To be successful, renewal and revitalization require congregation-wide initiatives led by consistories and other leadership groups within the church. But renewal rarely begins that way; renewal of a congregation most often blossoms from the renewal of a single person--the pastor. And many times, that personal renewal is fostered by a sabbatical.
What is a sabbatical? A sabbatical is a time to focus in-depth on things that are important to a person's work and life with the church. Sabbaticals for pastors are highly recommended in order to renew the calling and creativity of our spiritual leaders. Such sabbaticals should include intentional times for reflection, rekindling the spirit, and deepening spiritual life and family relationships.
Why should we give our pastor a sabbatical? A congregation should arrange for a pastor's sabbatical because it's biblical, and because both the pastor and the church need it. The sabbatical year practiced by the Hebrew people was the final year in a cycle of seven years (Leviticus 25:3-4). It was also a time when the Hebrew people had the opportunity to renew their trust in God as the provider of all of their needs, even during the time when they did not labor.
After a pastor has served a congregation for five years or more, they have a tendency to take God and one another for granted, often falling into frustrating patterns rather than finding a faithful and creative future. A sabbatical for the pastor can provide time to focus on reading, writing, preaching, and prayer, and forces members to exercise their ministries for the good of one another and the gospel.
How does the congregation benefit? In a video presentation entitled Why You Should Give Your Pastor a Sabbatical, Roy Oswald says, "Granting a sabbatical leave to a pastor becomes a great way for congregants to once again claim certain roles within a congregation that correspond with the gifts they have been given by God."
How to we start planning for a sabbatical? Sabbatical planning should include the church as well as the pastor. Some churches have found that forming a sabbatical committee is a good way to work together. The following suggestions for sabbatical planning are endorsed by the Reformed Church in America:
- Each installed pastor is encouraged to negotiate an appropriate sabbatical leave with the consistory every five years.
- The length of the sabbatical leave may vary. A length of two to four months ought to be given serious consideration by both parties.
- During a sabbatical, salary and benefits shall continue to be paid as during normal service.
- Unusual expenses incurred during a sabbatical leave (cost of tuition, travel, etc.) are the responsibility of the minister, who may choose to use funds set aside for continuing education if the consistory agrees that this is appropriate.
- Provision for sabbatical leaves shall be included in the consistory's call to the minister. Appropriate provision in the annual budget shall be made to ensure that when a plan for a sabbatical is agreed upon, the funds for adjunct pastoral assistance (as needed) are available.
Is it time for you to start thinking about and planning with your pastor for a sabbatical? The following resources will provide additional information to help you develop a sabbatical plan and possibly ways to fund that plan.
- An RCA Guide to Sabbaticals
- Journeying Toward Renewal: A Spiritual Companion for Pastoral Sabbaticals, Melissa Bane Sevier, The Alban Institute, 2002.
- The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, Eugene H. Peterson, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989.
- Louisville Institute's Study Grants for Pastoral Leaders Program (www.louisville-institute.org)
- Lilly Endowment Inc.'s National Clergy Renewal Program (www.clergyrenewal.org)