Want to make your church very attractive to potential ministerial candidates? Put a sabbatical leave policy in place for your senior pastor and other staff ministers. Sabbatical leave is a carefully planned period of time in which a pastor or staff minister is granted leave away from his or her normal ministerial responsibilities in order to spend an extended period of time in study and reflection, most often in a setting away from the primary location for ministry.
The idea of sabbatical leave for clergy has come late to many Baptist churches — although it has a far longer tradition within other denominations and within the world of academia. Traditionally, sabbatical leave is granted after seven years of service. Its purpose is for rest, renewal and recovery. The length varies – but might be for a period of three of four months. Elements that make up a sabbatical often include time alone, travel, prayer, journaling, extensive reading and study, time with friends, and family members.
The Reverend Arthur Umbach, a Lutheran pastor, points out that “the term sabbatical has its roots in the Hebrew cultural-religious concept of sabbath, or rest, after seven days or years. Genesis 2:1-3 notes that God rested from the work of creation after seven days. The versions of the ten commandments describe the Sabbath as a day of reflection on the blessings of God for creation (Exodus 20:8-11) and for release from the bondage of slavery (Deuteronomy5:12-15). Deuteronomy 15 describes a period after seven years in which release from several kinds of debt and labor are itemized. Finally, a cyclical fiftieth year jubilee (the year following seven times seven years) was celebrated. During the Jubilee, land was returned to its ancestral owners and slaves were freed from bondage.”
Many church members resist the idea of providing this kind of time away for ministers. After all, they are not granted sabbatical leave from their secular jobs. However, the 24-7 work cycle of clergy contributes to the issue of clergy burnout. Healthy ministers lead healthy churches. Sabbatical leave is a gift to the minister – but it is a gift that is repaid many times over to the congregation who welcomes back a minister who has been renewed and re-energized spiritually.
Look after your ministers and they will be better able to look after your congregation.