Thom Rainer of Church Answers describes a sabbatical as “time off for rest and/or study. The time can be a few days, a few weeks or, on rare occasions, a few months. The pastor is given paid leave for rest, rejuvenation and, perhaps, deeper study.”
Jimmy Dodd and Larry Magnuson, in their book titled, Pastors are People Too, write, “A sabbatical is rooted in the biblical concept of ‘Sabbath’ which God modeled (Genesis 2:2-3) and commanded (Exodus 20:8-11). In Leviticus 25:1-7, the Lord commanded that after the sixth year the people were not supposed to sow the fields or harvest a crop. The land was allowed to rest and, therefore, so were the people. Sabbaticals are not extended vacations, but an extended period of time devoted to study, reflection, rest, recovery and renewal.”
In his article, Five Reasons Your Pastor Should Take a Sabbatical, Thom Rainer estimates that only 5% of churches offer sabbatical leave for their pastors but recommends that churches of all sizes provide this requirement of their pastor. Texas Baptists understand pastors have been under tremendous pressure and increased ministry demands due to COVID-19. The Pastor Sabbatical Grant Program was developed by Texas Baptists to help make sabbaticals possible for more pastors, and to provide resources for churches and pastors to have a positive and impactful sabbatical experience.
Pastors can engage in a variety of activities during sabbatical leave. Most commonly, pastors spend much-needed time with their spouse and family, travel, participate in the things that bring them joy, pray, rest, study, reflect, receive pastoral counseling or mentoring, and develop greater intimacy with God. Pastors can determine their own experiences for sabbatical, but ideally, sabbaticals will bring about spiritual renewal and refreshment.
Pastor sabbaticals are often perceived by the pastor as an affirmation from their church and can be a beneficial time for the church as well. Dr. Rob Saler, executive director for the Center for Pastoral Excellence at Christian Theological Seminary writes, “It is important to think of this as something that the entire congregation is a part of, it is a journey they are on together. By the congregation supporting this time away, it helps both them and pastors feel okay about taking that time. Everyone has a chance to reflect and, ultimately, it bonds them together.”
The church is encouraged to not contact the pastor during the sabbatical period in order for the pastor to fully step away from the constant demands of ministry. Therefore, It is important for the pastor and church leaders to prepare for the pastor’s time away so that it is a beneficial time for both the pastor and the congregation. Texas Baptists created a worksheet to help church leaders and the pastor prepare and plan for the pastor’s sabbatical leave. We encourage churches and pastors to work through the worksheet to help make the sabbatical a positive and impactful experience for the congregation and the pastor.
Churches are encouraged to reach out to Texas Baptists staff that are ready and willing to provide supply preaching while the pastor is away. If you need assistance with supply preaching, please contact us.
Texas Baptists staff can also provide training to church leaders during the sabbatical period. Trainings on discipleship, evangelism, stewardship, generosity and more are available.