As I write this article, I am on week two of a six week sabbatical from my church. If you’re not familiar with sabbaticals, it basically means I am on a leave of absence from my congregation and pastoral duties. Sabbaticals are generally used for spiritual and physical refreshment and further ministerial education—at least that’s how I am using my time. I am taking advantage of this opportunity to finish my Master’s Degree and recalibrate my lifestyle in terms of my physical and spiritual health. To that end, I am doing a lot of reading, praying, meditating and physical exercise. Pastoral ministry can take its toll; so, I am thankful for this time to reset. 

I am also taking this time to visit other churches. In fact, in the first week, I visited two. This proved to be not only good for me spiritually, but I also gained some invaluable perspective that has helped me sympathize with my own congregation. Let me share five insights with you that I gained this weekend. 

  1. I didn’t like every worship song. Like I said, I went to two services; so, I heard about 6-8 different songs this weekend, and I didn’t like all of them. There were a few I’d never heard before and some I just didn’t enjoy. I found myself not wanting to sing at points but forcing myself to do so in order to honor the Lord. All of this made me realize that my congregation probably doesn’t like all the songs we sing. It also made me appreciate the people who never complain. They just go along with the flow even though they probably feel the same way I did this weekend. 
  2. I didn’t agree with every word that came out of the preachers’ mouths. This is a tough pill for me to swallow because it hits so close to home. I am a preacher. More importantly, I am strict Bible preacher. I aim to say nothing but the truth. Even so, I am sure that not everything I say is accepted as gospel. I know I didn’t agree with everything I heard this weekend. 
  3. I didn’t want to go to church on Sunday. I know this may come as a surprise, but I didn’t want to go to church on Sunday morning—at all! I woke up excited for worship, but a small disagreement with my wife put me in a bad mood. I was in such a bad mood that I almost just stayed home altogether, and even while sitting in the congregation, I didn’t have the best attitude. I am grateful for this experience though, because it made me realize that my church members don’t always want to be there. Some Sundays they too probably get into family squabbles or have other issues going on in their lives that hinder their excitement about being in church. 
  4. I didn’t agree with all the methods and formats. One church served communion during the middle of the service and didn’t guard the table by making it clear that communion is only for baptized believers. The other seemed too emotionally driven for me at times. There were other points of minor disagreement, but suffice it to say, I came to realize that not all of my members agree with everything we do at Blue Ridge. 
  5. I had a desire to be consumer driven. I was very tempted to be all about me when I went to church this weekend. I wanted to go in, get my coffee, sit in my seat with as few people talking to me as possible (I am very introverted around strangers), enjoy the service and go home. The less I had to participate in the better. I preach against this kind of consumeristic approach with my church all the time, and I still will, but I do understand the temptation much better now. 

I am thankful for these experiences. I went into this sabbatical thinking I would go to different churches so I could learn how other ministries operate in order to make my own that much better. But instead what I have learned so far is to sympathize more with my own congregation and how they view church. 

Thanks for reading!

Brandon Sutton (Pastor2334@gmail.com) is the Lead Pastor of Blue Ridge CU Church and New Life Church. Check out both at Blueridgecuchurch.com and Newlifeshelbyville.org.