Big Sigh Ministries
a 501(C)3 non-profit corporation
Reflections on the Results of Leave-Taking by Jack Tookey
It has been a year since I returned from a three month spiritual formation leave. Before I took my leave, I had a variety of expectations for the results. In the time I have been back, I have realized a number of positive results, many of which I did not anticipate.
The most pronounced lesson I have learned is that I continue to improve over time based on my time away. I continue to notice ways that I am more effective as a leader of my congregation than before, and as a result of, my leave.
Specific areas of identified improvement include:
Greater mental acuity. Prior to leave, I found myself losing thoughts in mid-sentence, searching for simple words, and having difficulty outlining and preparing sermons. Since leave, I find myself “back to normal” – able to clearly think, communicate, and write without difficulty.
Emotional resilience. Prior to leave, I found myself obsessing emotionally over even small incidents. It would take me days to recover some emotional balance. Now, I am increasingly able to move on from emotional stressors, dealing with them appropriately and letting them go.
Creativity. I find this an area of major improvement. Within the ministry context, prior to leave, I had difficulty looking beyond the bare minimum in order to carry out ministry responsibilities and leadership, not recognizing potential improvements, opportunities, or alternative ways to accomplish goals. Sermon writing was difficult, at best. Since leave, I am returning to my normal capacity of challenging conventional thinking and encouraging novel approaches to problems. Sermon writing has become fun again.
Patience. Rather than becoming easily irritated at both myself and most other people around me for things I would usually ignore, I am increasingly able to focus on the genuine issues that require attention without irritation, allowing me to be more decisive and effective as a person and as a leader of my congregation.
Hopefulness or “forward thinking.” Prior to leave, I found myself merely able to move from responsibility to responsibility, day to day, only able to deal with each circumstance as it happened. I lost my sense of perspective and relative importance, being essentially emotionally bland or unresponsive. Since I have returned, I find myself eager for tomorrow as I count the blessings of today, able to see God’s involvement in many details of my life and guiding it toward a hopeful future. I am able to encourage my congregation and individuals in it toward positive expectations and results.
Sense of humor. Of all the areas of recovery I have experienced, I enjoy this one most. At times before my leave, I saw no humor in anything. Inwardly, I felt like a “grump.” My sermons (so I’ve been told) were good. But they felt to me like lectures or eulogies. Since leave, I have become joyful, finding humor and good reason to smile in many things, laughing at myself and sharing reasons to laugh with others. My sermons have become times of happy sharing rather than somber reflection, even when I deal with serious content.
Gratitude. These are the more pronounced and leadership-related results, and are by no means exhaustive. God led me to take the leave and continues to bless the results by the power of his Holy Spirit within me. I am more thankful each day.
I realize that these positive results from my leave-taking are necessarily subjective. I had neither the foresight nor experience to attempt to measure the improvement. Since we have begun planning a ministry to others in similar condition, we have developed an instrument to measure improvement based on two published indices of burnout and ministry stress, an adaptation of the Maslach Burnout Indicators and the Clergy Occupational Distress Indicators. Using this instrument, we hope to measure the stress condition of those to whom we minister before leave, and then at six-month intervals after leave, to better recognize and document the results of our ministry.
 Maslach, C. and S. E. Jackson, “The measurement of experienced burnout,” Journal of Organizational Behavior, Volume 2, Issue 2, Pages 99-113, April 1981.
 Frank, Steven M., Sarah A. Mustillo, Elizbeth G Hooten and Keigh G Meador, “The Clergy Occupational Distress Index (CODI): Background and Findings from Two Samples of Clergy,” Journal of Religious Health, Volume 52, pp. 397-407, 2013.
What People Are Saying:
"...I have just returned from my month's renewal leave. I spent the month of May in solitude on my sailboat in the Marquesas Keys, 25 miles off Key West, FL. It was the longest time in my 22 years of pastoral ministry in which I could rest, play, and dance with the Spirit, unplugged and off-duty! It was magical.
While I was away, the congregation embarked on 31 Days of SHIFT, led by Rev. Lisa Koons of the 24-7 Prayer Room in Charlotte. What a gift to us both!
Thank you. This would not have been possible without Big Sigh Ministries." Pastor Noel Sweezy, First UMC, Stanley, NC.
"...I am elated and astounded...I have known about what is now Para. 350 in the Discipline for years, but the Renewal Leave (from my perspective) seemed a rare privilege reserved for bishops and district superintendents...You have unlocked the power of the Discipline for the purposes of the kingdom for the benefit of all ministers so churches can make an impact for God. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!" Pastor Sonny Reavis, Biltmore UMC, Asheville, NC.
“I noticed a change when our pastor returned from leave. She had a renewed energy about her that came across in her sermons and in her personal demeanor.” Gwen Hinson, Lay Leader, Salem UMC, Albemarle, NC.
“There has been discernible vitality to our pastor’s ministry since her return from renewal leave. I saw a stronger, more focused individual return to the pulpit.” Rick Johnson, PPRC Chair, Salem UMC (Uwharrie).
“As Lay Leader, I noticed our pastor was more focused, more calm. Others said they noticed the same thing. The leave did him nothing but good.” Vickie Miller, Lay Leader, New Mt. Tabor UMC (Uwharrie).