Wins and Mistakes in Planning Sabbaticals
If you’re lucky enough to earn a sabbatical, you want to make sure you take advantage of it. I’ve taken a sabbatical, but most of my opinions about them have been formed by talking to other ministers who came back from theirs and realized it wasn’t maximized, or was used the wrong way.
As a free resource, you can view Brentwood Baptist’s documents related to sabbaticals, including these forms: Educational Assistance and Sabbatical Overview, Sabbatical Request, Sabbatical Proposal, and Sabbatical Report on my resources page.
Dos and don’ts for designing a sabbatical:
Don’t use it as an extended vacation.
Do only plan your sabbatical to 80%. Don’t fill up all the time. It will fill up, and even if it doesn’t, that’s fine too. Sabbaticals shouldn’t be overloaded.
Don’t use it to catch up on all the projects that don’t fit into your typical work day. Overdue projects need to get done, but not on sabbatical. Schedule other times away from the office for significant project work. I think it’s better to postpone a sabbatical than to include everyday work in that time.
Do have time for extended soul-care, every day. Schedule extended and unhurried times to pray, read scripture, and engage other spiritual practices. Our typical morning appointments and filled schedules are often what keep us from connecting with God. Don’t perpetuate that while on sabbatical.
Don’t stay connected to your place of work. The church made an investment for you to be away. You’ll have to make sure that separation actually happens. One church I know has the minister turn in his current phone, and then provides a burner phone whose number is only known by family and the senior pastor. Some churches temporarily shut down email accounts, and typically have an admin keep up with the account. When I took my sabbatical, my assistant monitored my work email. If anything couldn’t be handled by someone else, she forwarded it to my personal email – but that only happened once in eight weeks. Disconnecting while on sabbatical requires putting good systems in place before you leave.
Do fill your time with these things:
- R and R
This isn’t vacation per se, but it’s time to unplug. Slow down your pace and do some fun things. This portion might also include your immediate family. I encourage ministers to book-end their sabbatical time with R and R. Maybe 2-4 days on the front end to unwind, and then 2-4 days before you enter back into work orbit.
- Soul Care
Maybe it’s a solitary retreat. Maybe it’s time with a Christian counselor or coach. But in addition to extended daily time with God, go that extra step to create a unique space to connect with God. For example – before leaving for mine, I purchased a “sabbatical only Bible and journal” to record what God would show me during my time.
- Marriage enrichment
Whether it’s a marriage conference, strategic time set aside for improving your marriage, or scheduled time with a marriage mentor, marriage enrichment is highly valuable. This investment of time might largely impact the next season of your ministry or marriage.
- Self and professional development
There are a lot of reasons for this, but I think improving yourself and your competencies empowers you to better serve your church. I guess I feel like you almost owe it to the church. You may want to work on your writing, or develop a work skill – but do something that will make you better.
- And finally, do something that fuels you.
Take a mission trip. Write. Schedule time with old friends. Take a weekend course on Greek — I don’t know what floats your boat, but whatever does, do it.
P.S. You might notice that I left off travel and continuing education from this list. Here’s why:
Travel: If it’s part of some of the above suggestions, that’s fine. But travel takes time and money. If you have an excess of both, go for it – but I’ve seen travel take the majority of people’s sabbatical time, and leave them tired instead of refreshed. I suggest leaving travel for your typical vacation time, and if it’s done during your sabbatical, at least make sure you’re not putting all your eggs (time and money) in one basket (whatever destination you choose).
Continuing education: In our church, we allow and encourage our ministers to continue their education as a means for self-development. Therefore, it’s not usually necessary to schedule it during your sabbatical. When you have time margin during a sabbatical, the temptation to do a little school work often becomes significant. And while you might complete 60% of your dissertation on sabbatical that may be all that you have to show for your time. (I’m talking about sabbaticals for ministers at churches. I know education is a large part of many sabbaticals in different fields, and in some cases is a strategic part of a sabbatical even for ministers. All I’m recommending is that if you’re going to engage formal education, consider not giving more than 25% of your time to it. Audit a January term at a bible school or seminary, do informal education with a professor you can meet with, or spend time reading. But don’t let a school deadline transpose its stress onto your sabbatical.)
When you’re done with sabbatical: you should be rested, reenergized to tackle ministry, closer to Christ, sharpened some vocational skills and ready lead out of the overflow you’ve gained. Should you have the opportunity to take a sabbatical—use it wisely.