What I learned from a year’s break from preaching
By Dustin Fulton
A few years ago, after a difficult season of ministry, my wife and I sensed a definite call to plant a church. Since we were weary, we were advised to take a sabbatical, as well as quit our jobs, sell our house, move out of town, and wait to see where God was leading us.
Of the many aspects of the sabbatical, one that really excited me was getting to refresh my preaching skills by hearing from as many preachers as possible during my year’s break from the pulpit. I knew without a doubt that my creativity had been affected by burnout, so this seemed like the perfect fix.
During my sabbatical year, I heard some amazing sermons and some that were just OK. There were many different styles, which certainly rekindled my creativity. However, God had something greater to teach me about preaching than exposition, style, and technique. He instead wanted me to experience anew what it was like to have God speak to me through sermons.
At that point I had been preaching about 45 sermons a year for 13 consecutive years. But before I ever started preaching, God used a sermon to get my attention. He called me to repentance that night 18 years earlier that set me on a course for ministry. God seemingly wanted to remind me of the power of preaching.
As I was beginning my sabbatical, I met with Eddie Lowen, lead minister of my home church, West Side Christian in Springfield, Illinois. “So you quit your job, sold your house, and moved out of town without any idea as to where God was calling you to plant a church?” he asked. “Your story sure does seem an awful lot like Abraham’s.”
I laughed, without thinking anything more about his comment.
But then it started to happen. It seemed every church we visited for the first few months just happened to be preaching on Abraham on the Sunday we showed up! We were expecting nothing more than to hear a decent sermon, but God kept meeting us there. We heard at least six sermons on Abraham. It became a running joke between my wife and me.
But more than that, God was working through those sermons to reinforce in our hearts and minds that he was sending us on a journey to a place we didn’t know so we could be a blessing to people we didn’t know.
Before we launched a new church, God wanted to reaffirm to me his promise in Isaiah 55:11 that his Word will not return to him empty, but will always accomplish what he desires. He didn’t want to show me that from the perspective of the stage, but from the seats where others would be experiencing God’s Word once I started preaching again.
On our last Sunday before we began our weekly services at Restore Community Church in Omaha, Nebraska, we worshipped back at West Side Christian. When it was time for the message, one of Eddie’s associates came to the platform, opened his Bible to the story of Abraham, and began preaching. As we received one final God-ordained affirmation of our calling, I didn’t just laugh, but a tear came to my eye as well.
I was convinced once more that just as God’s Word did not return void when it was proclaimed to us, it would also accomplish its purpose when it came from my lips.
Dustin Fulton and his wife, Kristen, planted Restore Community Church in Omaha, Nebraska, in January 2015.