Friday, June 09, 2006


In Alaska I had a boat that I was rebuilding. Everyone knows that a boat has to have a name. I could have named it in honor of my wife, but that would have been an insult. The same could be said for naming it for my kids. This boat was a MAJOR project. The church member that sold it to me was less than honest about its condition (but that would be another story). I named the boat Sabbatical. I would go work on Sabbatical when I needed to get away for a few hours. Sabbatical never got to the point where I could go there and rest.

Our Presbytery is encouraging every church to begin planning so that their pastor can go on sabbatical. Several pastors I know have received a grant that helped pay for the sabbatical. That’s great! I am happy for them.

I personally struggle with the idea of a pastoral sabbatical (please don’t shoot me!). Let me explain why.

First, no one else in the congregation gets a sabbatical. My wife doesn’t get a sabbatical. She is a CPA that is an audit manager for a huge accounting firm. For months at a time she works six and seven day a week. No sabbatical for her. The single mom trying to raise a couple of kids doesn’t get a sabbatical. She works from morning to night trying to balance family responsibility with one or two jobs. No sabbatical for her. Then there is the Boeing employee that works five days each week, plus working on Saturday, to help the company meet production deadlines. No sabbatical for him. The UPS worker at our church doesn’t get a sabbatical. The realtor at the church doesn’t get a sabbatical. No one in our church gets a sabbatical, while many of the people work as many hours as a pastor. Why should the pastor get “special” treatment? We already get study leave. The pastor could save study leave time to serve as a sabbatical.

Second, I study all of the time. The last thing that I need is more time to study. I study for sermons. I study for classes I teach. I study for this blog. I study for professional enrichment. I study. I study. I study. If anything, I need a break from studying! Pastors aren’t the only ones that study. Any professional that is going to keep current in their profession is going to have to study, and most of that study time will not be on the “company clock.” A true sabbatical is for study. I need a break from having to study.

Third, a two or three month sabbatical would mean that I either have to be away from my wife or else I have to stay home. My wife gets a lot of vacation, but not two or three months. If I have to stay at home I might as well keep working at the church! Imagine… I’m on sabbatical (staying at home) and a church member has a serious accident and eventually dies. What message does it send to the congregation if I don’t minister and care for that family?

Fourth, maybe we could change the name and call it a “time of rest and refreshment.” That would be great except for reason #1 above.

My objections could be summed up with the phrase “special treatment.” As pastors we already receive special treatment. My hours are flexible. I get lots of vacation. I get study leave. My housing allowance can be tax deductible if IRS guidelines are followed. I guess my thoughts are, “Why am I more special than others in the congregation?”

I do see reasons for some type of sabbatical or time of rest and refreshment for a pastor. My whole weekly schedule can change with a single phone call. There are those nights when I am called out due to a death in the church family. I have sat for hours on end at the hospital with someone who was not expected to live. I have stayed with a parishioner as his body was unplugged from “life support” (his family and close friends were in a special “family room” because they just couldn’t bear seeing him die). Most people can leave the job at the office. Not so for the pastor. A time of rest would be nice. But is it really workable for the pastor of a smaller congregation?

When it comes to a “sabbatical” or “time of rest and refreshment” I do not have any answers. This blog isn’t about answers—it is to make me, and hopefully you, think. If presented with an extended time off would I take it? Would I be a hypocrite if I did? I know that I could justify it in my own mind! But, does that make it right?

What are your thoughts on pastors having a sabbatical?


At 8:57 AM , Anonymous Rev Jim Howland said...

As a pastor myself, I find your postings very insightful and thought provoking. A friend mentioned your blog to me and I am glad that he did. I look forward to continuing to read your entries.

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