A note to churches: insist on sabbatical
A pastor contacted me through Facebook about a mutual connection we had. As we chatted digitally, he saw that I was on sabbatical and asked me about it. As I shared about the blessing and love that my church was showing me through sabbatical, he explained that his church had no guidelines, policies or even an idea about a sabbatical for him. He’d been serving for eight years as their pastor, non-stop.
I visited with a professor at Virginia Tech this week over coffee that I’d met at the coffee shop a few weeks ago. We connected to simply get to know one another. He was a great question-asker. As I shared about my profession as pastor, of course, my sabbatical came up. He was surprised to learn how unusual a sabbatical is for pastors. In education (at least at VT), professors can take a sabbatical every six years – six months at full pay or a year at half-pay. That was amazing to me.
The calling to serve God through serving His church is a high one. I believe consistent refreshing is both merited and needed for those in full-time ministry. This is a note to the church (if you’re a church member, make sure you surface this conversation among the appropriate leaders/teams/committees) and pastors about the importance and priority your church should place on sabbaticals for your ministers.
When I began serving our church – because it was only about six years old – it had no personnel policies, benefit packages in place. About eight years ago, I worked with some of our leaders on a “staff support” team to help them understand how to love me, our staff and future leaders. I had to initiate and nurture a culture of staff care.
Most churches won’t think of the importance of this. They have to be led to be strategic, wise, and future-thinking about personnel care, nurture and retention. I am not saying that churches aren’t loving. At all. The notes, gift cards, “preacher cookies,” movie passes, and yearly cost of living raise are all deeply appreciated by ministers. They are needed. Spontaneous acts of care go such a long way to reminding your minister they are noticed, loved and appreciated.
I am encouraging churches to remember those who serve them and to be strategic about their care. Sabbaticals are needed for those with faithful longevity. 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 should be the heart attitude and posture of healthy church staff.
“…we didn’t seek glory from people, either from you or from others… We cared so much for you that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.” (6, 8)
If you’re a pastor or on church staff, you may have to lead your church (gently) to be thoughtful, proactive and compassionate towards you and your staff. This feels awkward, but it will bless you and your church. Assume no one else will take the lead on this. Don’t be embarrassed to take the lead. It is a mark of a good shepherd to understand and see that a refreshed and healthy pastor and staff will bless your church and its ministry long-term as you put good policies and practices in place. A healthy church has healthy leaders. Be healthy by being an advocate for yourself and the servant leaders who will follow you.
Jesus urged us to rest in Him. He himself practiced “getting away,” and He invited His disciples to rest during a very busy (and limited) ministry tenure:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
“Great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.” (Luke 5:15-16)
“Come away by yourselves to a remote place and rest for a while.” (Mark 6:31)
If you’ve been serving in full-time ministry for longer than five years, begin planning now. Churches, insist on sabbaticals. Ministers and members may discover that they love the season of sabbatical and the lessons learned during it as much as they enjoy being served by a refreshed leader post-sabbatical.