Plan Pastoral Sabbaticals~ Way 29

Plan Pastoral Sabbaticals~ Way 29

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Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.

~1 Thessalonians 5:12,13

Sabbatical~ any extended period of leave from one’s customary work, especially for rest, to acquire new skills or training, etc. (dictionary.com)

The first time I was introduced to a pastoral sabbatical was in our second church. Our senior pastor at the time had been working in the church for over 15 years with a staff of pastors serving by his side. The church applied for a grant and the pastor was able to use the money for travel studies, writing, focused time in the Word of God and vacation time with his family. To be considered for the grant, the church had to prepare a sabbatical plan and the pastor had to go through a rigorous process in order to determine that he would benefit from a sabbatical.

He came back rejuvenated and excited about ministry.

It opened my eyes to the value of sabbatical, but in preparing this post, I have been surprised at the varying opinions on sabbaticals and the heated arguments that ensue from people on various sides. My goal here is not to tell you what every church should or should not do, but instead to encourage discussion on this important topic.

One of the questions that comes up in people’s minds is why should the pastor get a sabbatical when I don’t? Pastors often feel the same way and feel guilty asking for time to pursue focused study or time away. But rather than discussions over who deserves what, I think it is important to study the pattern that God set up in scripture.

By the seventh day, God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day, he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

~Genesis 2:2,3

Did God need to rest? No. He is God. He will not grow tired or weary. ~Isaiah 40:28  The reason that he rested was to demonstrate a pattern for creation. He knew we would need to rest.

This pattern is for all of creation. Throughout the Old Testament we see this idea of Sabbath rest over and over again.

“He said to them, ‘This is what the Lord commanded: “Tomorrow is to be a day of sabbath rest. A holy sabbath to the Lord.”… “So the people rested on the seventh day.” ~Exodus 16:23, 30

“Remember the Sabbath by keeping it holy. Six days  you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.” ~Exodus 20:8

In addition to the Sabbath day, there is the concept of Sabbatical year~ “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything.”  ~Exodus 21:2

A study of the Sabbatical year and the year of Jubilee is a fascinating one, but what it boils down to is that God cares about his creation and knows what it needs. A day of rest and a year of releasing debts and allowing the ground to rest are a reminder that God is God. We are to acknowledge Him in all that we do and just as the Sabbath day and the Sabbatical year were a constant reminder to the Israelites,  the church must institute regular times of rest.

This is not just for pastors. Can I say that again? This is not just for pastors. This idea of rest is for all of creation and is as pertinent to our culture today as it was 2,000 years ago. The problem is that our culture has lost this concept of rest. We emphasize being busy, being efficient, productivity and results. But this makes it all about us.

In God’s economy we are to work hard and rest well. We need to practice this in our own lives and we need to encourage our pastors to do the same. The best article I read on this subject was from the 9 Marks Website- Caring for the Pastor~ The Sabbatical. In it, the author, Matt Schmucker says, “Even the best of preachers can begin to repeat the same theme and tone over and over in their preaching.” He advocates for pastors to have a time of sabbatical for the purpose of rediscovering vision and purpose.

One of the things that I found interesting in my study is that there are various opinions of what a Sabbatical is, the length of time, the frequency and the type. All seem to agree that a Sabbatical is NOT a vacation (although an extended Sabbatical usually includes vacation as well). Some sites recommend adopting an every 5 or 7 year policy. Some suggest that for every year served, a pastor accrues a certain amount of sabbatical time, but when he takes a sabbatical, it should not exceed three months. Sabbaticals can run from 2 weeks to an entire year. What surprised me in my reading was the different types of Sabbaticals. Matt Schmucker suggested two different types; “the preaching sabbatical” and “the radical sabbatical”. The preaching sabbatical is when the pastor continues all of his regular duties, but does not preach for a couple of weeks in order to spend time studying and preparing for the future. The radical sabbatical is the one we typically think of- where the pastor is gone for the entire length of sabbatical time.

Small church pastors often feel like they cannot ask their church for a radical sabbatical, because there is no one else to fill in for them. One of the biggest blessings I have found in our current church is that our church is supportive of my husband’s efforts to equip our people for service. This means that there are several men in our church who are able to preach on a Sunday morning. As a result, my husband has been able to take “preaching sabbaticals”- often before he begins a new series. This time has been invaluable for him.

A radical sabbatical is a big commitment on the part of the church and the part of the pastor. Determining if your pastor should go on a sabbatical, how long, how often and what type requires research, prayer and listening to your pastor. If he asks for a sabbatical, more than likely it is not because he is lazy, but because he recognizes the wisdom in sabbaticals and the benefit it can bring to his congregation.

But a sabbatical is not necessarily the best thing for a pastor or for his church. This article- The Dark Side of Sabbatical- offers some cautions to planning a sabbatical. I especially appreciated this quote from the article:

The increasing prevalence of pastoral sabbatical in an era that stresses “clergy self-care” may have led some new pastors to think of it as something all pastors deserve and should expect. But it must have a larger purpose. To be worthwhile of congregational support, a sabbatical ought to connect explicitly with the ministry to which the pastor will return. Otherwise, sabbatical risks seeming like an extended paid vacation.

Pastors do not deserve sabbaticals and should not expect them (but if they ask for them, the congregation needs to know how humbling this is and take it seriously!). This is important to know. Rather it is an opportunity for a church to appreciate the work the pastor is doing, his faithfulness in service and a desire to see the pastor and church grow in health.  This is the larger purpose. Ultimately, a sabbatical must bring honor to God. The focus needs to be on acknowledging that God is God and we are not.

Does your church have a sabbatical plan for your pastor(s)? Have you seen the benefits of sabbatical or have you experienced the negatives?

31 WAYS

Way 29: Plan Pastoral Sabbaticals

 

 

Extra Vacation Days~ Way 28

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Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.

1 Thessalonians 5:12,13

In my research for this series and in discussion with other pastor’s wives, I have discovered that vacation time for pastors can often be a point of contention. There are a number of factors that make this a tricky issue.

  1. Oftentimes, vacation days are based on the length of time the pastor has been at his current church rather than the entire time he has been in ministry. This might mean that there are pastors who have been in ministry for over 20 years, but since they are new to a church, they only get two weeks of vacation.
  2. Most pastoral families do not live close to extended family. This means that if the pastor wants to visit family, he will need to take his vacation time to do this.
  3. In many jobs, employees get time off for holidays. For pastors, it is the exact opposite. Thanksgiving Eve, Christmas Eve, Easter- not only are they work days for a pastor, they are some of the most important days of the year.
  4. A pastor does not get the opportunity to take advantage of a long weekend. Most pastors get a limited number of Sundays off per year.

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As I have considered these points of contention, I realize how accurate they are. When I think of the vacations our family took this summer and last summer, every single one was a “ministry” vacation (officiating a wedding, speaking at a camp) or visiting family. In a couple of weeks, our family will be going on mini-vacation just for us, but we will have to take the kids out of school in order to do this.

Now to be clear, I LOVE the opportunities that we have as a pastor’s family and the doors that open to us. I would love it if we lived closer to extended family, but somehow we make it work. And I can’t imagine not celebrating the most important holidays of the year with our church family. Christmas Eve and Easter services are my favorites of the year and I wouldn’t want to miss them!

For the first five years of our marriage and ministry, I worked at a bank. I had a great amount of vacation days, plus bank holidays AND sick days. I never had to work on Sunday and Saturday was the slowest day of the week and I only had to work until 2 o’clock. I discovered that I was off a lot more than my husband!

Dave

 

If the statistics are true that 70% of pastors battle depression, 80 % of pastors feel discouraged and 1,500 pastors quit each month, then we need to find ways to encourage our pastors more. Surprising a pastor with extra vacation days is one way to do this. If your pastor is working hard and being faithful to his ministry, I guarantee some extra time for rest and renewal will encourage his heart in huge ways.

31 WAYS

 

Way 28: Surprise your pastor with extra vacation days.

Please Don’t Compare~ Way 27

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Now we ask  you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.

1 Thessalonians 5:12,13

In my almost 40 years of life, I have never had to go through the process of choosing a church home. My Daddy was always the pastor of the churches we attended during my growing up years. During my college years, I either attended the church where I served as a Sunday school teacher for my “Practical Christian Ministry”, a requirement for graduation at the Christian school I attended or I attended the church where my boyfriend at the time had his “PCM”. During our senior year, my then fiance started working part time as a youth pastor. We were members at that church for 7 years.

For the past 10 1/2 years, we have been in churches where my husband has served as a youth pastor, associate pastor and now senior pastor.

This experience has taught me many things. One is that a church cannot be about what you get out of it. There was a time when I was very little when we were at a church which boasted a children’s ministry of 3 children, my two sisters and me. I know my parents wanted more opportunity for us, but I look back on that time in our lives as THE time that cemented my friendship with my sisters. We had no one else, so we learned to love one another. Now as a parent, I don’t worry about those things. Is the programming great for my children? Honestly, it is not my first or most important thought. What I want to know is are my children learning that worshiping God is not about us, but all about Him? If the answer to this question is “yes”, then everything else will just be icing on the cake.

We have been in big churches and small churches. Churches with contemporary worship and churches with a full orchestra. We have been in churches with superb children’s ministries and ones with hardly any children at all. We have been in affluent areas and poor areas. City churches and country churches. We have met kind people and mean people. We have worshiped beside different cultures and IN different cultures.

The one thing that has always remained the same? The God we worship. He never changes.

So I have learned that it is fruitless to compare churches in order to determine “best”. What is most important is who is on the throne? Because even if the church meets all of the criteria you have, if they do not love God first and others second, they are nothing (Matt. 22:37-39 and 1 Cor. 13:1-3).

In addition to never choosing a church, I have never chosen the pastor! First it was my Daddy, then the pastors who served alongside my husband and now my husband is my pastor (I did choose HIM, but I didn’t know that he would be my pastor some day in the future when I married him!).

From what I understand from talking to others about the process of choosing a church, it can be a lot like dating. You are looking for a church that feels like family, one where you can connect with others, be cared for and serve. Another stipulation is that the teaching is doctrinally sound and the pastor is both challenging and encouraging. I understand why these things are important. But once a pastor has been hired or you have chosen a church, it can be incredibly hurtful for the pastor to always be compared to previous pastors.

I know this is inevitable. It is human nature to judge and compare, but we need to understand the danger here. If we had an amazing pastor earlier in our lives, it will be hard not to expect every other pastor to be like him. But it is important to keep in mind that God’s plan is perfect. And in His plan, there are no cookie cutter pastors. They are all unique with their own set of giftings, talents and abilities.

This subject feels particularly vulnerable for me, because my husband has been compared to others in so many ways (and for some he could never measure up). It was a very difficult road, but we are now at a place where people appreciate WHO he is, not just what he does.

I am thankful to be where we are now, but I know enough pastor’s wives to know that my husband’s experience is not unique. If a pastor takes a position in a church that had previously been filled by a well-loved pastor, it will be difficult. There will be unfair expectations placed on him and if the congregation has not learned the dangers of comparing, it will be very difficult for his ministry to last. Also, if a pastor is one of many pastors on staff, it will be difficult for members not to compare. If there is insecurity or pride among the pastors, it will make for a not-so-great working environment.

Some typical comparisons…

  • Introvert/Extrovert comparisons
  • Time management (how many hours does he work? what are his priorities?)
  • Type of teaching and manner of preaching
  • Administrative strengths and weaknesses
  • Personal preferences (sports or music person, use technology or paper notes when preaching, etc.)

Now think for a moment, how would it feel if people criticized you for these things or constantly compared you to someone else? It would be hard- especially when it comes to personality or preference issues. But for some reason, it happens all the time for pastors.

Now imagine how your pastor would feel if you were to celebrate who he was instead of always telling him about how someone else did it. I guarantee that pastors who are celebrated feel appreciated, but pastors who are constantly compared to others feel discouraged and unloved.

So, please don’t compare. Challenge where needed, but celebrate the most! Pastors who feel appreciated will work harder and love more.

31 WAYS

Way 27: Your pastor will feel appreciated when he is celebrated rather than compared to others.

 

About Sundays~ Way 26

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Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.

1 Thessalonians 5:12,13

“We’re going to our friends house for lunch!” , they laughed as they told me the news.

For some reason, my sisters always found out important information before I did. I was the baby of the family and so I was usually the last to know.

But this was some of my favorite news. Our home was one of rhythm and routine, the results of my Dad’s alcoholism prior to his dramatic conversion and pastoral ministry. We kept to a schedule, because it is how my Daddy needed it to be.

So to have a spontaneous lunch with friends was the best news ever! We loved going to our friend’s house where they would use the best china, where we were included in the adult conversation and where we always had delicious food.

Sundays are exhausting for a pastor’s family! Growing up, it was a tradition to serve the biggest meal of the week on Sunday after church. My mama did a great job, but Sunday afternoons meant that we were all wiped out. And no one really wanted to cook food and we certainly didn’t want to wash dishes (my Daddy had decided that he would never buy a dishwasher, because he had three girls!).

Now that I am the pastor’s wife, I admit to you that I have not carried on this tradition. I try to plan ahead so that we have a nice meal that is not too difficult to prepare, but often we end up eating something super simple.

Every pastor’s family is different and so others might tell you exactly the opposite (which is why it is so important to get to know your pastor’s family!), but for me, I STILL get the same giddy excitement I had when I was a kid when someone invites our family either out or over for lunch after church.

Sunday mornings can be very difficult because the pastor and his wife want to talk with everyone, to greet each person and to have meaningful conversations. It’s just not possible. So, the opportunity to talk with others over a nice meal is wonderful.

You might think the pastor is tired after Sunday morning services. This is probably true. But it is also probably true that he would welcome a nice meal with friends.

Side note- We have 6 people in our family now, so we realize that we have a tendency to overwhelm folks. We do not expect others to pay for us when we go out to eat. I know that can be an awkward issue. So, if that is a way that you choose to bless your pastor’s family, that is awesome. But if you can’t afford this, PLEASE know that this is not expected. We want to be treated like friends!

Ask your pastor and/or his wife how they feel about Sundays. And if they are like our family, ask them to go out for lunch with you! The added bonus is that you will get to hear what the pastor really thought about his sermon. And his kids will think you are the coolest people ever and will cherish memories with you for now and always.

31 WAYS

Way 26: Ask your pastor and his family out or over for lunch after church on Sunday.

 

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