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What is a Sabbatical? Part 1

Over the last two years you have probably seen the word “sabbatical” appear in the Greeter and in reports from Pastoral Commission, Board, and Council. Certainly, those who attend such meetings are more than familiar with the word. This article is designed to fill in the gaps for the rest of us.

The Church of the Brethren actually refers to a sabbatical as Sabbath rest to distinguish it from the sabbatical of the academic world.  So, what exactly is a Sabbath rest? A Sabbath rest is basically a cessation of duties, with spiritual renewal as its goal – a spiritual renewal that will allow a pastor to be a more joyful person in Christ and a more vigorous and effective leader for his or her church.  One can view the Sabbath rest as a way to stave off burnout or depression. On a more positive note, one can view it as a way to ensure a dynamic, meaningful ministry in which the whole congregation shares in the pastor’s passion and energy for mission and ministry.

The Louisville Institute, a program based at Louisville Seminary,  ties “sabbatical” to “sabbath” in this way:  “ . . . just as Sabbath happens every seven days, so sabbatical happens (ideally) every seven years. It is a gift of full, regular rest to those who nurture God’s people, corresponding to the ancient Levitical order that God’s people grant their cropland – their source of sustenance – a full rest every seven years.”

The Church of the Brethren has written a paper entitled “Guidelines For Sabbath Rest” to address the need of pastors to pay special attention to their spiritual health. This is an excerpt from that paper:

The Sabbath is a time to abstain completely from everyday work. It is a time to relax mind, body, and soul in order to be filled, nourished, and freed from every worry about how one is doing. Like the Biblical sabbath, Sabbath rest is not running away from life and its problems; it is an opportunity to receive grace to face them. It is a time to rely on God, a time to let God be God in one’s living. Life becomes meaningless and humdrum without God at the center. The hectic daily pace affects the lives of everyone, including pastors, causing people to lose contact with their core values and commitments. Tensions drain away when one is able and willing to commit all things into God’s hands, especially during the time of a special Sabbath rest. As the pastoral leader spends time immersing him/herself in God’s love, he or she can return to work with a renewed sense of joy about ministry.

What exactly does the pastor do during Sabbath rest? There is no set answer because the pastor has to seek the route that will lead to HIS spiritual renewal.  If a pastor chooses to spend his or her Sabbath rest at home he or she needs to put aside his or her normal schedule, to put aside all regular working tools, and to put aside his or her usual role of giver. Sabbath rest is certainly a time to receive and to be nurtured. It can be a time to study and write. It can be a time to play and help serve. It can be a time to be quiet. It can be a time for spiritual direction, a time for study and prayer, a time to enjoy the beauty of life. Sabbath rest can include travel, a retreat, or anything that leads to renewal and personal growth. Most of all, there will be the time to return and time for sharing the Sabbath rest experiences with the congregation with a renewed sense of ministry.

The Pastoral Commission and the Board have agreed that Pastor Dave will take an 8-week sabbath rest in 2013. Please be on the lookout for Part 2 of this article which will outline the details.

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