Editor’s note: This is the second article in a three-part series about the recent sabbatical experience of CBFNC Executive Coordinator Larry Hovis.
What I Learned
This sabbatical did not contain any formal educational experiences. That was by design. It was, however, a time of deep learning about myself and my call to ministry at this stage of my life. Here are some of the lessons I learned from my time away:
I need time and space away from work on a regular basis.
This time away from the regular pressures and demands of my ministry was like water in the desert. I admit that there are many years where I am eligible for vacation days that I don’t take. When I do take time away, I rarely do so for more than a week. I am also eligible for study leave, which I have not taken in several years. In the future, I plan to take all eligible vacation and study leave time and to make one of my blocks away at least two weeks in duration. I believe I will be a better leader by doing so.
I am recommitted to vocational ministry.
For some time before the sabbatical, I found myself thinking about retirement quite a bit. To be honest, I wondered if the sabbatical would make me desire retirement even more. The opposite occurred. I am resuming my ministry at CBFNC with energy, enthusiasm and excitement. I am committed to give my best to Christ and CBFNC for as long as the Lord (and the Coordinating Council!) see fit. I don’t want to work beyond my effectiveness but I feel like I have the vision and energy to write a new chapter in this role.
I want to live and work with more intentionality.
For much of the last few years, I have lived, ministered and led CBFNC in a more reactive posture than I would like. This is somewhat understandable given the massive cultural changes facing the church combined with a global pandemic. But I am a person who prefers to be proactive and intentional.
This summer, one of the books I read was Atomic Habits, by James Clear. Clear makes the case for and provides practical ways to set goals and accomplish those goals through the development of regular habits. Such habits can enable one to live more intentionally and effectively. I have developed a habit plan and accountability structure for both personal and professional goals. I believe this approach, which may sound to some as burdensome, will actually be freeing.
Loving God and people is more important than institutional preservation
For much of our history overall and during my tenure as Executive Coordinator, CBFNC has enjoyed institutional success. The past few years we have experienced the same institutional stresses as most churches and denominational organizations. I, in turn, have felt pressure (self-imposed) to somehow return us to our “glory days.”
I return to CBFNC leadership with a new outlook. While we still need to pursue institutional effectiveness, our true purpose is not our own self-preservation, but to obey what Jesus called the Greatest Commandment – loving God and loving our neighbors. For me, our neighbors include both those within our fellowship and those beyond it. Putting God and people first should be our main objective. Of course, that is more complicated and difficult than it sounds, but it is the purpose to which I want to devote the remaining years of my leadership.\
For myself, our staff and church leaders, we need to “Make Ministry Fun Again.”
During the first decade or more of my ministry at CBFNC, our work was exceedingly fun – for me, our staff, our volunteer leaders and the pastors and laity who participated in our fellowship. For the last few years, ministry has been less enjoyable and more draining in the local church and our fellowship. We have spent way too much time lamenting what we have lost (cultural advantage, financial strength, church attendance strength, congregational uniformity, etc.).
I think the time has come for us to shift our focus from institutional preservation to the Great Commandment; from what have lost to what we still have; from those aspects of ministry and church life that bring us stress and anxiety to those that bring us joy and fulfillment.
Of course, the purpose of ministry is not to have fun. After all, we serve a Savior who suffered a cruel, painful death. He called us to take up our own cross to follow him. Still, in order to devote oneself to several decades of vocational ministry, there should be times of enjoyment that will sustain us through the inevitable periods of struggle and disappointment.
I realize that making such shifts won’t be easy, but I plan on trying. And maybe one way to do that is to choose to be positive and optimistic – to “give thanks in all things” (1 Thess. 5:18).
NC Cooperative Baptists still have a great deal going for us. I would rather be part of this “tribe” than any other. I am grateful for the people in CBFNC, fellow travelers on the journey of following Jesus. And I am actually excited about the next chapter in our life together.