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What Pastors Should Know Before Their Sabbatical

1. Decide the Focus

Is this sabbatical for relaxation only? (That’s not a very popular option with most church boards.) However, do start with rest, sleeping a lot.

Is it an extended study leave? Many large-church pastors take short study sabbaticals in early January or summer.

Remember that the overall impact of a sabbatical, by definition, is to be a “sabbath” rest. If it’s more than a short vacation or study break, create a chart with a specific working plan while allowing flexibility. Without some level of structure, you’ll be frustrated as also will those sending you on the sabbatical. One model is to envision your time away in fourths: Rest, Read/study, Reflection, and Re-entry with assimilation.

2. Set the Length

The timing of your sabbatical often depends on where you are in life, from your mental health to the needs of your family. It’s better to have shorter sabbaticals at intervals than to wait too long to have a longer one.

3. Prepare Well

Preparation is as important as the sabbatical itself. Too many people spend the first few weeks of the sabbatical “working” to finish up outstanding tasks, using up a big slice of the sabbatical itself just getting ready for the sabbatical.

Instead, plan to slow down beforehand; start the wind-down process a few weeks before it starts. Then the day the sabbatical starts, walk away and start it, no matter what is still left undone.

4. Find a Buddy

Pre-arrange to check in with a key friend, counselor, or mentor who will help you process your feelings, issues, and experiences. The biggest surprise most sabbatical takers report are the deep emotions that come up when they push their “pause” button and begin their sabbatical.

5. Avoid Big Tasks

Guard against establishing big projects to accomplish while on sabbatical, such as writing a book, a leadership manual, or a reworked organizational chart. We know of one person who spent 4 months on his sabbatical building a study in which he could learn and grow. It was a definite change of pace, but the sabbatical ended before he experienced any rest or intellectual stimulation!

6. Make Space for Jesus

It’s important during the sabbatical to feed your emotional side just as much as your intellect. Avoid focusing exclusively on materials that will give you new ideas and stretch your mind. Recharge your spirit and heart as well.

Jesus found life in the Sabbath, and you too can find new life in Christ through your sabbatical. In fact, one of the best activities you can do on sabbatical is to renew your love for Jesus. So whatever you plan for your sabbatical, include a generous time to read the Gospels, perhaps looking especially at Jesus’ times away and especially how he handled interruptions. Most of Jesus’ miracles came as an interruption, as he responded to a need. If after a sabbatical you’re more able to turn interruptions into welcome ministry opportunities, then you too will have learned the secrets of a successful sabbatical.