From June – August, I’m on sabbatical. Our church encourages all elders to take a sabbatical every seven years, that includes when we are paid to work for the church. The principles behind this is simple:

–          We don’t want any leader to become dependent on their ministry role for their sense of                 and purpose. Our identity, purpose and status is in Christ.

–          We don’t want the church to become dependent on specific leaders and their ministry gifts.

–          Taking a step back and time to observe both what is happening at home and what happens elsewhere can be helpful as we think about what we should be doing as a church.

A sabbatical is not about idleness, it’s not an extended holiday, though time taken to refresh and reflect is good. Nor does a sabbatical mean that the elder concerned is no longer part of the church, indeed part of the purpose is to remind us that our elders are very much part of the local body and should not be above it or detached from it.

I wanted to write a little bit more about what I will be focusing on during my sabbatical. My primary focus is going to be on thinking through how churches like ours can best reach and serve urban communities.  When talking about “urban communities” I am specifically thinking about inner city neighbourhoods and council estates. This means I’m particularly concerned about working class communities as well as multi-ethnic contexts and those experiencing social and economic deprivation.

I will be doing this by:

–          Reflecting on our experience over the past few years. Where have we seen fruit? Where have we got it wrong? What have we learnt? Where are we simply not even close to scratching the surface?

–          Looking. This will include simply taking time to get out and spending time in some of the neighbourhoods around Sandwell and the Black Country, just taking time to walk, observe, stop and chat, pause and pray.

–          Talking. I’m going to be visiting some other churches, church leaders and mission contexts to find out what they are doing. This may include some that are in a very different context to us as well as those that are similar.  So far, I’ve been making plans to visit Oldham Bethel in the Greater Manchester area, London City Mission, a church in Paris and also in Linz, Austria. The latter two will also give Sarah and I chance to catch up with a couple of people who have spent time serving and training with us in Bearwood before returning to their home countries.

–          Reading. This will be another way of learning from the wisdom of others. I’ll publish an initial reading list shortly.

I am doing this primarily for our ministry here in Bearwood but I hope others will benefit too so I’ll be doing a little bit of writing, initially shared via our site.