I totally understand that you may read this title and think: “I will never get a sabbatical.” When I was preparing for my sabbatical I had some great friends in ministry tell me the exact same thing. They thought my church was crazy for giving me one and couldn’t believe that I was actually getting away for 12 weeks to refresh with God. I fully understand that many, if not most, people in ministry will never get a sabbatical. That being said…if you ever get the chance to take a sabbatical, let me share some of the nuggets I have learned and a potential way to break up your time.
Part One: Disconnect
The counsel I have taken from mentors in my life is to take the first month to really just disconnect from the pastoral ministry. I left on April 26th for my sabbatical and literally got on a plane that day to leave town. I was fortunate enough to be able to get out of town to not just mentally disconnect from ministry but also geographically disconnect. Probably the best thing that anyone can do is to be physically gone right away; this really helped with the disconnect process.
Disconnect more than just physically; disconnect from technology. While I was away I slowly disconnected from social media. First it was “Words with Friends,” then I stopped Twitter, Instagram, and finally Facebook. Be intentional about this and let people know that you will be gone. Stop the notifications on your phone and realized that the world will be fine with you gone from the social media world for a few months.
Part Two: Refresh
The encouragement I received was to take the second month to really refresh and do things that you haven’t been able to do in the past couple years. Pastoral ministry is very demanding and this often means few days off and having to miss important family events. The second month of my sabbatical we planned a road trip that would get us out of town for four weeks. This took lots of planning, budgeting, and asking family if we could stay with them. This could also include finding some places that you just want to go. If you have a family, or don’t have a family, find somewhere they want to go, or find a place that refreshes you. What refreshes me will be different than what refreshes you, so make sure you get some time to do what is going to fill your tank back up.
Part Three: Re-engage
This is the part that was most difficult. After being away from church for almost nine weeks I started to re-engage into ministry. Let me be clear that I did this slowly and cautiously. I began with meeting with my pastor for a lunch (at my favorite place to eat) to just catch up. He asked how I was doing and what my family had been up to for the last couple weeks. We started talking about what was coming my way in the next couple of weeks, and things I had missed out on while away (this included some people updates in our church body). I was able to share with him things that God has been speaking to my heart and how the marriage counseling our church paid for went. We dreamed some, chatted some, and really just caught up.
Knowing that the staff had maintained the same pace of ministry, and I had slowed down, meant there needed to be a strategic plan for coming back. For this I chose to come back from my sabbatical a week early and work part-time for two weeks to help me get back on pace; this was a great way to come back. I was able to meet with people in the church, catch up on some emails, and just connect with our team.
You may never be given the option for a sabbatical, but I really think the things that I’ve laid out here can be done in three months, twelve weeks (what I took) or three weeks. You could take this plan, tweak it, share it with your leadership team, and have a sweet time to refresh. The truth that I walked away from sabbatical is pretty simple: “God cares more about who I am than what I do.”