Reflections From Our First Sabbatical by Chuck and Tamera Ford

Unplugged: Reflections From Our First Sabbatical
Chuck and Tamera Ford

Chuck is the founder and lead pastor of Relate Church in Byram, MS. In 1992, Chuck answered God’s call to pastor and asked Tamera to be his bride (Two of the best decisions he’s ever made). They have served in full-time ministry as pastors and teaching in Bible Schools locally and abroad for over 18 years. Chuck and Tamera have two beautiful children, Sydeney and Lucas. Pastor Chuck graciously offered to answer questions you might have about this article. You can reach him at

First SabbaticalChuck’s Perspectives…

Last year, after 23 years of full-time ministry (21 as a lead pastor), I took my first Sabbatical. Honestly, Sabbaticals were somewhat foreign to my thinking. I hadn’t personally known anyone who had taken one and what little I had heard had a negative undertone to it. I associated Sabbaticals with ministers who had experienced a moral failure of some sort. So the thought of taking a Sabbatical revealed some insecurity in my life that I wasn’t aware existed.

My insecurity manifested itself in questions like:

  • “What will people think happened?”
  • “What will my wife think (especially since I took up shooting as a hobby at about the same time)?”
  • “What will my church board and church members think?”
  • “What will my friends in ministry think?”
  • “What will happen to the church in my absence?”
  • “Will people leave?”
  • “Are my associates good enough?”
  • “What if they are too good and the church actually grows in my absence?”

I bet you’ll have some of the same questions if you consider a Sabbatical.

Why Did I Take a Sabbatical?

When I decided to take my Sabbatical our church was in the best shape it had ever been in. Attendance was at record highs, people were being saved in every service, there was money, we were planning a building project, the morale of the staff was high and everyone seemed excited about God was doing — except me. I was thankful but not genuinely happy. I was critical. Rarely satisfied. Dreading Sundays. Not because of a moral failure. Not because of a breakdown — although the Sabbatical may have prevented one.

First and foremost, I believe the Lord was leading me. He spoke to my heart that I had ignored the principle of the Sabbath for 20+ years. Because of this I had absorbed, unknowingly, a lot of negative emotion. You can accumulate a lot of stuff in 20 years. Looking back, years 16-21 were an emotionally charged time. Our church went through a financial crisis that lasted several years — stressful. Our church attendance dwindled down to a fraction of the people we had a few years prior — stressful. Leading our church through change and a comeback — stressful. All of these things plus the daily general care of the church took an emotional toll.

I rarely took a whole day off and when I did I still took unimportant phone calls, studied for sermons, answered questions about the church, etc. I never took sufficient vacation time. I remember only once missing two Sundays in a row. I never gave myself time to let go. My hand was stuck to the sword (2 Samuel 23:10).

The principle of Sabbath is God’s gift to his people. It’s taking time away from the daily grind of work and ministry to rejuvenate. I knew I couldn’t neglect this important principle any longer.

Now for the hard part. How do I communicate this need with everyone? The first thing I did was to seek counsel. Men like Tony Cooke, Ed Funderburk from Gateway Church, and several other faithful friends really guided and encouraged me.

How Did I Communicate with the Church?

When I first communicated with my board I asked if they would consider giving me some extended time off. I had six weeks in mind and they, thankfully, encouraged at least nine weeks. I took nine.

My staff was very supportive and ready to do whatever needed to be done. We decided on two message series for that time and I divided up teaching responsibilities between associate pastors, one board member, and one guest minister.

I preached a three week message series (PAUSE) seven weeks before my Sabbatical started and communicated to the church the importance of adhering to the principle of the Sabbath and to communicate to the church that I was taking some extended time off. It was received very well and I don’t know of anyone who was upset with this direction.

I also made the decision that I would receive no reporting of how things were going (I know me and I know I would have never let go if there would have been a dip in attendance or the finances). No attendance reports. No financial reports. Nothing. This bothered me for the first three weeks (that’s how long it took for me to let go) and after that I didn’t even think too much about it.

Benefits of the Sabbatical

I really did not know what to expect in my nine weeks away. I had talked to others about their experiences and in the end I just took things one day at a time. There was no epiphany. I spoke with some people who had really outstanding experiences. Not me. I did get rested physically and emotionally. I did get my excitement for ministry back. I did fall in love with my family all over again. I did decide I would take my full allotment of vacation…maybe all at once. It took me three weeks to decompress the first time. I did decide I’ll take another Sabbatical in five to seven a years.

Our church grew during this time—over the summer months! I let go and others stepped up.

Tamera’s Perspectives…

That would be me. Let me start by saying that I love my husband. I also love the ministry and I can be a hard-headed glutton for punishment. I usually don’t feel like I am accomplishing much unless I have ten plates spinning at once. I was not the wife begging for a break. When Chuck came to me talking about a Sabbatical my first question was "Why? Things are great!" then I asked, "Are you okay?" 

As Chuck mentioned above, things at the church were great. Better then they have been for years. Things at home, not so great. There wasn’t a commitment problem or a love problem. There was a “like” problem. I didn’t like my husband very much. He was tense, easily irritated, complacent, quick tempered. We didn’t talk much at all. I thought it was a problem in our marriage and behind closed doors I shed more than a few tears. I simply didn’t know how to fix the problem, which was clearly my husband.

All joking aside, I prayed a lot. But never did it cross my mind that he was simply exhausted and didn’t know how to let go. Not until he mentioned the Sabbatical. I hesitantly agreed but what does a Sabbatical look like?

I started mapping out what it would mean for us. Time at home, away from the church. Oh my…time at home. I wish I could say I was full of faith but I was mostly nervous. I was nervous about having this man at home with me all day long. What was he going to do ALL day? I was nervous about stepping away from what had been our life 24/7 for 20 years.
Little did I know just how much change was about to take place.

I’ll never forget driving down the road and hearing my husband whistling. I hadn’t heard him whistle in years. That was the start of his unwinding. Slowly he turned back into the man I married. We sang 70’s songs, talked about everything BUT the church and laughed. We drove our children across country and spent hours just being together. Unplugged.

It was while we were on the road that we discovered that my youngest child had been tormented for the last year, feeling guilty over something small. He opened up and we loved on each other and he realized that family is a safe place, a place of forgiveness and love. That may not have happened if we would not have taken the time to unplug. I will forever be grateful to the Lord for doing that for him and us. It made a tremendous impact on our marriage and our family. From now on, if I have to drop every one of my plates to take a Sabbatical, I will not hesitate to stop the spinning.