The Practice of Ministry Sabbaticals, Part 2

by Jim Fowler July 6, 2015

What Is a Sabbatical?

When the topic of sabbatical is brought forward, one of the first questions asked is "How is this not just an extended vacation?" With the lack of education on ministry sabbatical practices, as well as the corporatization of the American church, it makes sense that this needs to be clarified. For some, as mentioned in the previous post, their experiences in secular employment is viewed as the standard for how a church conducts its affairs. Yet, there are different toils and responsibilities that are placed upon a pastor that require more than a vacation. Hopefully the thoughts below can help to clarify what a sabbatical is and is not.

What A Sabbatical Is Not

An Extended Vacation: A ministry sabbatical is not a vacation in that a vacation is a time to rest and spend time with the family. A sabbatical may incorporate this, but also requires intentional planning to incorporate reflection, renewal, training, and contributing to the local and universal church body.

Some churches are wary to allow a pastor to take a extended four or six week vacation. They prefer that the pastor break their time up so that the church can function well.  Pastors are also hesitant to use all their vacation time at once because once their vacation is used up it's gone. This affects a pastor's family life since their children's schedules align around spring, summer, and winter breaks. 

“Vacations are always too short, always less than ideal.” – Mark Buchanan, The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath 

Replacement for Poor Habits: A sabbatical is in conjunction with regular Sabbath practices. Pastors often work themselves ragged because they fail to honor God by implementing Sabbath rhythms. A sabbatical should not be a last resort, a plan to save the pastor who has either overworked himself, or bore unreasonable expectations from the church. 

What A Sabbatical Is

A ministry sabbatical is not a glorified vacation, but a time for spiritual reflection, renewal, training, or contribution.

Intentional: A sabbatical is not conducted in haste. Time needs to be invested in planning out what is going to occur during the time away.  It is an extended time where one releases the day-to-day responsibilities to focus on spiritual renewal; spending time in prayer, the Word, seeking the Lord's face for direction. It is a time for assurance and confirmation on their calling. A true sabbatical brings a pastor back with a refreshed spirit to fulfill their calling.

Educational: There can be a time of training and development during a sabbatical: whether a conference or class, some sort of development that enriches and supports their work. 

Contributive: Some pastors are authors. Sabbaticals give a pastor the time to work on a book proposal or a book that has already been approved. Others contribute by spending time in prayer for the direction of the church, seeking the Lord's guidance on the next stage in the life of the church. 

As we continue to work through the issue of ministerial sabbaticals let’s keep in mind what we are actually talking about. It is much more than a vacation; it is an extended time of reflection, refreshment, renewal, training or contribution.

Look for Part 3 of the series next week, which will focus on putting together a sabbatical policy.

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