A few weeks ago, our classis (body of area CRC leaders) held its regular spring meeting. A praise and prayer sheet was part of the paperwork our church council was asked to submit, which included the following section: “We ask for the prayers of classis in these areas as we look to the challenges and opportunities of the next six months.” Among the items our own council listed was my upcoming sabbatical, recognizing that it is both a challenge and an opportunity for the church.
Challenges and opportunities. These so often go hand in hand, don’t they? The word challenge can be ambiguous – for example, sometimes we say a certain situation is “challenging,” meaning that it is difficult and maybe not even going very well. Other times, we may use the word challenge to mean we have set an ambitious goal, and are excited about the effort we will put in to attain it, or to describe a period of time marked off for a particular purpose, usually to effect positive change. Things like “The 30-Day No-Sugar Challenge,” or the recent “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” come to mind. Challenges, in fact, usually *are* opportunities.
In this light, I was grateful to see in the classis paperwork that our church leadership sees the time our family will spend in Nairobi and the time I will spend teaching at Bridgeworld College as an opportunity for our church to bring Christ’s comfort to those outside our congregation.
As I prepared my sabbatical proposal for council, I solicited input from another pastor in our classis and from some of the leadership in his church. Gil Kamps spends two weeks each year teaching in Russia. Gil is passionate about North American congregations sharing their resources with brothers and sisters around the world. He wrote:
“The bottom line is this: I have pleaded, and prayed, and planned and preached that each congregation in the CRC has been enormously blessed to have Reformed leaders. Each local church can easily and joyfully afford to send her preacher away to places were the Reformed world and life view is not being planted in the soil.”
Trinity CRC in St. Louis shares Gil’s passion. The congregation truly does see Gil’s international teaching as a part of its ministry as a congregation. All of the elders who responded to my email appreciated the larger kingdom perspective partnering with Gil in this ministry has brought to their congregation.
One elder wrote:
“I really feel as though Gil’s trips have enhanced our church’s missionary perspective as well. We have missionaries that we support just like any other church. However, whenever it is your own pastor who is going overseas, the missionary imperative becomes much more significant and felt. Trinity has really taken ownership of Gil’s trips (seeking to support in any way it can). I don’t think the people of Trinity simply see Gil’s trips as something that they simply let him do every year. They feel as though they are invested in what he is doing as well. Trinity finds value in it – not simply because Gil always comes back recharged but because they feel a true calling and urge to send him.”
It is our hope that Faith Church would have a similar experience of our family’s time in Kenya. We definitely consider this an opportunity for our whole congregation to participate in the way God is growing His church across the ocean from our building, from our life here. While we need encouragement and support from our local church, we also want to be a source of encouragement and support, as we learn together what it means to live out the Gospel in our various roles and with our unique gifts and abilities, across the street as well as across the ocean. We pray that God is working to allow hearts and minds here at Faith to see this not just as “Pastor Ryan’s Thing,” but truly as “Our Thing,” together. I am invested by going, but Faith Church is invested by sending, and both of these actions are a response to the opportunities God sets before us as we all take up the challenge to carry the Gospel to all peoples.
Together with these opportunities, I do recognize that my sabbatical presents some practical challenges for our church leadership. My absence will no doubt result in additional responsibilities for council members, and for others. I greatly appreciate their willingness to assume those responsibilities, and I know they greatly appreciate your prayers as they also prepare for our family’s time away from Faith Church.