Although this is Lakeview Chapel’s first experience with a pastoral sabbatical, many other churches have walked this road. Below are some frequently asked questions that may be helpful to you. Also, if you have not already done so, I would encourage you to pick up a copy of the Focus on the Family resource “Sabbaticals for Ministers” on the information table.
What is a pastoral sabbatical.
A sabbatical is a time set aside from normal ministry to provide an opportunity for spiritual refreshment, personal growth, professional development, and/or project design. It is intended to provide a full-time official worker serving in the local church the privilege to nurture spiritual life, pursue professional development, and reflect on big-picture initiatives. (From the Central District’s Policy Handbook)
Sabbatical leave is a carefully planned period of time in which a pastor is granted leave away from his or her normal ministerial responsibilities in order to spend an extended period of time in study and reflection. Sabbatical leave is not a vacation, nor is it only continuing education. It can be a time of prayer, rest, study and travel. Sabbatical can be an opportunity for the individual to strategically disengage from regular and normal tasks so that ministry and mission may be viewed from a new perspective because of a planned time of focus. (From FPC Hudson, WI Sabbatical Policy)
When will you be on your sabbatical?
I will be on sabbatical from August 10th to November 10th.
How much will you be involved with Lakeview during your sabbatical?
Because of the full time nature of pastoral ministry, it is highly recommended that pastors completely withdraw from relationships and responsibilities that are a part of their position as a pastor. Therefore, I will not be in the office and will not be meeting intentionally with people from the church during the sabbatical. While this may seem awkward at first, it is necessary to allow for the rest and restoration that a pastoral sabbatical is intended to bring. That being said, I will still be living at the parsonage and in the area during much of the sabbatical. If we see each other out and about, please say Hi and do what you would normally do when you see someone you know and care about. However, don’t be surprised if I don’t ask about things at church. We’ll have plenty of time to catch up on that after the sabbatical is over.
Will you be attending services at Lakeview during your sabbatical?
I will not. This is for a couple of reasons. First, it would be impossible for me to separate from my role as pastor if I was worshiping with you at Lakeview on Sundays. I would feel responsible for things, and it would be difficult for people not to approach me as their pastor. Besides, imagine this conversation with a guest.
Guest. “Is that your pastor speaking?”
You: “No, he is a guest speaker.”
Guest: “Is your pastor here? Can I meet him?”
You: “Yes, he is here. But, ah, no, I cannot introduce you to him, he is not doing any of his pastor duties…until November. But I can introduce you then.”
Secondly, one pitfall of being a pastor is that it is hard to visit other churches because you are always busy Sunday mornings. While I will miss Lakeview during this time, I will enjoy the opportunity to visit other churches and listen to other pastors speak God’s Word, worship with them and see how other local churches are expressing the body of Christ.
What will your family be doing during the sabbatical?
There will be some weeks where we will be away as a family. In mid-August, we will settle Dan and Martha into college at Cornell. Expect to see Patti and Clayton on some Sundays and during mid-week activities during the fall. I would ask that you refrain from asking them how I am doing though. If you want to ask, so will others, and they would find themselves answering that question many, many times over during the sabbatical. Between our good and gracious God and your prayers, you can trust I will be doing well.
What will you be doing during the sabbatical?
The three goals of the sabbatical are rest/renewal, refreshment and refocus. In a general way I see these three purposes dividing the three months of the sabbatical into three phases. These are not intended to be phases with concrete borders, but rather phases that will blend into each other as the Holy Spirit leads.
Rest/renewal: The goal of this time is to simply disengage from the daily/weekly ministry demands and allow true rest and healing to come to my body and soul. I will seek the Lord through reading and prayer, but there will be no alarms and no schedules. My family will be spending some time at Letchworth State Park. I will be in Owego around August 14th in order to see Martha and Daniel off to college the following week.
Refreshment: The goal of this time is to move beyond the much-needed rest/renewal and to do some activities that my pastoral schedule has not permitted me to do. There are three main activities that I hope to spend this time with.
First, I have been accepted to attend an ALONGSIDE retreat near Kalamazoo, Michigan during September 8 – 25. ALONGSIDE is a counseling retreat ministry for pastors and missionaries who are in need of renewal and restoration, through personal counseling, educational seminars, and group interaction. These retreats are specifically designed to meet the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs in a safe place. Caring, licensed professional counselors come alongside these Christian leaders as they seek healing and renewed strength and energy for ministry.
Second, I will spend time writing. I have one unfinished book and one outlined book that I hope to spend time on. Most of my writing would be done either at the office at my workshop here in Owego or our family’s camper located near Deposit, NY.
Third, I will spend time in my workshop. As I share my ministry calling with people who knew me as a furniture maker, I say that God moved me to “take my vocation as a woodworker and my hobby of working with teens and switch them around so that woodworking is now my hobby and working with the Church is now my vocation.” This inevitably leads to this next question: “Are you spending much time in your shop?” Unfortunately the answer has been a resounding “no” for the past seven years, except for the period of time after the flood when we built the kitchen for the Graves. I hope to be able to finish one piece of furniture that is not too complex or too big. One significant aspect of my connection with God is through creativity and the arts. Writing and the physical crafts are how this has been expressed and both will bring much needed healing to my heart and soul as well as connection with God.
Refocus: Although the question of what’s next will be on my mind the entire time, I will begin to be more intentional about pressing into this question during the final month of the sabbatical. The “what next” questions that I have in mind are:
What’s next for me personally?
What’s next for us as a family?
What’s next for me as a pastor?
What’s next for us as a church?
As I still myself to listen to God’s voice in these areas, it is my hope and expectation that God will lead, and God will speak. It is exciting even to write this wondering what will be said.
What will you do with email, texting, phone calls, and social media during this time?
I will not be checking or returning any church email, texts, or phone calls during the sabbatical. During the sabbatical my church email will send an automatic reply telling the sender that I am out of the office until November 10. They will be given instructions on how to contact the office if necessary and the email will then be deleted. Any church related texts or phone calls to my cell phone will not be returned. I will change my cell phone answering message to indicate my unavailability and instructions on how to contact the office. I will also substantially disconnect from social media.
Again, keep in mind that is this not done to be rude or unconcerned. However, as many pastors have discovered while taking a sabbatical, it is not effective to partially disconnect. It was highly recommended by every pastoral sabbatical guide that we sought out that the pastor completely disconnect from his church responsibilities and relationships for the period of the sabbatical.
Who should I call for pastoral care or if there is a spiritual emergency?
During office hours (Tuesday through Friday 10 AM-3 PM) you can call the church office. Charlotte will either guide you on whom to call or contact the appropriate person for you. As they always are, Lakeview’s elders will be available for prayer and spiritual counseling. Also, if you are involved in a small group, reaching out to your small group leaders is always appropriate.
If by chance there are any issues that are beyond the scope of our elders, we have several professional Christian counselors that we can refer you to during this time for counseling.
What can we at Lakeview Chapel do during the sabbatical?
A successful sabbatical is dependent upon participation by the congregation. There are several ways that the congregation will play a role in making the pastoral sabbatical successful: