Church leaders have great responsibilities and the many challenges that come with working in the ministry can take its toll on clergy.
It is common for churches to offer sabbaticals for clergy to provide a time for refreshing, recharging and continuing education.
When pastors are allowed to take an extended break from ministry they can refocus and recharge their passion and call to lead the congregation.
According to dictionary.com the definition of sabbatical is “denoting a period of leave granted to university staff, teachers, etc., approximately every seventh year.”
The first known sabbaticals were provided to allow academic researchers time for further education and were typically done every seven years.
Many churches have discovered that providing a time to retreat from the day-to-day responsibilities can provide a benefit for both the employee as well as the church.
6 Benefits of a Clergy Sabbatical
1. Rewards Faithful Service
Going into ministry is anything but easy and those who faithfully serve a congregation can find it very rewarding to be recognized with a sabbatical leave.
This type of church employee benefit not only refreshes pastors but gives them something to work toward and look forward to.
2. Temporary Break from Ministry
Ministry is a lifestyle which requires a commitment to serve.
This means clergy are always on the clock and have a continuous responsibility of tending to the flock and meeting the needs of the congregation.
Allowing pastors to take a temporary break is important for those who are committed to ministry for the long haul.
3. Mental Refreshing
Ministry leaders are exposed to so many serious congregational issues that there is a great benefit that comes from a temporary break.
So many of the problems they help to resolve are very heavy and can be very burdensome.
The mental refreshing that comes with a sabbatical can serve to help a pastor avoid burn out.
4. Focus on Family Relationships
Congregational crises often take priority over a clergy’s family which is why focused time away from those ministerial responsibilities allows for intentional family focus and rejuvenation.
Pastoral family relations need to be strong and this is one way to provide family support and prioritization.
5. Educational Opportunities
The day-to-day responsibilities of church leadership can limit their ability to pursue continuing education. Sabbatical leaves can provide those educational opportunities for church leaders.
For example, a focused time of education can inspire a pastor to higher levels of ministry.
6. Spiritual Rejuvenation
Staying spiritually strong is a challenge for all Christians but particularly for those who have the never ending responsibility of pouring into the lives of others. A focused time of biblical study, prayer and reflection can help facilitate spiritual rejuvenation.
A sabbatical program might look like:
A sabbatical program should be facilitated by the church board and be directed by a leave policy that provides clear expectations, application process and logistical information to help the applicant.
A sabbatical leave policy can include:
A purpose statement – why the organization chooses to encourage and allow sabbaticals.
Criteria for approval – ie: tenure, church position, educational needs.
Length of leave – clearly specifying the expected length of the leave.
Goals of sabbatical – what goals the organization has for the person taking the leave from ministry. What are the church’s expectations of the employee leave experience.
Frequency of eligibility – seven years is common but due to the nature of the ministry a more or less frequent eligibility may be appropriate.
Application approval process – outlining what the application/proposal should include, the timing and notice of request as well as the approval process should be clearly defined in the policy.
Timing considerations – clearly articulating those church events that would conflict with sabbatical approval.
Responsibility coverage – should include identification of who will take the temporary responsibilities and a designated preparation time to ensure a smooth transition.
Funding – policy should provide information for how much of the sabbatical will be funded above and beyond continuation of wage and benefit compensation. This would describe the kinds of expenses that would and would not be covered.
Vacation time considerations – articulating if vacation time is considered or not considered part of the leave hours.
Sabbatical summary – explaining the kinds of information the governing body requires from the employee upon returning from a sabbatical.
According to an article titled, Death by Ministry Burnout:
- Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
- Fifty percent of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce.
- Eighty percent of pastors and eighty-four percent of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.
- Fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
- Eighty percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.
- Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression.
- Seventy percent said the only time they spend studying the Word is when they are preparing their sermons.
If this is a true reflection of the state of our pastors, it should not be a question as to whether or not sabbaticals are taken – but how often.
Do you provide clergy sabbatical leaves at your church?
photo by: HenrickSijens
Article originally posted May, 2012, updated July 2015.