Friday, February 5, 2016

Sabbaticals: Developing a How to Resource (in progress)

Can we learn how to use the "pause" button on ministry?
Part of my Regional Ministry work is serving as a resource for church leaders and clergy.  Over the past few months, I have fielded requests from pastors and congregations about sabbaticals.  Some pastors call in the midst of a season of ministry, aware that they are in need of replenishment and reflection.  Others are starting to talk with churches about a new call and want some advice about how to set up a sabbatical.
For my home team (aka "the Baptists"), sabbaticals are a newer concept.  As we are not a tradition that provides standards that must be adhered to when setting up a pastoral call, the local church, especially its search committee and key lay leaders, often feel in unfamiliar territory considering such a request.

I am working on a resource based on the various conversations and my own reading of what's out there for "best practices".   Below is a summary of the rationale for a sabbatical as a healthy part of a minister's calling and its aiding of the longevity of a pastor/congregational relationship.  It is a work in progress, but I thought I would share a few thoughts for your comments.  You can leave your suggestions and queries in the "comment" box below.


Sabbath keeping is often the most difficult part of pastoral ministry, yet taking time away from ministry is modeled by Jesus who often withdrew for times of prayer even in the midst of the demands of his own preaching, healing and teaching.  Taking time away routinely on a weekly and annual basis helps deepen our ministry by allowing us to step away and spend time for rest, renewal and retooling ourselves as pastors and members of our own household.
The best “ABCUSA” related resource about sabbatical planning is offered by the ABCUSA Ministers Council.  You can read their policy framework suggestions via:
In terms of negotiating the sabbatical understanding with a candidate, some suggested talking points:

1)            All parties (including the congregation!) understand that sabbaticals are not frivolous or “extra vacation”.  Sabbaticals are a time of rest, renewal and professional development, hopefully with a project/outcome in mind to help hone and build the pastor’s skills while she or he is away from the rigors of ministry.
2)            Quantifying the number of years served until a sabbatical is earned is helpful to determine sooner than later.  Traditionally (if Baptists can ever be “traditional”), the sabbatical could come for a longer period of several months after six full years of service.  Some find it helpful to offer a sabbatical every few years (3-4 years) with the time being a little shorter due to more frequency.
3)            Determining the sabbatical’s details when you are one year out from the period of time to be given is helpful.  Working out what the church will do to relieve fully the minister from any official duties is just as important as ensuring the minister has some structured understanding of how to use the time wisely. 

4)            Some pastors and congregations apply for and access funding from various sources to help with doing a bigger type of sabbatical.  These may or may not be available, given when special incentives are offered by denominations or entities like the Lilly Foundation.  The church should be prepared to carry the pastor at full compensation, benefits, and suspend things that the pastor should not be needing to claim for ministry expenses (i.e. reimbursement for mileage, as they shouldn’t be doing pastoral care/travel related to parish needs).  Some grants are out there, if you are so lucky, to have funds additional to cover the time for a “sabbatical pastor” to tend to the preaching, care, etc. during the pastor’s time away.  Some churches may choose to have individuals take different aspects of this work (i.e. somebody to preach only with pastoral care handled by the congregants, etc., etc.).
5)            The other typical provision is the minister agrees to return from sabbatical and not have used the time to look for other calls.  The minister should be ready to stay one year at minimum beyond the end date of a sabbatical.
(NOTE:  The rest of the resource I am developing will look at the funding opportunities for ABC clergy and different venues, particularly of interest to pastors serving in upstate New York.)

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