Pastor Tim’s Sabbatical
Pastoral Sabbatical Overview
What is a pastoral sabbatical?
Thom Rainer defines a pastoral sabbatical as a “time off for rest and/or study. The pastor is given paid leave for rest, rejuvenation and, perhaps, deeper study.” In the First Baptist Powell (FBP)Employee Handbook, sabbatical leave is defined as follows.
The senior and associate pastors are eligible for sabbatical leave after seven years of service and every seven years thereafter. Sabbatical leave is not to exceed three months. All sabbatical leave must be approved by the elders.
Ordinarily, sabbatical leave is to be used to work on a project that will benefit the church at large. For example, typical uses of sabbatical leave would be writing projects, personal study, and service to other churches. While a pastor may view work hours with more discretion during sabbatical leave, sabbatical leave is ordinarily to be seen as work time, not vacation time.(Section 4.6, page 15).
Are pastoral sabbaticals biblical?
First, let’s be clear, nowhere does the Bible command that pastors take sabbatical leave. In fact, the word sabbatical does not appear in any English translation of the Bible. So, in truth churches can be faithful to the Bible and never provide sabbatical leave for pastors. What’s more, pastors can serve God faithfully and well and never take a sabbatical.
With that said, the Bible does teach the principle of a work/rest rhythm in life. We see this appearing early in the Old Testament with the Sabbath day and in the Sabbath year.
For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Exodus 20:11 (ESV)
The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall keep a Sabbath to the Lord. For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land. The Sabbath of the land shall provide food for you, for yourself and for your male and female slaves and for your hired worker and the sojourner who lives with you, and for your cattle and for the wild animals that are in your land: all its yield shall be for food. Leviticus 25:1–7 (ESV)
In both the observance of the Sabbath day and Sabbath year, there is the need to balance work and rest. With the Sabbath year not only were the fields able to “rest,” but because the people were not farming, they rested from their normal labors. In Psalm 46:10, we read, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
In the New Testament, we see our Lord beginning his public ministry with 40 days of solitude in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). The Apostle Paul spent three years in the desert of Arabia as he began his ministry (Galatians 1:15-18). And it might be argued that the book of Revelation was written during John’s sabbatical on the Island of Patmos (although his was not a voluntary sabbatical). So, while the Bible does not require a pastor to take sabbatical leave, it certainly supports the practice in principle.
Throughout Christian history, the practice of periodic sabbaticals for pastors have proven to be a blessing to both to the pastor and the congregation. Some contemporary examples of pastors who have been blessed and have blessed their churches as well as the broader Christian community would include John Piper, Mark Dever, and Matt Chandler.
The Purpose of Pastor Tim’s Sabbatical.
The stated purpose of a pastoral sabbatical in our Handbook is to “work on a project that will benefit the church at large.” One of Pastor Tim’s responsibilities is Adult Ministries, which encompasses the Adult LifeGroups, Community Groups, Men’s and Women’s ministries, Senior Adult Ministries, Support Groups (Divorce Care and Grief Share), and other adult discipleship classes and groups.
Each of these groups and ministries fall primarily under our third pillar: Gospel-Centered Discipleship. We have identified five aims for discipleship.
In light of these aims, Pastor Tim will utilize his sabbatical to develop a comprehensive and holistic discipleship plan for FBP.
By “comprehensive,” we mean this plan will take into consideration every existing means by which we seek to present every member mature in Christ. For instance, we will answer questions like, “What does a mature believer look like?” and “What are the necessary characteristics of a mature believer according to Scripture?” and “What are we currently doing in order to cultivate these characteristics?” and “Do we need to develop additional opportunities to encourage every member’s involvement?” Tim will examine our existing means of discipling as well as research how other like-minded churches are seeking to accomplish this commission from Christ.
By “holistic,” we mean this process will seek to take a believer from conversion to maturity. Our desire is to have discipling opportunities in place capable (by the power of the Spirit of God) to take someone from being an unbeliever to eventually becoming an elder or the next senior pastor of FBP. We want to provide the means to develop disciples to become fully committed servants of the Lord and his church. Inherent in this process will be developing leaders; after all,the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) calls all believers to teach others. Thus, through this sabbatical, we are seeking specifically to fulfill our second and third aims:
The final product will help tie together every aspect of FBP’s discipleship ministry into a clear and understandable process in order to provide clarity and direction for each of our individual members.
The Scope and Schedule of Pastor Tim’s Sabbatical.
As alluded to above, the scope of the project extends to our entire local church. Ultimately, our desire is that there will not be a single member of FBP unimpacted by this project. Done properly, it will require not only a deep understanding of our existing systems but a knowledge of best practices among like-minded churches. In addition, this plan will likely demand 3-5 years of implementation before becoming fully operative.
Sabbatical dates: March 7 – May 15, 2021
February 10-28Develop both sabbatical and communication timelines.
Determine tasks and who will cover them during sabbatical.
Meet with key leaders for Mill City project to set in motion team formation, etc.
February 28Q/A as part of the Sunday evening service.
March 7-April 17Research, this will include extensive reading as well as interviewing key practitioners (may include some travel).
April 18- May 15Writing, this will involve compiling the results of research into a proposal for the elders. This proposal will act as a roadmap for the implementation of the discipleship process.
May 25Presentation to elders for approval.
June Meet with key leaders (deacons, LifeGroup teachers, Community Group leaders, etc.)
Enlist necessary leaders for Fall semester.
JulyCommunicate process to church family (possibly a sermon series).
Form Community Groups for 2021-22.
August 8Launch the first year of the discipleship plan.
Two years ago, during the process of updating our Employee Handbook as we studied the best practices of other churches,we found that a number of those churches provided sabbatical leave for their pastoral staff. In addition, we are convinced of the long-term benefits for both our church and pastors.
At times, pastors request a leave when they are experiencing burn out or extreme stress. This sabbatical (and our general approach to sabbaticals moving forward) is not the result of burnout. It is a proactive means to allow our pastors to step back from the everyday responsibilities to rest, renew, and serve the church in a more concentrated way.
As you can see above, Pastor Tim will be working on a specific project, the results of which he will share after the sabbatical. There is also a plan for how he will accomplish that end. Indeed, the pace of Tim’s life will change, he will unplug (literally and figuratively), but he will also be busy with reading, researching, planning, and writing.
The scope and substance of this project will require several weeks to complete and do well. While the Handbook allows up to 12 weeks, the desire to share and implement any recommendations prior to the beginning of the Fall semester requires ending by mid-May.
Because much of the purpose of a sabbatical is to provide a “break” from normal ministry demands, and because Tim will need to visit other churches, he and Carla will not be attending Lord’s Day worship at FBP during his sabbatical.
We are making the appropriate plans to ensure that those responsibilities are covered by other staff and volunteers.
We have made arrangements to ensure that the teams are formed, plane tickets are purchased, and the logistics are appropriately organized and implemented. Pastor Tim will be back by the time the first team departs for Oregon and prior to the Utah trip.