7 Ideas About Sabbaticals for Bivocational Pastors
Sabbaticals are a practice that I see most commonly associated with the academic community. A professor leaves his or her university for a long period of time (usually a semester) in order to study in another location. It is not intended to merely be a vacation. Instead, the sabbatical has a plan for study, writing, sometimes lecturing, and other activities that will make the professor more skilled in their work.
Other professions have taken up the practice of sabbaticals as well, including ministers. However, it is a rare occasion that I have heard of a personal friend taking one or even notice a pastor mention it in social media. Among pastors, taking a sabbatical is like hunting for Bigfoot riding a unicorn. It seems impossibly elusive.
A sabbatical is an odd thing to do in the life of our culture. Everyone is churning out work nonstop. Most pastors don’t ask to take a sabbatical for numerous reasons. They feel guilty because church members do not receive similar a similar benefit from their companies. It will cost extra money to the church; because it should be treated as paid leave. Many pastors don’t feel they’ve been at a church long enough to ask for such a benefit. They don’t ask because they’re just sure that no one will understand the need. Some of these are where I find myself.
Whenever the subject does arise, it normally addresses the needs of full-time pastors. I’d like to advocate sabbatical for my friends that are bivocational pastors. If you serve in the leadership of a church with a bivocational pastor or bivocational staff, let me encourage you to consider the following.
1. Believe in the benefit. A time of rest from the work of ministry will help a pastor to recharge for the next season of ministry. Plus, he will have time to refocus his thoughts. Believe the need for it and lead your church to believe it as well.
2. Plan ahead. Most bivocational pastors have a tough time lining up their full-time work vacation and time away from the church. They need the church’s support and encouragement to take a time of rest. Make a long-range plan as to when the pastor can take a break. Then, make it a part of the regular schedule for your church (and any staff) to have regular sabbaticals.
3. Strategize the sabbatical. Help the pastor plan for what he will do during the Sabbatical. There should be downtime to simply rest their mind and body. But, it should also be a time of intentional learning and even being discipled by another person. The hope is to leave with a plan for the time away and come back with a return on the investment made by the church.
4. More often than you think. All pastors need extended rest more often than they or anyone thinks. Ministry is taxing on the body, emotions, and spirit. Bivocational pastors bear under its weight along with holding down a full-time job. They need regular breaks from it all.
5. Pay for it. The main reason a church has a bivocational pastor is that they are small. Consequently, they normally have a small budget. But, trust me, the investment to give your bivocational pastor a sabbatical is worth the investment. Find the time and then pay for it.
6. Work with the full-time employer. It is likely a long shot but you should try. The leaders of your church should at least approach the pastor’s full-time employer to discover if there is a way for him to have an extended break from that work as well. Even if extra vacation time is less than the ministry sabbatical, it is worth the effort to secure it for him.
7. Do it right now. Trust me when I say this: Your pastor needs a break. In fact, he has needed it for a while. Find a way to get the plan going right now. People will say that it is inconvenient and expensive. Ignore the excuses. You believe in your pastor enough to care for your souls. Do the same for him.
Others have written about the benefits of sabbaticals as well. Check out:
- Why Churches Should Give Pastors Sabbaticals by Eric Geiger
- Four Steps to Your First Sabbatical by Mark Dance