Rest. Reflect. Realign. Reengage.

December 6, 2021 | Written by Jonathan Cleveland & Suzy Bates

There is an amazing story in 1 Samuel 16 about the anointing of King David. God sends Samuel the prophet to David’s family, and as each of David’s brothers appear, Samuel thinks “surely the Lord’s anointed stands here…” But in each case, God says no.

Finally they send for the youngest son in the family, David, who was tending sheep, and God tells Samuel to anoint him as King.

By way of explanation, God tells Samuel something so important about leadership; “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Everyone who leads others should underline this verse twice!

What God is telling us is that when it comes to leadership – the heart matters the most. A leader can be talented and smart, but if their heart is not healthy, they will do enormous damage to themselves or others.

A leader who wants to honor God has to take care of their heart.

This is as true for leaders in the local church as it is for leaders of nations.

One of the ways we do that at Pulpit Rock is through a time of extended rest for our staff called a SABBATICAL. Every 7 years, each staff member is given a sabbatical rest from their leadership responsibilities to focus on their heart. This is a time when they rest, reflect, realign, and then reengage in ministry.

A sabbatical is an extended sabbath. It is not a vacation. It is a guided process in which we are released from the day-to-day responsibility of leading to focus on refreshing our heart. There are times of solitude, times with family and friends, and times of learning and reflection. I am so thankful that this spiritual discipline is a part of our culture at Pulpit Rock.

This year, we are excited for Suzy Bates (our Executive Pastor of Family Ministries) to get a time of sabbatical rest. Her sabbatical begins January 31, 2022. She will be resting from her normal leadership responsibilities until the end of April.

Suzy has been faithfully serving at Pulpit Rock for 8½ years. She started in a part-time role as a Student Ministry Assistant, but God quickly revealed how blessed we were to have her at our church. We asked her to join the pastoral team a couple of years later.

Suzy has a heart full of wisdom and humility, and she has been such a gracious leadership presence at our church. We are excited for her to get away February through April and wanted to invite us all to pray for her time.

I would ask us all to pray specifically for:

Rest and refreshment.

Inspiration as she looks forward to the next season of leadership.

Joy and peace as she presses into her relationship with Jesus.

Here are a few thoughts from Suzy as she thinks about this season…

“I have been thinking about and planning for this sabbatical for over a year now and I still can’t believe it’s actually happening! What an absolute gift Pulpit Rock Church is to give back to their leaders in this way. I am immensely grateful for this gift, church. I could never articulate that well enough.

I’ve never had a sabbatical myself, but I’ve watched multiple key leaders in our church take sabbaticals over the last eight years I’ve been here. As we would be making the final preparations for each leader’s absence, I would often wonder ‘how on earth will we keep doing all that we do without that person here for so long?!’

And you know what? Time after time, things would rock along just fine here at church even in that leader’s absence. I have watched over and over this amazing staff team band together to share the load so we could gift someone a sabbatical. Great teamwork and a healthy staff are such a huge part of our sabbatical plans.

But an even more beautiful and important truth has begun to stick with me… Things just don’t revolve around us like we may sometimes feel like they do. The good work God is doing will always go on whether we are a part of it or not.

God doesn’t need us. He just wants us.

The opportunity to stop and rest in the way that a sabbatical provides helps us to reorient ourselves and our leadership around that truth. And we come back healthier leaders and happier humans because of it.

Matt and I have some purposeful, quality time planned for us as a family. My prayer is that it is a rich and memorable time for us together. I also have some scheduled alone time just for me. I am praying that will be restful and renewing for my spirit.

Would you pray for me and my family as we prepare for and step into this time of rest?

I am beyond grateful for the opportunity and am so blessed by this faith community and my very special place in it.

Thank you!”

I know we’ll miss her leadership while she’s gone, but I can tell you first hand how important these seasons of leadership rest and development are for each of us.

During this time, the rest of us on staff are working to make sure everything is covered while she is gone.

If you have questions or want to hear more about why this is a part of our leadership rhythms here at Pulpit Rock, please reach out to me. I would love to talk more with you about it.


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Living in God’s presence. A reflection on sabbatical.

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My First Ever Sabbatical

Jesus said that what’s inside that matters most. And whatever is inside of us eventually comes out. Nowhere is this more obvious than in church leadership. Cultivating a healthy heart is one of the most important things a pastor can do, and God designed rest to be a central discipline for that cultivation. This summer we are giving Thomas the gift of rest.

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