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Church pastors carry the weight of a church on their backs. The responsibilities are endless and the many challenges that come with working in the ministry can take their toll on the clergy.
Church boards address this reality by providing sabbatical leave for clergy.
This sanctioned time of rest is intended to provide a break from church responsibilities with a focus on refreshing, recharging, and continuing education.
An extended break from ministry allows pastors to refocus and recharge their passion and call to lead the congregation.
The definition of a sabbatical is:
“denoting a period of leave granted to university staff,dictionary.com
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 that 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 the ministry for the long haul.
3. Mental Refreshing
Ministry leaders are exposed to weighty and serious congregational issues.
Many of the problems pastors help to resolve are heavy and can be very burdensome – a temporary break can be a much-appreciated benefit.
The mental refreshing that comes with a sabbatical can serve to help a pastor avoid ministry 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 prioritization and support.
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, focused time on 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 sabbatical leave policy that provides clear expectations, a defined application process, and logistical information to help the applicant.
A sabbatical leave policy can include:
A purpose statement – Explain why the organization chooses to encourage and allow sabbaticals.
Criteria for approval – Create specific criteria to take the leave – for example, tenure, church position, and educational needs.
Length of leave – Clearly specifies the expected length of the leave. For instance, set a length of weeks, months, or even a year.
Goals of sabbatical – Articulate what goals the organization has for the person taking the leave from ministry and the church’s expectations of the employee leave experience.
Frequency of eligibility – Seven years is common for sabbatical leaves – but due to the nature of the ministry, more or less frequent eligibility may be appropriate.
Application approval process – Outline what the application/proposal should include, the timing and notice of request – as well as the approval process, which should be clearly defined in the policy.
For instance, determine how much notice (number of months) the church needs to prepare for leave.
Timing considerations – Clearly articulate those church events that would conflict with sabbatical approval. For instance, if Christmas is a busy time of year, clearly state that sabbaticals are not allowed during the Christmas season.
Responsibility coverage – This should include identification of who will take the temporary responsibilities and designated preparation time to ensure a smooth transition.
Funding – The policy should provide information on how much of the sabbatical will be funded above and beyond the continuation of wage and benefit compensation.
This would describe the kinds of expenses that would and would not be covered. For instance, clarify if sabbatical funding will include compensation for travel or continuing education expenses.
Vacation time considerations – Articulate if vacation time is considered or not considered part of the leave hours.
Sabbatical summary – Explain 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 most 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?
If you are a member of SCM you can log in to your account here to access a sample sabbatical leave policy and request form.
If you are not a member and would like access to editable copies of our expanding library of documents, you can learn more here.