Everybody Should Get a Sabbatical

“My job doesn’t give me a sabbatical. Why should you get one?”

Yes, it’s an enormous privilege to receive time when you can step away from the everyday rigors of one’s vocation and do a deep dive into spiritual reflection and rejuvenation. Sabbath is a commandment – not a suggestion – for many people of faith and a sabbatical is a Biblical principle meant to give even the fields a rest.

Especially in professional ministry, sabbath time is not guaranteed (you wouldn’t believe how many people die on the pastors’ “day off”) and working 46 weekends a year plus five-day work weeks can chisel down one’s soul.

I wish everyone got a sabbatical.

If a professional minister is effective, they are serving in daily tasks (unending administration, random duties, shepherding God’s people in random ways), occasional tasks (weddings/funerals/special services) and global tasks (the big picture/the Vision/the Lens through which do Everything in the name of God.) The burdensome privilege of being a spiritual servant to a congregation and community is a lot. There are few vocations like it, if you ask me.

On June 1 I begin my sabbatical. I am trying to do sabbatical better than I’ve done it before.

First sabbatical in 2008 – Had cancer surgery and spent 12 weeks in recovery. (Not really a sabbatical, so my congregation generously offered another one a year later)

Second sabbatical in 2009 – Got a Lilly Grant and did some meaningful things, but was also still a spouse and mom, so much of that time was spent including them in travel, making sure they were having fun, etc. (This was the topic of subsequent therapy conversations regarding why I tend to ignore my own needs for the sake of others. #Women)

Third sabbatical in 2023 – Taking June 1-August 31 away, and by “away” I mean I’m shutting down my cell phone, social media, and email. Can I do it? We’ll see, but it’s my plan and I have a burner phone (thank you PBP.) I might be spending time on the Amalfi Coast thanks be to God. I plan to talk with God, stare into space, read novels, drink coffee with people who don’t do church, and write a little.

A couple things:

  • If you have a pastor, please encourage them to take a sabbatical at least every seven years for at least 3 months. Make it possible by helping to find funding, being a cheerleader to naysayers, and realizing that you can live without that person for a period of time.
  • If you are a pastor “who can’t take a sabbatical” you are in denial, even if you have little kids, caregive a loved one, and are irreplaceable on your staff. Talk to your colleagues. We can help you.
  • If you are a pastor near retirement age and you’ve never taken a sabbatical in your 30-50 years of ministry, do not tack “a sabbatical” onto the end of your years as pastor, expecting to be paid for those months you never took every seven years. That was your choice 99% of the time. I have multiple examples of churches in serious financial trouble because they paid their retiring pastor 3-12 months after they retired while also paying their replacement. Frankly, some congregations were willing to do this (pay off the pastor) just to get them to retire. Retiring colleagues: please don’t do this if you love your church.

And if you happen to serve as a teacher, plumber, farmer, counselor, sanitation worker, administrative assistant, financial advisor, social worker, artist, journalist, or any other profession and you are exhausted by your work to the point that you forgot why you love it, please take a break – even for a small chunk of time. Ask for help in making it happen. And help make it happen for someone else.

Thank you Presbytery of Charlotte for making it happen for this pastor.

Imagine of the Amalfi Coast which I hear is a lovely place to stare into space.

3 responses to “Everybody Should Get a Sabbatical

  1. The Amalfi Coast is amazing. Went there with a Road Scholar trip with my father in 2012.Your post is spot on, for congregational clergy.For clergy serving elsewhere – as chaplains, program administrators, teachers (not academic/university faculty) sabbaticals are almost unknown. As you know. My two hip replacements were sabbaticals of sorts, as I organized/imagined them. Yes, there was surgery and rehab. And yes, there was the amazing opportunity to enjoy my home, read widely, rest, enjoy visits with friends and family, and to not do work for several weeks. That atitude took cultivation and planning – and it helped. I’ve advocated for staff sabbaticals of sorts. Won’t happen before I retire. Maybe afterward.  ENJOY your time to recharge, refresh, revision. Sarah

    Liked by 1 person


    Already we are praying for you from Tampa Bay! Thank you for taking care of yourself, though we will miss feeding


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