The idea of a sabbatical has biblical origins. The very root of the word is the same as that of “Sabbath.” Throughout the Old Testament God instructs people to work six days and rest on the seventh. In Leviticus, God instructs people to allow the land to rest every seventh year — meaning no farming, no planting, no harvesting.

To help instructors renew their passion for their academic specialties, Medieval colleges and universities began to grant professors a leave of absence every seven years. Most colleges and universities continue this practice today — giving teachers the opportunity to rest, expand their knowledge, write, travel to places relevant to their area of study and to teach at other institutions.

Pastors find sabbaticals to be transformative experiences that strengthen and develop the clergy’s ability to serve the congregation. The results of a well-planned “re-creation” may include:

  • spiritual renewal
  • rest
  • education
  • gaining a new perspective

What do congregational workers do on a sabbatical?

Pastors may pursue their special interests and feel refreshed by:

  • visiting the Holy Land
  • visiting companion congregations throughout the world, while meeting and working with missionaries
  • resting and achieving renewal of the body, mind and spirit
  • writing — the sabbatical can be used as a time to finish a dissertation or compose articles for publication

Who pays for the sabbatical?

A sabbatical isn’t cheap, but because a sabbatical helps your pastor to be more healthy, effective and knowledgeable, and, therefore, more valuable, it is well worth it for the congregation to pick up the tab. And don’t forget, the congregation needs to pay guest preachers while the pastor is away. Here are some ideas to help with the bottom line:

  • Plan well in advance (several years) and put the sabbatical into the annual budget.
  • Apply for a Lilly National Clergy Renewal Program Endowment, which distributes grants to congregations to help them with pastor sabbaticals.
  • After educating the congregation on the need and purpose of the pastor’s sabbatical, take special offerings.

When should the pastor take a sabbatical?

Timing is everything. The length and timing of your pastor’s sabbatical are important issues to take into consideration.

  • In planning the time of a sabbatical, the seven-year tradition is a good place to start.
  • As to the length of the sabbatical, a good rule of thumb is to provide one month of sabbatical for every two years of service.
  • And don’t forget to plan for a period of re-entry. It will take the pastor a few weeks to get back into his or her routine.

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