Sabbatical for Pastors (Part 3): Policy

(Click on the link to Part 1 and/or Part 2 if you have not read them.)

One of the reasons churches don’t give Sabbaticals to their pastors is because they fear that it would be wrongly or unwisely used. The best way to make sure that everyone is on the same page is to draw up a comprehensive Sabbatical Policy; to provide clear guidelines and expectations from both the pastor (eg. how he is to utilise the sabbatical leave) and the church (eg. what support it would give the pastor).

Below are important items that a church leadership should deliberate when drawing up a Sabbatical Policy.

  1. Who is entitled to a Sabbatical?

Are all church staff entitled to sabbatical leave or is it only for  pastoral staff? Are part-time and ministry staff eligible or is it only for those who are full-time and hold senior pastoral positions?

2. When can a pastor apply for a Sabbatical?

After three, six or ten years of service? For a very long tenured pastor, can he* apply for a second and subsequent lot of sabbatical leave?

(* All reference to the male gender shall also apply to the female.)

3. What is the duration of the Sabbatical?

Is the duration of the sabbatical leave the same for all or does it commensurate with the seniority and role of the pastor?

4. What is the purpose of Sabbatical?

This needs to be stated clearly as it will determine what the pastor is expected to be doing during his sabbatical.

5. What should the Sabbatical programme include?

Should it include formal study and training? Visits to other churches and learning from other more senior ministers? Personal reflection and retreats? How much time should he give to the different parts of his programme including time with his family and physical rest?

6. What is expected from the pastor following his Sabbatical?

Is he expected to write a report of his Sabbatical? Is he obligated to serve the church for a certain period of time upon his return? What happens if he resigns during or following his Sabbatical?

7. When and how is the pastor to make his Sabbatical application?

When should the pastor submit his application for sabbatical leave? When should he submit his proposed programme? To whom is he to submit his application and proposed programme? Is his Sabbatical subject to mutual agreement and approval by the church leadership?

8. What support will the church give to the pastor when he goes for his Sabbatical?

Will the pastor be given his full pay? Will his expenses for study, training and retreats be borne by the church? Will the church provide additional finances for a family holiday? (to Disneyland?)

Obviously I have my thoughts on the above questions that, in my estimate, would form good and fair parameters of a Sabbatical Policy, but I shall, at this time, leave it unsaid except for a couple of things.

One, I would not lump sabbatical with study leave. They are not the same thing. Their respective purposes are different. A study leave is for the pastor to pursue further formal study or training, and this is usually done in a theological school. A pastor’s Sabbatical is to afford him time for personal renewal in body, soul and spirit, and not forgetting, the all-important family time. I agree that the programme should include some study time, but it is not to be a pursuit of a higher academic qualification. And, as some of my readers have pointed out to me; a Sabbatical is not a holiday. I certainly agree. It’s a time to recharge the batteries.

The only other thing I want to mention is that the pastor must make himself accountable to the leadership about how he has used his Sabbatical. This is one way of allaying concerns over misuse. It is a simple matter for the pastor to write a short report on how he has spent his time during his sabbatical leave. What he did, how each component of his Sabbatical programme has helped him, and what he might be bringing back to the church that will be a blessing to them. (Please note that the pastor would have had already submitted a proposed programme which would have then been agreed upon by the church leadership before he went on his Sabbatical.)

Bottom line: I really believe Sabbaticals are good for both the pastor and the church.

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