Eric Geiger - a Husband, Father, Author, Vice-President of LifeWay Church Resources

07.24.2014

A Wandering Ministry

There is a tendency in any organization, in any ministry, toward wandering. For a season, people might be focused and motivated to move in a single direction, but then something happens. Things catch their attention. Other priorities come up. The urgency that was once so acutely felt fades to the background. Slowly the organization drifts toward giving time, energy, and resources to ancillary matters. The mission is no longer central; the focus is no longer intense.

That’s why one of the duties of leadership is saying the same thing over and over again. A wise leader is a repetitive one.

Church leaders must not only be aware of their core convictions and mission but must also articulate them plainly before people over and over again. Church leaders must constantly be reminding.

Wise leaders look for the wandering, and quickly move to address it.

Maybe you’re sensing that right now. Perhaps something seems off. In many cases, that “something” is a deep-rooted understanding of who you are as a church, a deeply shared commitment to the theology and doctrine that undergirds all your church does. What’s missing is that sense of identity that galvanizes, motivates, and focuses your people on your God-given mission. In many cases, the “core values” or the “mission” are merely words on the back of a bulletin that lose meaning because the people aren’t reminded of the heart behind the phrases. So if something just doesn’t seem right, it’s often because the majority of members have not fully ingested the stated mission and values of the church.

So how do leaders communicate the church’s mission and values?

1) Live the mission and values.

John Kotter stated, “Behavior from important people in the organization that is contrary to the mission overwhelms all other forms of communication.” In other words, if leaders do NOT live the mission, the slogans and communication pieces are an absolute waste of time and money. Living is deeper than “modeling.” One can “model” mission because it is in his/her job profile without authentically living it.

2) Teach the mission and values.

Wise pastors look for appropriate opportunities in their messages to remind the people “this is who we are” and “this is our mission.” But teaching goes beyond the sermon. Wise leaders look for other environments, from leadership meetings to small group gatherings, to remind people of the church’s identity.

Because wandering and drift happens, leaders are necessary. And it is necessary for leaders to both live and remind the people of the mission and values that are beneath the surface of everything the church does.

Many church leaders are finding that small groups are an excellent environment for instilling core values into the people of the church. Think about it as you enter this Fall season of ministry. You have a chance to refocus your people, to bring them back to the core of who you are as an individual church. Your small groups can be an environment where those values and mission are imbedded deep into the hearts and minds of your people.


In the division I lead at LifeWay, we have a team of custom content creators who are creating studies for churches, based on the church’s unique mission and values. If that would serve you well, then I encourage you to check out discipleshipincontext.com. Be it with a study aligned to your weekly messages, or through studies that stand on their own, LifeWay can partner with you to create custom studies that perfectly reflect your core values and help you create the unique culture you are praying for and striving for.

Interested in customized studies for your groups? Check out discipleshipincontext.com.

 

 

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07.17.2014

4 Ministry Reminders from Backyard Bible Club

A few weeks ago, we hosted a Backyard Bible Club at our house. About 35 kids, mostly from our neighborhood, came to our house from 9:30-11:30 each morning for three days. Kaye recruited friends, neighborhood moms, and teenagers to help. It was great. Our kids loved it. The neighborhood kids loved it. And it was a fun opportunity to serve our neighborhood. The experience reminded us of a few things we have learned in ministry:

1) The gospel is counterintuitive.

Kaye led the Bible story each day. She asked the older kids, “Can you get to heaven by being a good person?” The vast majority said, “Yes.” Yes seems like it would be the right answer. After all, these kids have already learned they must earn things. They must earn their good grades, earn their rewards for good behavior, and earn their trophies and ribbons. The good news of Jesus, that His grace is unearned and absolutely free, is counterintuitive to much of what we see in this world. Because the gospel is so counterintuitive, we must constantly remind people of it.

2) Teenagers are altruistic.

The Backyard Bible Club would not have been as fun if it were not for the teenagers in our neighborhood who jumped in and made it awesome for the kids. Student ministries in local churches must provide opportunities for students to serve. For many students, community will be developed through serving.

3) People respond to personal invitations.

Kaye invited moms and their kids to come, and they did. People respond to personal invitations. Research and personal experience continually show us that people in our cities and neighborhoods will respond if they are invited.

4) Kids love music.

The producers of Frozen, of course, know this. Because kids love music, Frozen can be released as a movie and then come out months later with a sing-a-long version. Music teaches. Music is powerful. And kids love it. Kaye received multiple messages from mothers showing their kids singing the songs they learned at Backyard Bible Club. A kids ministry without music is a kids ministry that is operating without a major teaching tool.


Because music is such a great ministry tool for kids, I am excited about the new kids large group worship resource called “Worship for Life.” For more information, click here.

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07.16.2014

3 Wrong Assumptions Church Leaders Make

The following is a guest post by Trevin Wax​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, and blogger at The Gospel Coalition.


As a church leader, you’ve probably noticed that when your assumptions are incorrect, you’re more likely to implement plans that don’t go anywhere. Why? Because what we’ve assumed to be true about the people in our congregations isn’t in line with reality. So, we’re forced to go back to the drawing board to determine what went wrong.

Much of our angst could be resolved by correcting our assumptions.

Here are three wrong assumptions we often make:

1. Your church wants to grow by reaching the lost.

Every pastoral candidate hears the search committee say, “We really want to grow!” Usually these comments are offered in good faith. The pastor is excited to know that the influencers in the church are committed to seeing the church grow. It’s easy to begin making decisions based on that information.

Unfortunately, there are two elements that make this assumption wrongheaded. First, it may be true that some in your church want to grow, but it’s also possible that the majority simply say they want growth, but not at the expense of their preferences.

Secondly, it’s possible that the church really does want to grow, but their vision of growth is different than yours. They see “good growth” as attracting tithing families from other congregations or established Christians new to the area. They aren’t necessarily passionate about seeing growth take place by reaching lost people far from God, and that makes them less likely to support your ideas of changing things in order to reach the lost.

2. Your church believes the Bible should be the ultimate authority for life.

As a church leader, you are convinced that the Bible is the ultimate authority. When the Word of God is clear on an issue, we are called to respond with obedience. It’s easy to assume that everyone in your congregation has the same high view of the Scriptures.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long to realize that there are some church members who, when faced with clear biblical teaching, will still choose to do what they want. I remember how surprised I was the first time someone told me they agreed that God’s Word was clear on an issue, only then to disregard His truth and go their own way.

3. Your church understands salvation by grace alone.

Sociologist Christian Smith has coined the phrase “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” to describe the dominant religious views of people in North America. Within this framework, the point of Christianity is to make us nice, moral people who find happiness in fulfilling our dreams and are rewarded with heaven after we die. The terminology of “grace” and “faith” can be incorporated into this essentially Deist understanding of salvation.

It’s easy for people in our congregation to know in their heads that salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ, but to act and speak in ways that reveal a different understanding: that good works bring good rewards.

What about you?

What are some wrong assumptions you’ve made in ministry? How can we help lead our churches to the point these assumptions are no longer incorrect?

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06.05.2014

What happens when your discipleship pastor goes missing?

Leaders and organizations make decisions all the time. They choose a direction, allocate resources, and execute. Often there are unintended implications, sometimes good and sometimes bad. The unintended implications don’t necessarily reveal themselves immediately but are often more understood as time passes.

In the last 6-8 years, the role of “minister of education” or “discipleship pastor” has been diminishing in many churches. For those unfamiliar with the role, for many years, in churches of 200 or more, a minister of education/discipleship pastor was often hired to lead all the “education” or discipleship ministries of the church. The staff member typically provided direction to the adult groups either directly or through a team and led staff and leaders assigned to other age groups. So in those churches, a kids ministry director/pastor and student ministry director/pastor reported to the minister of education.

Depending on the context, there may be multiple reasons why churches moved away from the role. One, of course, was financial. Some churches and church leaders viewed the “minister of education” as middle management. And we know what happens to middle management in a financial crisis. Instead of leading through the minister of education/discipleship pastor, senior pastors/executive pastors decided they would lead the kids, students, and adult teams directly.

In some churches, the move has worked well. Senior pastors/executive pastors have stepped in and effectively filled the need that the minister of education was addressing. But in many churches, three unintended consequences have emerged.

1) The emergence of ministry silos

The discipleship pastor/minister of education met weekly with the discipleship staff. In healthy environments, the team cared for one another, read and prayed together, and looked to work together. At a minimum, each ministry leader had visibility into the other areas of ministry. With that team no longer meeting under a strong leader’s direction and no longer seeing the bigger picture together, ministry silos developed or were solidified in many churches. Instead of the church feeling like one church moving in the same direction, it feels like several different churches sharing space and officing down the hall from one another.

2) Loss of philosophical harmony

A strong discipleship pastor/minister of education works hard to ensure the discipleship team is on the same page in thinking about ministry (ministry philosophy). The discipleship pastor invests in the team, provides insight and encouragement, and facilitates discussions about the theology and ministry philosophy underneath all the ministry activities. With that ripped out of some staff teams, ministry activity without a coherent and consistent ministry philosophy increased. In other words, without a harmony around ministry philosophy, kids ministries may function with a completely different ministry philosophy than the student ministry or the adult ministry.

3) Loss of continuity

A strong discipleship pastor helps the team think through how people develop at different stages of life, how a child progresses from the kids ministry to the student ministry, and how the family is served along the way. Without philosophical harmony and with ministry silos, transitions from one ministry area to another are more difficult. After all, the ministries within the church are so radically different that it feels like a completely different church.

Surely we can agree that ministry silos foster disunity and that it’s wise for a church to be aligned in their ministry philosophy. Whether a church has a dedicated staff member that fully leads this endeavor or not, churches are wise to invest heavily in the discipleship ministries of the church.

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06.03.2014

3 Reminders from the Cult I Accidentally Joined

About six months ago, something unexpected and strange started happening to me. People, it seemed, began to wave to me as I was driving.

For 18 years I had driven the same ’95 Nissan pickup truck, the one I purchased with my father my freshman year of college. Because the truck died, my plan to get a new vehicle was accelerated by two years. I purchased my dream ride—a Jeep Wrangler.

That is when the waves began. Other Jeep drivers began waving to me. It took me a few days to mentally connect the dots, to realize that the only thing all the waves had in common was that the drivers all drove Jeep Wranglers. I did a bit of research and discovered I had accidentally joined a cult. Dissertations have been written on “the Jeep people”—the people who love a vehicle that rides rough and gets horrible gas mileage because we can take the tops off and go off-road if we desire. There are websites celebrating the cult of Jeep and even instructions in forums detailing how Jeep owners should wave to one another—except for Jeep Cherokee drivers as apparently they don’t count as real.

I am now a member of the Jeep community, and the experience has reminded me of three things about community:

1) Everyone desires community.

I must admit I have enjoyed being a part of the club. I love my new ride, and the waves, as strange as it sounds, are nice. Kaye loves driving my Jeep because, and I quote, “People are so nice to me!!” I have been included in a community I didn’t even know existed. And no matter what type of day I have, someone is going to wave to me.

The reason we long to belong to something, the reason we all want community, is that God has created us for community. Early in the biblical narrative, before sin tainted and impacted everything, we learn that is not good for “man to be alone.” We were created to belong, to live in community. And God has given us the gift of Christian community to mature us and encourage us.

2) Community is only as strong as what it is built upon.

While I love my Jeep, the Jeep community I am part of is a bit shallow and temporary. This is not an indictment on those in the Jeep community but an indictment on the foundation of the community. The foundation of the community is weak. It is temporary and fleeting. For example, I have mistakenly waved to people while forgetting that I am driving my wife’s car, only to be met with a cold stare. My Jeep community is built on something that will not last, on something that I can lose or sell or have stolen.

Community means common unity. It essentially means to unite around something that we have in common. What we have in common, what unites believers, is so much deeper than any other common unity. True Christian community is strong and lasts because it is built on the foundation of our eternal King who offered Himself for us. It is built on a foundation that does not shift and is everlasting. D.A. Carson reminds us:

The church is made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything else of that sort. Christians come together because they have all been saved by Jesus Christ… They are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.

3) Community is costly.

Every community costs. Being in a running club, for example, costs you energy, money, and time. Joining a chess club, a group of Mac users, or a Harley Davidson riding group will cost you. My entrance into the Jeep community was secured the day I purchased my new Jeep.

Christian community is costly too. And we have a Savior-King who has paid the full price for us so we may belong to Him and to one another. Our community was secured when He purchased men for God from every tribe, tongue, and nation. Our community was secured when He paid for redemption, not with silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ.

Because of what He has done for us, we are encouraged to unite around the same purpose and humbly submit ourselves to one another. Of course, this is costly too. It means “thinking of others as more important than ourselves” (Philippians 2:1-4). But our cost pales in comparison to what securing our community cost Him.

I really am enjoying my new Jeep. The waves are nice too. But the community pales in comparison to the community Christ gives us. Our foundation is so much stronger, so much richer.

8 Comments
05.29.2014

Why Churches Should Give Pastors Sabbaticals

I know that the decision makers for giving pastors a sabbatical vary according to context. The ones responsible with the decision may be executive staff, elder team, deacon body, or personnel team. If you are on one of those teams, I encourage you to give your pastors a sabbatical for two reasons: (1) for the sake of the pastors and (2) for the sake of the church.

For the sake of the pastors:

God gives local churches pastors as gifts to shepherd His people, so we should treat them as the gifts that they are. In Ephesians 4:11-12, the apostle Paul paints the picture that pastors/teachers are to equip the body for the work of the ministry. But before he outlines the responsibility of pastors to train others for ministry, he writes:

Now grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of the Messiah’s gift. For it says: When He ascended on high, He took prisoners into captivity; He gave gifts to people. But what does “He ascended” mean except that He descended to the lower parts of the earth? The One who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. Ephesians 4:7-10

In these verses, Paul draws on the language and context of Psalm 68, a psalm originally written about a military victor who had the right to receive gifts from the people he had conquered. We were the enemies of God, but Jesus has conquered our hearts, and we have become His subjects through His grace. Jesus is a very different conquering King; instead of demanding gifts from His new subjects, He gives gifts. And included in His gifts to His church are leaders. God gifts His church with pastors equipped by Him to serve and lead.

Do you want your pastors to be healthy? Do you want them to be refreshed and rested? Do you value them as a gracious gift the Lord has given you?

For the sake of the church:

Simultaneously, giving the pastors a sabbatical is in the best interest of the church. Just as a family is rarely healthy if the father is not healthy, a local church will rarely be healthy if the pastors aren’t healthy. A pastor who is exhausted will be less effective in his role than one who is vibrant and full of life. A pastor who is going through the motions, who has become numb because of the incredible burden, will not be as much of a blessing to the people as one who is refreshed in his walk with the Lord. For the sake of the church, give your pastors a sabbatical.

Some practical suggestions to those who make the decision:

1. Budget to have others fill the pulpit.

When the pastor who teaches is away, ensure the church is well fed. If necessary, budget for others to come preach/teach. The church will benefit from a new messenger and a different teaching style.

2. Assign point people for other areas of ministry.

Work with the pastor to formulate a list of the key responsibilities he handles, and assign each responsibility clearly to one person. Communicate who will be handling what during the sabbatical so that the ministry happens seamlessly during the time away.

3. Encourage him to go.

Some pastors will not want to take a sabbatical. They may be filled with self-imposed guilt, not thinking they deserve a time away. Remind them that ministry is built on grace. Some may have a difficult time letting go of the ministry for a season. Remind them that the church is ultimately God’s. Encouraging your pastor to take a sabbatical is encouraging him to trust the Lord, to allow others to serve, and to prepare for a new season of ministry.

4. Realize the people are the ministers.

If a church feels that ministry stops when the “minister” is on sabbatical, the church is woefully unhealthy and hampered with an unbiblical view of ministry. All believers are priests (see 1 Peter 2:9), grafted into the body of Christ with a spiritual gift (see Romans 12:5), and equipped with the same Holy Spirit the “minister” received. In other words, the ministry is supposed to be in the hands of the people. Continue to serve fully as the leader pulls away for a time of refreshing and renewal.

How often and how long should the sabbatical be? Views vary. Some churches give 5-6 weeks every five years of ministry. Others give 4 weeks every other year. Some churches give a month each summer to those who preach/teach regularly. Whatever you decide, encourage the pastors to take a sabbatical. It is in the best interest of him and the church.

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05.28.2014

Avoiding a Moral Fall

Every year dozens of pastors fall, and it’s almost always because of a moral failure. Not an ethical one, not a doctrinal one – a moral one. Why?

Mike Minter shares why this happens – pastors “get used to the dark.” That is, pastors become accustomed to the lower moral standards of the culture. Minter explains why this is so dangerous and calls pastors to a high moral standard then teaches some particular ways to maintain this.

Learn more about Ministry Grid and how it can help your church flexibly and effectively train volunteers.

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05.27.2014

7 Sabbatical Lessons

Last week I had a conversation with a pastor who was about to go on his sabbatical. With great focus and intentionality, he was planning the time away, which by God’s grace will refresh him. His family and the church he serves will benefit. The conversation reminded me of my first sabbatical and the insights I gained from the experience.

The church I served as executive pastor for eight years (Christ Fellowship) graciously gives their pastors a sabbatical. Mine was scheduled for six weeks in the summer of 2010, but I was not quite sure I was going to make it until then.

In January of 2010, some signs of exhaustion were clear. I was struggling to sleep at night, always thinking about some issue or opportunity as I tossed in bed. I felt impatient and numb. I would completely crash on the couch on Sunday afternoons, barely move until Monday morning, and wake up still very tired. I was transparent with Kaye, my wife, and told her I thought I could make it until June—the start of the sabbatical. But in April, I hit a wall. I was in a simple meeting with our business administrator looking at a budget report, not something that usually stumped me. But I could not make sense of it. I was gone, toast. There was nothing left.

I called Kaye, and she quickly called a family in the church who let me stay at their house in the Florida Keys for a few days. Kaye came down at nights to have dinner. I slept, read, ate, and slept again each day for two days. God used those few days to get me through to the sabbatical and to show me how much I needed the time that the church was going to graciously give me in just a few weeks.

The sabbatical was incredible. Kaye and I planned it with great intentionality. And the Lord used it deeply in my life. I read entire books of the Bible in one sitting and felt overwhelmed with the grace of God. I played for hours with our girls, took Kaye on tons of dates, never once answered my phone, and exercised almost every day. When I came back to my ministry role, I was refreshed spiritually, physically, and mentally. Here are seven lessons learned from my sabbatical:

1) Leave your cell phone behind.

I bought a cheap disposable cell phone with pre-paid minutes on it. Only two people had the number, my assistant and my pastor. They both knew only to call in extreme emergencies. We defined what those would be beforehand, and only a few rare things made the list. The phone did not ring one time. It took me almost two weeks to stop occasionally reaching into my pocket to pull out my iPhone, which was not there.

2) Leave town.

If I had not left town, I would have been drawn inexorably into needs I sensed in the area.

3) Open the trip with activities.

We spent two weeks on a remote beach, but these were not the first two weeks of the trip. If I had opened up the sabbatical with stillness, my mind would have been preoccupied with the ministry back home. Instead, Kaye and I toured New York City non-stop before going to Kansas City to teach a class at a seminary. And while some would say the teaching was not rest, it was different from my normal routine, and my kids were able to stay on campus with me. We played each afternoon and evening and had a blast.

4) Know the cost is worth it.

Some churches cover the cost of a sabbatical; others cover the cost of a sabbatical if the purpose is study or ministry preparation; and others leave the cost to the pastor without any expectation for study or preparation. If the cost is on you, realize that you get this opportunity rarely in your life. Realize what you spend is an investment in your ministry, your faith, and your family.

5) Ask others to help.

My parents were invaluable during the sabbatical. They watched the kids for us for multiple weeks so that we could do several things alone.

6) Mentally resign.

The only way I could completely disconnect was to resign, in a sense, from my role at the church. I never told anyone I was resigning. I did not submit a letter of resignation or make plans for another role. But I completely released the ministry to the Lord, something I should do continually, I know. I thanked Him for the season He had given me at the church and in my mind walked away. And it was so healthy. He reminded me through the process that He is the One who builds His church. I am not the one who is ultimately responsible. He is. He has invited me to serve His bride because He wants me, not because He needs me for anything. The mental resignation made the trip so liberating and refreshing.

7) Ease out and ease back in.

Instead of having a hard stop to my responsibilities, I put my vacation email responder on about four days before my sabbatical would begin. During that time, I still checked my email and responded to ones that were critical. It was a way to give staff and others one final opportunity to have a conversation before I was going to be away for many weeks. In the same way, I re-engaged about 3 days before my sabbatical was going to be over. I wrote down key lessons from the time away and some goals for the next season of ministry. I replied to all of my emails and then saved them as a draft so as not to alert people to send me new emails. On the eve of my first day back, I sent all the emails. I was ready to hit the ground running the next day.

Several years later, Kaye and the kids still remember and talk about the sabbatical. And I remember some of the sweet times of fellowship I enjoyed with them and with the Lord. Reading Romans on the beach as the sun went down was very centering for me. Pastors, if the Lord gives you an opportunity for a sabbatical, take full advantage of the opportunity. It will be a blessing to you, your family, and the church. Next post, I will give some sabbatical suggestions to churches.

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05.26.2014

Why Your Pastor Needs a Sabbatical

In a church I served years ago, I was in a committee meeting where some members were bemoaning the fact that my senior pastor was taking “a sabbatical.” One man boldly proclaimed, “The devil does not take a day off; if we want to make a difference in this community, how can our pastor take weeks off at a time?” Another said, “It must be nice. I have worked my whole life and have never had one of those sabbaticals.”

My response to the first man was, “Well, I know the devil does not take a day off, but I am glad our senior pastor is not modeling his life and ministry after him.” My response to the second was, “I understand your feelings, but trust me, it’s different for a pastor. His calling before God is different.”

I could articulate some of the differences: the sleepless nights, the endless concern for the church, the internal pressure to stand before God’s people with a fresh word from Him, the sacred responsibility of knowing that you will give an account for the flock, and be judged more strictly. Even the passion that grows for the church in the heart of a pastor takes a great emotional toll. But in that moment, there was not one trump card verse that I was ready to throw down on the table as the “Boom—here it is; this is why pastors need focused times away for rest and renewal” passage.

Years later, while reading 2 Corinthians 11, I saw more clearly why it is critical that pastors retreat for times of recovery. In this chapter, Paul lists many of his sufferings for the Lord and the ministry that the Lord had given him. The list is intense, including five floggings, three beatings with rods, a stoning, and being shipwrecked. He continues… 

On frequent journeys, [I faced] dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own people, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the open country, dangers on the sea, and dangers among false brothers; labor and hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, cold, and lacking clothing (2 Corinthians 11:26-27).

But notice how Paul concludes the list of his struggles. It is as if he is saving the greatest burden he would face for an exclamation point type of ending, the crescendo to his list of concerns:

Not to mention other things, there is the daily pressure on me: my care for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation? (2 Corinthians 11:28-29)

The burden Paul faced in his concern and love for the church was continual and intense. His constant longing for people to encounter the grace of God was coupled with the spiritual warfare and the natural disappointments he faced. And this burden was the conclusion to his list of burdens. It obviously weighed heavily upon him.

The pastor and staff in your church may not face beatings, stonings, and floggings, but they do face the daily pressures that Paul faced in their focused concern for the people of God. I know from experience, the ministry burden has physical, emotional, and spiritual ramifications. Because of this great burden, churches should generously give their pastors sabbaticals, a time away from ministry responsibilities to simply be still before God and be strengthened by Him. It is also of utmost importance that they have focused time to enjoy their families that minister alongside them.

Over the next few posts, I will give some practical suggestions to churches and pastors on making the most of sabbaticals.

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