[These thoughts explaining the rationale for a sabbatical first appeared on Covenant Presbyterian Church’s sabbatical oriented blog, Covenant Pastoral Sabbatical. There are other good articles on that site related to this theme.]
Talk of my taking a sabbatical spawns the question (thought, though rarely spoken), “Why are we giving Randy a 13 week vacation?”
It’s a great question. ‘Sabbatical’ can easily look like ‘vacation.’ After all, I will stop coming to church. I will stop preaching, stop planning and moderating meetings, stop visiting the sick, stop mentoring or discipling others. I will stop doing my job, and that looks like a vacation.
But sabbatical is more than stopping. It is a period of intentional rest, renewal, and re-imagining.
As a time of rest the sabbatical most resembles a vacation. Rest for people in ministry is essential but hard to find. Jesus commanded his disciples to ‘come away and rest’ (Mark 6:31) because ministry depletes the minister. Ministry demands an intentional period of disengagement so that strength for the work can be renewed. The minister’s body needs rest and renewal, but so does his soul. Over time, though the pastor fights to retain his passion for Christ, the demands of ministry can deplete it. This leaves some ministering weakly on the fumes of their prior devotion. Churches end up with pastors merely going through the motions of ministry.
A sabbatical, as a part of a pastor’s regular routine of spiritual health, can renew the depth and vitality of his walk with Christ, restoring his ability to give needed spiritual care to his congregation.
Such intentional rest and renewal can also refresh a pastor’s vision. Men and women from all professions report that disengagement from their regular responsibilities allows them to imagine a future they might have been unable to see before. A properly planned sabbatical (and much planning is being given) can give a renewed enthusiasm for the vision God has for the church.
The sabbath year in the Old Testament law required that farmers let a field lie fallow for a season. Obedience to this was an act of faith by the farmer and an act of renewal for the field. During that year nutrients drained by prior use would be restored to the soil. Similarly, a pastoral sabbatical is a congregation’s act of faith, hoping for the restoration of their pastor’s depleted spiritual resources.