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5-week sabbatical refreshes pastor of small-town church

EARTH, Texas (BP)–While study leaves are not uncommon for professors and big church pastors, it is pretty unusual for a church which averages less than 100 in Sunday school to give its preacher time off for rest, refreshment and renewal.
But First Baptist Church of Earth, Texas, gave its pastor, Bobby Broyles, a month off to seek a new freshness in his ministry with and among the folks who live in the town of 1,300 not far from Plainview and Lubbock.
Broyles, who has been pastor at Earth eight years, said the idea for a sabbatical arose after he had “an intense time of talking to another church” about the pastorate there.
The discussions with the other church ended after both Broyles and his wife, Karen, each felt God was not in the move.
“I realized that I was not going to [move], that it was not going to work out and that the Lord intended for me to stay at Earth, said the 42-year-old preacher. “I knew God was leading, but I also knew that I could not stay without some kind of renewed vision.”
It was not that he was working too hard, Broyles said, although he was putting in a workweek of 50 to 60 hours, common to preachers but heavy for other workers.
“I was not overworked; the church was not asking too much of me. That was not the problem,” he said. “The problem was that I needed a freshness of purpose in my life and in the church’s life.”
Broyles added that “even though some good things were happening in the church, I could not enjoy what was taking place.” That feeling led him to the conclusion that he needed to do some evaluation of himself and the church.
“I hoped some time away would allow me to come back with a renewed and refreshed vision, both for my ministry and for the church,” he added.
When Broyles approached the deacons, he proposed taking off for three weeks, but they told him to take a whole month in the summer of 1998, in this case five weeks away from the duties of pastoral care, administration and preaching.
Some of the members misunderstood, however, and thought Broyles was telling them they were not good enough for him. “That was not the case at all. It worked the other way. I was so stale that I wanted them to have someone who could take them to new places,” he said.
He mapped out a plan to use the sabbatical most effectively.
The first week and a half, he vacationed with his family: wife Karen, daughter Kristen and son Matthew.
Then he spent a few days attending a specialized leadership training program offered by the Texas Baptist Leadership Center, Inc. The center’s Young Leaders program involves four sequences and 25 top young church leaders from across the state were invited to participate.
After three days at Riverbend Encampment near Glen Rose, Broyles made a marathon trip across Texas, visiting nine churches and 10 people from the Texas Gulf Coast to the Panhandle and in between.
“With only two exceptions, these were people who were longtime friends who had good solid ministries,” Broyles said. He talked with the people about philosophy, the mechanics of doing church and ministry, worship, evangelism, discipleship, Sunday school and leadership.
“I also talked about sermon preparation. My sermons had gotten stale. There was not a freshness to my presentation. I wanted worship to be a meaningful experience,” Broyles said, adding that the church has a traditional style of worship, but he wanted to involve more people in the service, including testimonies, drama, reading of Scripture and prayer.
Broyles asked what his counselors were reading and had read. He spent time thinking about “all of the little things” about ministry which were making him “intolerant.”
In his first month back home, he preached four 10-minute sermons. Previously, he preached 25 to 30 minutes, but cut the sermons to be shorter, more direct.
“The 10-minute sermons were very well received by the people,” Broyles joked. He added that he is now back up to 15 to 20 minutes, still considerably shorter than before.
“I used more illustrations. It was harder work and took more preparation, but the people responded,” he said.
Broyles, who now is recovering from five heart bypasses he underwent in mid-’99, said he highly recommends the sabbatical opportunity he had last year, but cautioned that he could not have done it after being there two years or five years. It took time to earn the trust of the people enough to be given the time away.
“It has been a humbling experience to know I serve a church which would do this for me. There are some very good folks here,” he said.

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  • Dan Martin