things I’ve learned over the 10 years of being a pastor, church planter, teacher, leader, friend, counselor, wedding officiant, administrator, visionary, financial planner, strategist, and most importantly - husband, father and of course Christ-follower!

1)      It’s easy to lose your family in the maze of ministry!

Don’t! It’s just not worth it. Your family is more important! Please don’t forget that! Fortunately I have kept my marriage and my family, but it hasn’t been easy, and not without some battle wounds. You have heard it said a million times, “your #1 ministry is YOUR FAMILY!” Live like that is true, because it is.

2)      Try to keep your ego out of it.

Early on I really struggled with this one, actually I’m not really so sure I struggled with it; I just let my ego run wild. It’s hard to do and I’m not so sure I am doing so good at it now, but I know I am way beyond where I was years ago! Age and experience has a way of refining you, if you let it.

I believe that if you can keep your ego out of it you will see the success you dream about sooner than later.

3)      Be careful how you define success.

I come from a church culture that defines success in numbers. And for a church that is Attendance and Offering numbers. If those are up and growing, then you are a success, if not, than you are not a success.

And what sucks is that as much as we say, “I don’t care about the numbers!” We do care, and the line we always use to justify this obsession is, “numbers equal people and we care about people … plus there is an Old Testament Book of the Bible named Numbers!” Ha ha! On one hand I get it, and we count every Sunday both attendance and offering to see where we are, and that’s okay. We want to be good stewards! BUT if you get your value and sense of well-being from those numbers, something is seriously out of whack.

If you want to get Biblical about it, just look at various characters in the Bible who didn’t seem to have the “numbers” or the “success” but were following God’s perfect plan for their lives and ministry, i.e. Jeremiah is a good one.

Obviously, our churches should be pursuing growth, especially if it’s reaching people for Christ! But, in my humble opinion I believe that our success should be defined by three things:

                                           I.            Our personal relationship with God.

                                        II.            Our relationship with our spouse.

                                     III.            Our person relationship with others.

4)      You can’t make everyone happy.

I have tried, and it is the one thing in life that I have conceded is in fact impossible. It doesn’t matter what you do, you’ll never make everyone happy. If you do contemporary worship some will love it, some will not. (I know, hard to believe!) If you preach verse by verse some will love it, some will not. If you preach topical, some will love it, some will not. Some will like the new staff member, others will not. Some will like the church structure, others will not. On and on we go.

Bottom line, your church cannot make everyone happy, so don’t even try.

5)      Be who God called you to be.

Yet another area I struggled with early on in ministry. And frankly, I still wrestle with knowing just who I am. But early on I tried to be Rick Warren (although a skinnier version (I don’t mean that mean, it’s just what popped into my mind, so I typed it … lol!) I tried to be Andy Stanley, Bill Hybels, Joel Osteen, Timothy Keller, Chris Hodges, (add successful famous pastor’s name here) and it just didn’t work.
I did and do actually preach my own original sermons each week (maybe that’s the problem – lol!) so I never got in to preaching other pastors material, but I tried to be like them in other ways, and it just didn’t work. I am Timmy Gibson, a unique and special individual, just like you are unique and have that special something that only you have. Be you, and I promise you won’t have to try as hard!

6)      Love Jesus.

Thankfully this is one area that’s been easy for me, probably because of my strong Christian heritage. I love Jesus more today than ever. Unfortunately I have seen many pastors fall by the wayside for some reason or another. Usually sin. I don’t know how else to say it, but simply love Jesus a lot! Let it be the one thing that is constant about you and your life. People will appreciate it more than a lot of other things you could do for them.

And by “loving Jesus” I am talking about doing whatever it takes to maintain a close relationship with Him! You won’t regret it.

7)      Constantly ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?”

And answer HONESTLY! Sometimes we do good things for the WRONG reasons. Be careful, it’s easy to do. Too many pastors do what they do more for their ego then they do for God or people. I know this because I’ve been there.

8)      Find community outside your church.

I’ve made friends in our church, and have lost friends in our church! Ouch! Ministry is painful. Everyone wants to be your friend (at least they think they do). But the reality is that most people can’t handle it, even in a culture like ours where who I am on Sunday is who I am during the week still doesn’t work to have close friends from the congregation. I have even had people seek my friendship and when they don’t get it leave the church. Ha ha! I’m not totally sure why friendships don’t work with those inside the church, it just doesn’t.

There are exceptions to the rule, I do have a couple friends who have been mature enough to be our friends and congregation members at the same time, but normally this never works out. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a relationship with someone in the church, but a close friendship is pretty impossible. Here is one reason; if and when they leave your church it is incredible difficult to not take it personal … especially when they have told you, “I would never leave you or your church … unless you killed someone, then I might leave.” And next thing you know, they leave.

So, be careful and look for friends outside your local church, and having other pastors as friends can be helpful too … only if they are awesome!

9)      To be a pastor you must be called to do it. 

      Don’t do it because you think it will be cool. Ha ha! First, it’s not cool! Secondly, you won’t last unless you are called to do it.

10)   Have fun!

Ministry should be enjoyable. I had fun the first several years, then as ministry got tough and people got difficult I stopped having fun. And what is sad is that I am normally a really fun guy who loves to laugh and have a good time. Ministry sucked that out of me. And I went through a season of funk that wasn’t fun. Not for me, my wife, my kids or those who worked with me. Actually the whole church culture began to shift from a from place to a not so fun place. That led to hiring some not-so-fun people that would’ve never been hired in our fun phase. Of course I had to fire them so we could begin getting our fun culture back. It’s taken a while, but we’re back, thank God!

Here’s the deal, just like most things in life there is a side of it (whatever “it” is) that we love and enjoy, then there is another side that isn’t so enjoyable. Not that it is bad in any way, there is just a fun part and a not so fun part. It’s life. It’s like a child; there are a lot of wonderful things about having children. But with that comes poopy diapers that need to be changed, dirty butts that need to be wiped, etc. It’s just part of it. Church is no different! There are things about it I absolutely love, and there is the other. What I have learned to do is to remember to focus on the things I love. You should too! And don’t allow anything to rip the fun out of ministry.

My prayers are with you!

How to Get a Full-Time Ministry Job

What does it take to get a full-time job?

That's a question I wrestled with right out of bible college, as I know many bible college graduates do. The principles I will share here apply to ANY college graduate who would like to do something they love full-time.

I’ve had several young college graduates over the years, fresh off the campus of some Bible College ask me about how to get into a full-time ministry job. And I actually do have some thoughts on that subject, being in ministry myself for over 22 years now, 15 of which have been full-time. I have a few pointers for young ministers who desire to be in the ever-so coveted ‘full-time ministry’ position.

And just a side note here, I completely understand desiring to be in full-time ministry; I really craved it like I crave food after missing several meals. It was all I could think about, and there were times I wondered, “Would I ever be in full-time ministry?” And it bothered me with each passing day that I wasn’t, because I really wanted to be doing my ‘calling’ full-time. Many nights I would fall asleep crying as I prayed for the opportunity. I really struggled while waiting tables at restaurants during those early years, knowing my heart was really in ministry, but I knew it was all part of the bigger picture, my life’s journey.


I am not going to state the obvious things that are necessary for ministry, i.e. a true heart for God, people skills, healthy spiritual disciplines, being a person of strong character, and integrity, etc. etc. You know this, or should!

1)  Be a great FOLLOWER.  

How well you follow another leader will determine how well you lead others, or if you get to lead others.

If all you really want is to be in the position of ‘leader’ you are missing the whole point of Jesus’ example of servant leadership in ministry. You do not influence people with a position or title, many young leaders miss this. They think they need the position to lead, but they don’t, they just need to be able to influence, then they’ll be the leader. This is why many would-be leaders don’t ever rise to leadership: They aren’t effective at influencing others.

“Leadership is influence” John Maxwell

Jesus came to serve, not be served and that is true leadership. If all you want is to be large and in charge, it’s not going to work out so well for you, especially in the church world. In the church world it’s all about humility and that’s something we all struggle with.

2)  Treat your volunteer position or part-time staff position like you would a FULL-TIME position.

I don’t mean put in crazy hours and sacrifice your life or the life of your family, but be diligent, committed, engaged, be organized, be a go-getter and model hard work and faithfulness.

I spent seven years as a volunteer in the local church before I was ever even considered for a ‘paid’ position. I worked my rear off FOR FREE! Not to mention many years I spent in a church that I wasn’t ever told “thank you” by any of the paid leadership, and that was okay, because I wasn’t doing it for them. I don’t regret one second of it! I was getting an education, and if I’m being honest here, maybe more of an education in ministry than I did even at Bible College. It was a hands-on education for sure.

I never felt ‘entitled’ like so many I see today do. I knew I had to earn my keep with blood, sweat and tears. I didn’t expect anything I didn’t earn. Just because I went to four years of Bible College didn’t mean jack crap in the real world, and I knew that. I had to prove myself by getting the job done, and done well. Everyone MUST prove themselves. Education is very important, but an education doesn’t supersede being able to get-r-done. I don’t care how many degrees you have -- if you can’t do the job, then what’s the point? Again, education is really important, but it is only part of the picture. Knowing HOW to do something is much different than actually being able to DO it.

The worst thing you could ever say to a pastor/boss/supervisor, “If I was full-time I could do a better job.” Ha ha! I actually had a young staff member say this to me years ago. And I said, “What you do as a part-timer is what we’ll get if we hire you full-time, just more of it!” And that wasn’t much, if anything.

My dad taught me to “work as unto the Lord, not unto men.” Which he said, “Son, even if you are volunteering for something, do it with all you got, as if your life depended on it. Do it better than everyone else, and you will be rewarded!”

We had a volunteer here at Mercy Church back several years -- we’ve actually had many wonderful volunteers -- but one sticks out to me because he went on to full-time ministry, and I knew he would. Why? Because he was AWESOME as a volunteer, far exceeded most all ‘paid staff’ at the church at that time. He never asked for anything, he just got it done, and got it done very well. He went on to Bible College, then on to work in youth ministry at a very large church in Arizona. And guess what? He is knocking it out of the park, of course, I knew he would, I saw it in him as a volunteer.

Proverbs 18:16 A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before the great.

This is the very reason I was hired on at a mega-church down in Texas with no real prior “full-time” experience. The pastor called my VOLUNTEER REFERENCES and I received HIGH reviews. And any pastor knows that how you are as a volunteer so you are as a staff member.

A pastor sees that you knocked it out with no pay, and that tells him you’ve got a great work ethic, and that your motivation is in the right place. You are doing it for the love of God and ministry, not the money.

3)  Don’t treat your volunteer position or part-time position as a mere ‘stepping stone’ to great things.

There is one thing I have learned in ministry, and that is we are in the people business, and if you are not genuinely concerned about others, you’ll never make it in ministry. If you are doing ministry more for yourself, your own ego, it’s not going to go well at all.

I know this all too well, because that was me for many years. I wanted ministry more for my own ego than I did to really serve people and further the cause of Christ. Now of course I could, and did, know that right answer when people would ask, “Why I was in ministry,” but it wasn’t the truth. I was self-deceived. But I knew the truth down deep, I wanted ministry for me.

I stopped doing the volunteer opportunities like mere steppingstones and began really pouring myself into them. Truth be told, many times employers will look at the volunteer “experience” as real experience, so make it worth having on your resume!

4)  Be so good that they’ll have to hire you full-time.

I have told many part time staff over the years, make me hire you fulltime! Make me go get a side job to pay you. I have had some staff take my up on that over the years.

5)  Help grow the church, not just your ministry.

Be a team player!

6)  Never ever, ever make excuses.

The worst line I can ever hear from someone, “we can’t do that now because …” or, “If only we had more money we could do something cool …” excuses, excuses, excuses. My personal opinion is that leaders don’t make excuses. This doesn’t mean we ignore obstacles, but a real leader looks for ways to get under, over, or through any obstacle!

Side note: Yes there are times that you can’t do something because of some limitation, whether its lack of people or money, I get it. But that is when a real leader thinks of another way to do it. Don’t let some little limitation stop you from doing something great. Don’t sell out to excuses. Because if you do, you’ll have an excuse for why you haven’t done anything great in life.

A Story of overcoming an obstacle: Back when we started the church, we didn’t have a facility. We rented a school for Sunday service, so we didn’t have a cool place to hold our youth mid-week service. And we didn’t have money, didn’t have a live band, and not very many youth either. That didn’t stop the youth from coming up with an idea to hold service in my garage each week. They hung black sheets to cover the junk in my garage, and set up some chairs, printed cool little bulletins and set up a little sound system to play worship via CD. It wasn’t long before they packed out my garage with 30-40 students every Wednesday night. It was crazy.

Where there is a will, there is a way!

One of the churches I had the most success in was a lame church, with lame leadership, a lame vision, lame facilities (church was in a trailer home converted into a church,) lame doctrine, lame area, lame pay ($25 a month was my salary) and only a handful of kids. We took that little handful of teenage kids and grew it to 24 students in six months.

I treated that ‘lame’ position like it was a full-time position with a big salary, an attractive health insurance package and a 401(k)! The position deserved my full heart, it deserved my full effort … I was doing it for God. And I used that experience on my resume!

7)  Be loyal to the boss/pastor.

One of the things that I learned the hard way was how to be a loyal employee/staff member. It’s critical to the success of the organization as well as to the relationships within the organization.  All bosses require it, even if they don’t verbalize it, they expect it. And it should be given, even if the boss isn’t all that great. And if you are in a situation where the boss is legitimately bad, move on. Don’t cause strife and division, move on and find a boss you can support and be loyal to.

Q: What if I am at a church that that isn’t growing enough to offer a full-time job?

Great question, I recommend making an appointment with the pastor/leader/boss and saying, “Hey, I’d love to be full-time, is that a possibility here, and if not do you mind if I start searching?” and any loving good pastor would say, “Absolutely you can! I will help you, I have many contacts.”