I can’t believe we have been in ministry together going on five years this October 2020. My time here at St. John’s United Church of Christ has been meaningful and rewarding. As we look towards five years in ministry together, it is necessary for us to prepare for my sabbatical. My sabbatical leave was negotiated at the time of my call to St. John’s United Church of Christ back in August of 2015 and voted on by the congregation as part of my call agreement at the congregational meeting following my candidating sermon. According to the call agreement, there is an opportunity for me to take sabbatical leave after every five years of full-time ministry at St. John’s United Church of Christ.
At the council meeting held on Tuesday, February 25, 2020, the council voted and approved a sabbatical to be taken from June 1, 2021 to August 31, 2021. The following information was adapted from a resource from the United Church of Christ. The document is entitled “A Sure Foundation” and was produced by Ministerial Excellence, Support & Authorization (MESA) Ministry Team, 2018 United Church of Christ.
WHAT IS A SABBATICAL:
Sabbaticals are times of refreshment, nourishment, and refocusing ministry for both a minister and a congregation. Diligent planning and clear communication can maximize the benefits of sabbaticals, all towards the goal of faithful ministry that changes lives. During the year when the sabbatical is taken, the pastor still receives their full allotment of vacation and continuing education time. The pastor and council may negotiate whether any of that vacation time and continuing education time can be added to the sabbatical time in order to extend its length.
WHAT DOES A SABBATICAL DO:
A sabbatical encourages longer pastorates. Congregations have difficulty realizing long-term goals without having long-term pastorates. Providing a sabbatical leave is one proven strategy for encouraging longer service to congregations and other ministry settings.
Refocuses ministry. A pastor needs an astounding array of skills to be effective in the congregation, especially as local church ministry changes rapidly. A sabbatical offers an opportunity for ministers to learn from others, sharpen their skills, and return to the congregation with new ideas and a new vitality for leadership.
Contributes to a pastor’s spiritual growth. Being intentional about personal spiritual growth is difficult when a minister is constantly involved in the spiritual lives of others. If a pastor is to provide dynamic leadership, ongoing spiritual nurture, and rich preaching and worship leadership, they will need extended time for spiritual development.
Prevents burnout. People in “helping professions” can burn out, in part because of that constant, intimate involvement with the emotional burdens of others. Burned-out pastors, over time, will demonstrate its key characteristics: exhaustion, cynicism, disillusionment, depression, and self-depreciation. A regular schedule of sabbaticals can help to prevent burnout to the good of both the minister and the congregation.
Establish new patterns for work and self-care. Pastors are constantly encouraged to overextend in a vocation that is never “done,” yet when pastors overextend, they undermine one of their most important gifts in ministry: vitality. A sabbatical provides time for clergy to take a break from the pressure to overextend and to establish new work habits and self-care routines.
Promotes congregational self-sufficiency. Congregations that become overly dependent on their pastors lose the opportunity to exercise their own gifts and leadership. Effective congregations practice a good balance between the pastor and the congregation in leadership. Granting a sabbatical leave is a great opportunity for stretch and experiment with their God-given gifts in the church’s life. When a minister returns from sabbatical leave, the congregation will also have a much better understanding of how the whole church can participate in meeting the needs of the congregation.
Sabbaticals take a variety of forms. Many include educational development, such as a language study, intercultural immersion, or advanced coursework on a particular topic. Travel is often a valuable part of the sabbatical experience; ministers may take a pilgrimage to new places to experience the culture and religious practices.
A sabbatical is an opportunity for the congregation, which benefits from a season of rest and reflection and reconnection with God’s call for the church’s ministry. During the pastor’s sabbatical leave, the congregation naturally becomes more aware of its patterns of care for one another, its program cycles, and its worship life. A sabbatical is not an opportunity to change those things unilaterally in the pastor’s absence, or to make decisions that the pastor and congregation have been unwilling or unable to do together. Significant decisions or changes should not be made during the sabbatical.
Who Takes Care of Things When Pastor Todd is on Sabbatical?
During Pastor Todd’s sabbatical, there will be a temporary pastor called by the church council to take over the duties of the pastoral role. Lay leaders will be responsible for certain tasks or roles during the sabbatical leave as well. These tasks may include visitation, worship leadership, and attending to other congregational needs.
A special town hall conversation has been scheduled for Sunday March 22, 2020 following worship to answer any questions you might have regarding the scheduled sabbatical.