Wow! Was I surprised by what I found out about sabbatical leave for pastors among Malaysian churches. I thought it was fairly widely practised; at least among the English-speaking churches. After all, in the two churches that I served both of them had clear policies and arrangements for my Sabbatical! I guess I should thank the Lord that I had been among the privileged few!
The survey I conducted will certainly not qualify as “scientific research”. I simply messaged some of my Christian friends and pastors to do a quick survey with the following questions: 1. Does your church give sabbatical leave to your pastor? 2. If so, a) After how many years of service? b) How long is the sabbatical leave? and c) Is there a policy that guides what the pastor should do during his Sabbatical?
From the responses I received I understand that pastors in the mainline churches are given sabbatical leave; and the policy is set at the denominational level. However, among the evangelical (and charismatic) churches there does not seem to be any. Definitely not at the denominational level. And if a church has such an arrangement for its pastors, it is through its own initiative. The numbers for this, however, are comparatively few. Non-denominational churches practise this even less.
I had thought that the above scenario was because the Church in Malaysia is relatively newer compared to the Church in the West. I was again terribly surprised. Dr. Thom Rainer, President & CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, and a respected church consultant and researcher in the United States estimates that only 5% of the churches in the US have Sabbatical arrangements for their pastors.
Back to the Malaysian Church scene; among the mainline churches a pastor may be granted sabbatical leave after he (or she) has served for between five to ten years (depending on the denomination). In one denomination the pastor is allowed to apply for subsequent Sabbaticals after every seven years of service. Another denomination, however, limits the total number of Sabbaticals a pastor is allowed to take to two. As for the length of the sabbatical, it ranges from three months to a year, depending on the denomination.
With regards to what the pastor is supposed to do during his Sabbatical, I am told that for one denomination the pastor gets to decide what he wants to do (I presume he would have to submit his proposal for agreement or approval by his leadership team or the person he is accountable to). In a couple of other denominations the Sabbaticals are more like study leave; where a pastor is expected to enrol in a Seminary (or equivalent) to further his training; which is usually translated into more than a year of post-graduate studies.
That’s the brushstroke of the practise of Sabbaticals for pastors in Malaysia (among the English-speaking churches). In short, it is not widely-practised and when it is the purpose is usually associated with further theological education.
Go to Part 2 where I tell you why I believe Sabbaticals for pastors are necessary.