…is that after they have been at their present church for a stretch of years they would be given a sabbatical.
Various SBC outlets regularly, though not frequently, promote the idea that pastors should take sabbaticals. The latest that I have seen came from Michael Lewis, NAMB’s Executive Director of Pastoral Care and Development in an article: Why Sabbaticals Matter
Only megapastors can “take” sabbatical. If the rest of us average guys want some extended amount of time away from the church we’ve generally had one voluntary route (resign) and one involuntary route (get fired). But we can be “given” a sabbatical by our congregation. I like the idea.
Oddly, the statement is made, “My hope is that your church will fully support you in this by providing continued salary and benefits during this time and by providing for some of your other expenses.” I’m guessing that the average pastor would have difficulty not staying on the payroll, although some churches might appreciate the pastor offering to pay for pulpit supply or a temporarily reduced salary.
I read of megachurch pastors getting an entire summer month off every year. I know of a few large church pastors who have received occasional sabbaticals. But I don’t know of any average sized church pastor who has ever had a sabbatical. Pigs don’t fly and average pastors don’t get sabbaticals.
While my clergy colleagues have been known on occasion to whine about low pay, long hours, gripes in the church family, relentless demands and deadlines for sermons and lessons, unrealistic expectations and the like, as if other occupations do not have similar job stresses, I have come to the place I believe that a long-serving, dedicated, faithful, pastors and staff should be given a longer period of time away from the pulpit and church. Paid, of course.
Being a pastor can be tough, not that it’s ever been easy. Occasionally, someone will share with me their church difficulties. Sometimes the complaint is about the pastor. Regardless of the situation, I find myself responding, “It’s really tough to pastor a church these days.”
The pastor can make his own schedule in a sense and in another sense routine events like planned services and events, regular pastoral visits, and some modicum of office hours have daily and weekly demands that are not subject to rescheduling. Probably a few times a month some unexpected and unplanned event changes the schedule. A few times a year maybe, a major crisis causes the regular personal and pastoral schedule to be discarded. Someone dies and the schedule for the next few days is altered. A catastrophe like a sex abuse case might come along once in a decade and such might change the pastor’s situation for months, perhaps permanently. I’ve heard pastors speak of sudden, unforseen church disasters in terms of BC (before catastrophe) and AC (after catastrophe).
Pastors may be recalled from a vacation. Pastors may have to deal with messes left by predecessor. Pastors may have obstreperous members. Pastors may be forced to live in the church’s house. Most of us have an “almost quitting” story.
All these generate stress.
After he has endured these for some time and has proven his value and worth, a sabbatical would be a good thing.
Little things count for all of us. A church recognized a staff member’s anniversary with the congregation. He was both surprised and elated. No church had ever done that. The October pastor/staff appreciation is good. A sabbatical might be the best thing ever for a pastor.
What would it take for sabbaticals to move from being a megachurch and large church thing to an average church thing? I speculate on a couple of things that it might take:
1. The pastor being comfortable with the idea.
“Who wouldn’t,” one asks? Well, a lot of the brethren wouldn’t. They might be insecure about letting others take up the preaching and pastoral care for a month or two. They might feel an intense sense of duty or obligation that hinders their approaching the subject.
Brother, stop being so mulish and stubborn on this. You don’t have to be a modern day martyr by crashing and burning. Get comfortable with the idea of a sabbatical. Find the right church leader to initiate a discussion and sound him out. I doubt anyone is going to do it for you.
2. The church being comfortable with the idea.
Most working folks don’t get sabbaticals. Why should the pastor? It’s hardly ever admitted outside the clergy guild but sometimes the work is grinding and wears you down. A pastor who has served faithfully for a number of years, who has labored diligently, whose work ethic is known by the church, whose love for the congregation is evident, whose years of service have demonstrated that he is with the congregation for the long haul ought to be considered for a sabbatical.
Deacon chairman, I know you never had a sabbatical and that you worked 50 or so weeks every year for 40 years. God bless you. Considering your faithful pastor for a planned sabbatical is a good thing. It will likely make him a more relaxed pastor, a more effective pastor, and a more enduring pastor. All of these are good for the church.
Ask a school teacher about those summer breaks between school years. I bet the pastor could find some allies among them in his quest for a sabbatical.
I’d vote for it.
Of course, if the pastor is lazy, plagiarizes his sermons, is slack in his pastoral care, intemperate, impatient, unloving, combative, maybe he ought not to bring it up. I have confidence in laypeople knowing who deserves a sabbatical and who doesn’t.