Associate Pastor Billy Craig recently returned from a three-month, summer sabbatical when he could rest and study. We asked him about his time and how it has fueled his ministry going forward.
How did you pursue rest and refreshment during your sabbatical?
Stepping away from my daily responsibilities allowed me time for extended rest, being with God and being with family and friends. I was able to travel some, but I was also able to be present at home more. I was able to truly enjoy God’s creation through extended times on our front porch with family and friends, having friends over to the house and then traveling to be with family and friends. I was worshipped at a number of churches in Harrisonburg (I adopted two Turks baseball players from out of town who joined me each week), West Virginia and Alaska. These opportunities to worship in new and different places were a huge blessing to be with God’s people. It also was an amazing opportunity to connect with others in ministry and those who are a part of God’s kingdom.
What kinds of things did you study or think about during your sabbatical?
I kicked off my sabbatical by driving to Parkside Church outside of Cleveland, Ohio, for Alistair Begg’s pastors conference, Basics. Over 1,000 pastors and elders were encouraged during this time. We had amazing worship and preaching. I was reminded of seven qualities that shape effective preachers. They are earnestness/passion, tenderness, sympathy, peace, joy, love and humility. Coming back, I hope to grow in all of these areas and realize that a pastor’s personal holiness may be the congregation’s greatest need.
During that conference, we looked at four signs of spiritual pride from Peter’s life from John 13 and its implications for us. The four signs of pride include:
- If you feel that you are stronger than other believers.
- If you hear the words of Jesus for others but not yourself.
- If you don’t feel the need to pray.
- If you feel that the entire work of Jesus rests on you and your shoulders.
We looked at basic convictions we should have as pastors; concerns as pastors; the need to strengthen our marriages; the need to set boundaries; and pursuing Gospel clarity.
I also watched the “Grace and Truth” series on Right Now media by Preston Sprinkle. In addition, I was also thinking, reading, and having conversations with others about youth and issues surrounding where we find our identity. I was also able to reflect on the blessing of my time with family and friends.
What did you do in terms of understanding some of the identity issues our youth face, and how did that help you as you shepherd our youth and families?
I went into my time of study on identity issues with a lot of questions and concerns. I sought wisdom and understanding. In addition to some of Preston Sprinkle’s work and the books I read, I was able to have conversations personally with those living and struggling with a variety of same-sex attractions and choices along with some parents, too. I learned about these issues through some of the books I read and through what I listened to and watched. I think I have a greater sympathy and understanding. I am more familiar with resources that are out there for youth and families. I think we focus too much on ourselves instead of really digging into who God is and learning more about His attributes.
How did you reconnect with family during your sabbatical?
We were able to enjoy more time together as a family, especially at home. We were able to travel and be with family to support our sons’ baseball-playing. We went to a lot of baseball games together, whether it was Will playing with his Virginia Tech club team in West Virginia or for the Montezuma Braves. I didn’t get to see Ben pitch for college in person until sabbatical, so I enjoyed seeing him in Baltimore and New York. I enjoyed watching Matthew play for Spotswood and then his Richmond travel team in Richmond and Virginia Beach. I enjoyed watching Josh play at Montezuma for Blue Ridge, including his pitching debut. I was able to see our girls swim in a few meets before I left for Alaska. We enjoyed an extended time with family in West Virginia, and Avery and I were able to spend a week together in Alaska where we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in Homer. Will and Matthew came up to Alaska and spent a week fishing and hiking. I was able to spend a month in Alaska catching up with my host family from 31 years ago and a very good brother in Christ who hosted me for part of the time.
As you return to ministry, what are some places where you are feeling energy and momentum?
I am excited to be back with my church family and kick off this year with a renewed emphasis on discipleship and assurance that Jesus is better than anything and everything this world can offer. I am excited to see us grow in worship and discipleship opportunities on Sunday mornings. I think as we grow we will be better equipped to reach our neighbors for Christ. I am excited for the over 5,000 new freshman college students in the ’burg and ways God may allow us to impact and touch their lives during their time here. I want our church to be a place of truth and grace. I think we are, and I think He is further positioning us to love and reach out to those who need Jesus and the transformation that comes through knowing Him.
Anything else you’d want us to know about the sabbatical?
Jon, Scott, and I have all been blessed to have this special time in the last few years. We are blessed to have a church family that supported us and encouraged us to take this time. I am grateful for the prayers and financial gifts, and I appreciate everyone who checked in on my family and helped with various needs while I was in Alaska. Thank you for this wonderful gift of time.
My hope has been renewed (2 Corinthians 4:18) and I have been blessed beyond measure.