The. Greatest. Summer. Of. My. Life.
The summer of 2019 will forever be legendary for Nate Holdridge. It was the greatest summer of my life. I don't know how to describe two months away from the daily affairs of the ministry. It was a brand new experience for me, and one which came at the perfect time. I am forever grateful to Calvary Monterey for sending me on sabbatical this past summer. It was the best summer of my entire life. Taking a full two months for rest and adventure came at a perfect moment.
If I could bend the ear of churches who have not yet sent their pastors on sabbatical, I would. I think mine is going to yield massive dividends for our church family in the decades to come. The time of refocusing will prove pivotal in my life and our church. To demonstrate how important a sabbatical can be, I thought I would briefly write about only a few of the lessons I learned while away.
1. I Love the Monterey Peninsula
I didn't leave for sabbatical with any real thoughts about leaving Monterey for another ministry location, but after over twenty years of serving in the same church, it was bound to cross my mind. However, amid England's beauty, I discovered myself longing for all God wants to do on the Monterey Peninsula. Yes, I love the natural beauty of our community, and I also have many memories on this little patch of earth. But those weren't the factors rekindling my love for this place. Instead, it was the longing for revival God placed in my heart many years ago. Thinking and dreaming of the Monterey Peninsula, from so far away, had me feeling like I did when I was twenty-three years old, fervent and praying for an outbreak of God's Spirit upon a spiritually dry place. I believe God has plans for this community, and I want to be part of those plans!
2. I Believe in God’s Mission
It became clear to me during the two months away what my calling is: I am a word and prayer man (Acts 6:4). As a Bible-expositing pastor who loves to venture through books of the Bible, it might seem obvious for me to be drawn to study, preaching, teaching, and prayer. But there are tons of competing visions for what a modern pastor ought to be. Communicator, counselor, all-around-nice-guy, strategic leader, innovator, evangelist, motivator, therapist, or "my-best-buddy" are some of the things people would like their pastor to be. Some of these qualities are in the Bible. Others aren't. But it was good for me to gain a renewed vision of how God sees me and what He wants from me. He wants me to be about the Word, teaching and communicating it faithfully for years. And He wants me to be about prayer, crying out to Him in private, but also leading others further into dependence upon Him through the public ministry of the church. I am not to allow myself to become distracted and inundated with too much else, for the Word and prayer are immensely needful in the age to come.
3. I Am Not Ashamed of the Gospel
Anyone is capable of error. But in an age where it is fashionable to deconstruct one's faith, reinventing it in a modern image, and apologize for Scripture, I am not interested. Paul said, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God to salvation for all who believe" (Romans 1:16). If anything, the Lord helped me see how valuable our stance on Scripture is for the doubting age we are in. I hope to proclaim -- harder, better, bolder, and brighter -- the truth of Jesus Christ. I love what God did for me, and humanity, at the cross. I love all of Scripture. I love His ways, even when I don't comprehend them. I rejoice at the chance to declare him to every generation for, I hope, years to come.
4. I Am Called to a Life of Prayer
I continually heard the Lord's prompting, through Scripture, books I read, and quiet thoughts, toward a deeper relationship with Him. Prayer has always been an important part of my life in Christ, but, like most, I still haven't prayed as I'd like. Too often, I allow myself to enter into distraction, neglecting to take the time to enter into communion with God. But, time and again, I sensed the Lord calling me to take on a personal and pastoral ministry of prayer. D.A. Carson's book, Praying With Paul, helped me gain a better vision for what this could look like. Additionally, Leonard Ravenhill's book, Why Revival Tarries, resonated strongly with my heart. Both authors, in their own way, pervaded my soul and impressed on my mind the necessity of prayer for a pastor and church.
5. I Must Pour Into My Children
Frankly, I hope Calvary Monterey can get into a more established rhythm of pastoral sabbaticals. If we do, the frequency most churches adopt is every seventh year. Perhaps this is why I thought long during sabbatical about the next seven years of my family's life. In seven years, my daughters (15, 13, 11 today), will be 22, 20, and 18 years old. For each one of them, the next seven years will be critical. I must help equip them in Scripture (apologetics, philosophy, doctrine, and personal walk). But I also need to help and coach them through the various stages of life. Fortunately, Christina and I were already close with each one of them, but the sabbatical time brought us together to a higher degree. God showed me, time and again, how much the girls will need their daddy in the decade to come. I must commit to, amid ministry rigors and responsibilities, minister to them and serve them in any way I can.
6. Christina and I Are in This War Together
Driving up to Lake Tahoe, alone, in the middle of our sabbatical, was surreal for Christina and me. Though we've been blessed to, over the years, take many trips alone, it had not been since our honeymoon that we'd taken longer than a week for just each other. But after returning from England, we went to the lake alone. Usually, when taking a 1-3 night getaway, we need to wind down from our regular lives. When we headed up to Tahoe on our sabbatical, however, we'd already been disconnected from our regular responsibilities for over a month. We were already relaxed and relationally connected. So getting up to the lake alone, at that particular moment, was a total gift. And I think, because it was placed just so, it ended up being a perfect and timely moment for us. Our conversations about life and ministry and parenting and marriage were invigorating. Our conviction about what God is doing in our daughters and our church family was on point. We came together, remembering how the Lord has put us together for a reason. It was so nice just to enjoy one another. Christina is an incredible source of comfort and encouragement to me, and our time alone helped reinforce our love for one another.
7. Calvary Monterey Loves Me
Every pastor who taught in my stead brought a great word. It was healthy and helpful for the church to receive from the gifts of others. Before leaving, I started a study in the book of Philippians, and they continued it, leaving me a few verses at the end of Philippians for my return. It was fun to teach Philippians 'together' in that way. I rejoice that our church was able to see the centrality of the word, to know that many have the gifts and callings and experience and integrity required to handle the pulpit.
But before my departure and upon my return, I experienced a great outpouring of love from the church. They rejoiced that I would get some time away, and the celebrated my return. In short, I sensed their love.
This means a lot to me. I don't see myself as indispensable or required. I know God is on His throne, and my life is but a vapor. The Chief Shepherd never goes on sabbatical, for He never needs one. I have tried hard to dispell people of their perceived 'need' for me, knowing I cannot handle any pedestal they might put me on. Instead, I've just tried to work and study and pray and teach and lead as best I can. So, without shying away from the importance of the work, I've never felt crucial to God's work here on earth.
All that said, it sometimes causes me to forget how much a congregation loves their pastor. The time running up to and after my sabbatical, however, rekindled this understanding. And I appreciate their care and love.
8. I Am Surrounded by Good Leaders
While away, the pastors who remained led and served our church admirably. I think God used my absence as a way for them to take even greater responsibility for the church. Peter told pastors to "exercise oversight," and without my presence, the other leaders were required to take on more oversight than they already do (1 Peter 5:2). In short, they took their thoughts and vision and effort higher than ever before. And I don't plan on going back to the way things were. They have proved capable and faithful, some of them for many years, and I should not get in their way. It was great for our entire team to shoulder the load without me for a while. I believe we will all be stronger now that we are back together.