Make your own sabbatical

Creative Commons "Rest Area?" by Joe Shlabotnik is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Creative Commons “Rest Area?” by Joe Shlabotnik is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Ahhh, sabbatical. A time of rest, renewal, and reflection away from the usual pulls of congregational ministry. In many denominations and churches, clergy are eligible for multi-month sabbaticals after a certain period of service (usually five, seven, or ten years).

Some of us will never get there.

In my case, I’ll likely never serve in one place long enough to reach the sabbatical threshold. (Such is one of the downsides of a passion for interim ministry.) Even those who are serve in settled ministry are often called away before they hit the magic number of years, whether because other congregations match their gifts more closely or because conflict in the here and now has taken its toll. So what are the short-timers to do?

I suggest we make our own mini-sabbaticals.

There are a couple of ways to go about this. The more flexible route is to leave ample space between calls and be intentional about how that time is spent. This assumes, however, that the minister is in no hurry for a paycheck at the new gig. (I know, I know.)

The other way is to get creative with vacation and professional development allotments. The whole point of a sabbatical is to take more than the average week away so that the pastor can unplug from the congregation, reconnect with God, and recharge passion for ministry. So consider the setting, the tools, the companionship, and the time you’d need to meet these aims. Then ask colleagues and scour the web for recommendations about locations, mentors, and maybe even short-term courses that would fit the focus of your time away. Take a look at your personal and church budgets to see what financial resources are available to you. Then consult the calendar, identifying seasons when you could string together a few weeks of study leave, vacation, and maybe even a denominational gathering.

When a minister takes an official sabbatical, it’s a good idea for him/her to prepare the congregation a long time in advance, letting church folks know the purpose behind the time away, getting them excited about how your sabbatical will benefit them, and filling them in on the plan for pastoral coverage. You might consider doing the same for an unofficial mini-sabbatical. Obtaining the congregation’s support for your rest and renewal will ease your mind while you’re gone, help your members take ownership of ministry during the gap, and give them the sense that you care enough about them to do the things that cultivate longevity in your position.

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