It may just be a psychological game that my mind and body plays on me, but like an athlete in a race who crashes over the finishing line, sabbaticals have always come at the right time for me. Or maybe it’s simpler than this: God is a good father who oversees our coming in and going out. Either way, sabbatical leave always seems just the right thing to do when I clear my desk and walk out the church door for a few months.
Sabbatical is a privilege that not many professions afford to their employees. Our conditions of call have sabbatical provisions written into the standard contract and I’m a firm believer in the value that sabbaticals bring to the pastor and their family, and in a real way that flows into the church and its mission.
Ministry makes great demands upon our emotional capacity. Over time, the ability to laugh or cry becomes depleted. This is a sure sign that a deep tiredness is slowly embracing you. This deep tiredness needs to be reversed and only quality time in the right setting for you will reverse these symptoms... at least this has been my experience.
My wife Michaela and I have just returned from our third sabbatical. Each sabbatical has been different and being seven years apart, they have captured our family at different stages, calling for a different plan each time.
I remember after I completed my first sabbatical, I took on an extended preaching series through the book of Job. There was no way I could have wrestled with this giant theme of death, disappointment, and God’s sovereignty while running on emotional empty; but as a result of my sabbatical, I relished the preaching and the subsequent pastoral journey that accompanies the preaching of such a soul-searching series. My emotional health became the church’s reward.
During two of our sabbaticals, we took our children out of school. We spoke to their schools early in the planning process and were gratefully surprised at the support we received. For one term we had the children doing correspondence school which was an education for all of us!
Some of you will already know that Michaela and I walked the Camino de Santiago pilgrim trail in Spain during April and May of this year as the main focus of our sabbatical. The nature of the physical, emotional, and spiritual dynamics of this 800 km walk held for me the ideal components required to build re-creation into my life. I loved the physical challenge. We embraced the people we met, and the laughter we shared was a real medicine.
As well, the contemplative loneliness that was part of the walk gave time for genuine spiritual reflection. The Camino de Santiago sounds like punishment to some, but it was a real tonic for Michaela and myself and we’d happily do something of this nature again. Inspired by people we met on the pilgrimage who were close to eighty years in age, we hope there’s a few more miles in our middle-aged legs for future walks.
So the question is, what fills your tank? For some, it’s having the appropriate time for meaningful study. For others, it’s meeting and learning from experienced church leaders in their settings of ministry. And at times, there’s the need to focus on family life and just let the circuits cool down.
Planning your sabbatical
Here are some things to consider about sabbatical:
- Thoughtful planning by the church treasurer is required to ensure the 2% accumulated sabbatical leave fund is set up (the Baptist administration manual has full details). Without malice, it’s easy for the church to forget about this: I’ve heard of a number of churches being surprised by this extra expense, thus causing financial strain on the church and maybe some tension between the pastor and treasurer.
- If your spouse is employed elsewhere it could be well worth you talking to their employer about the sabbatical provision in your own contract. I realise that Michaela and I are in a privileged position by both working for the same church as this allows us the freedom to plan a sabbatical together, but I’ve heard of some very creative results that release spouses for an extended time due to the response from an understanding employer. Sabbaticals can work to everyone’s advantage.
- A sabbatical should be done in partnership with your church elders. Discuss with them what your needs are and how what you hope to do with your time will benefit the church.
- Make sure you plan well in advance and do your best to fill the gaps of your absence.
- If you’re unsure how to best use your sabbatical time, make contact with your Regional Mission Leader or contact Carey’s Lifelong Learning Centre. I’m sure they will be able to discuss with you some creative options that will see your sabbatical be a blessing for you, your family, and your church.
Story: Craig Vernall
Craig is the National Leader of the Baptist Churches of New Zealand.
- Do you know whether you have sabbatical provisions written into your contract? Check it out and talk with your treasurer about this.
- If you are able to take a sabbatical, what might benefit you and your family?
- What do you need to do to make this happen, both in terms of your family’s needs and your church’s needs?