Sabbatical Governance – for the design and structure of a new policy
- Building Board and congregational support
- Provide background explanatory material, including scriptural and statistical basis for sabbaticals
- Meet with governing board to discuss applicable principles of soul care for leaders and respond to concerns and objectives
- Integrate purpose of sabbatical with discipline of soul care and spiritual direction
- Development of a sabbatical policy
- Provide structured questionnaire to help board discern objectives, structural design and limitations of a sabbatical policy
- Interact with board representatives and staff leaders to integrate responses to questionnaire into a base policy template for board review and discussion
- Work with board to convert policy template into workable policy for implementation
- Provide support, if necessary, for board presentation of policy to general congregation, if necessary.
Sabbatical Implementation and Coaching
- Preparing the leader and the organization for a specific sabbatical time.
- Helping set appropriate and achievable expectations for all involved
- Providing spiritual direction (prayer, active presence, rendering a service of sensitivity in support of another’s spiritual growth) to the leader during the sabbatical period, as requested, through
- Provide external encouragement and accountability to ensure the agreed upon values and purpose of sabbatical are faithfully pursued
- Work with leader and board to effectively transition back into ministry from sabbatical
- Assist leader in providing “after action review” of sabbatical time to the board to ensure conformity with stated objectives
While ideally Gracebridge Alliance would be involved in both these services sequentially in any given organization, each service can be offered independent of the other.
Introducing the subject of a sabbatical for ministry staff when no sabbatical policy exists:
In our experience, there are few more consistently controversial topics in a church that the issue of sabbaticals for staff. Generally the topic is ignored until a staff member (often the senior pastor) comes to the governing board and requests an extended period of time away from the duties of the ministry role. By waiting until a specific need is expressed, the leader is forced into a position of justifying the need and the board is constrained to evaluating the legitimacy of the need, all within the operational context of how and to whom the staff member’s responsibilities will be covered during their absence. The discussion generally then devolves into a debate as to the merits of a time of “refreshment” for the staff member and the minimum amount of time necessary to accomplish this.
In the absence of a developed policy on sabbatical, discussions by the board or appointed sub-committee on this topic may often be perceived as a request for an extended time off or vacation. This is partially a function of the people on committee (generally lay people with business-oriented or similar professional backgrounds) bring from their own career experiences, and partially a function of a lack of clear definition of the purpose and objectives for taking a sabbatical. Whether stated or not, by waiting to discuss this topic until a staff member makes a request the board puts that staff member in the somewhat humiliating position of having to request special treatment because they “need” it. Not surprisingly, that is a tough conversation for anyone to have with their “bosses”.
Our Perspective: “Sabbatical as Investment”
Sabbaticals are not vacations – they are a critical extension of the rhythm of Sabbath in our lives – in other words the critical extension of work and rest. In this context it is not just the ceasing of normal labors, but the positive obligation to “keep it holy” that form the foundation of both Sabbath keeping and the place of sabbaticals in the life of a ministry leader.
- Functionally, a sabbatical should have clearly defined goals and a clearly articulated plan to achieve those goals.
- Ideally, a ministry organization should have some form of organizational consensus (generally in the form of a board-sanctioned written “policy”) as to the nature, timing, objectives, oversight and processes for staff sabbaticals long before a staff member is put in the position of requesting one.
- Once a sabbatical has been requested and approved according to such a policy, the board should put in place, in close consultation with the requesting staff member, an overview of the mutually agreed upon goals of the sabbatical and resources available for achieving those goals.
Far from being a simple unstructured vacation time, it is critical that a Sabbatical be thought of as an investment by both the organization and the individual in well-being of the ministry leader. In this sense, the process of sabbatical, from the policy development to its implementation with an individual, is part of a larger discussion on “soul care” – that is…caring for the soul of those in ministry leadership. Central to the idea of soul care is the concept of “meaningful rest”, which incorporates how we can meaningfully tend to our souls (keep it holy) during the resting time, through the building/rebuilding of spiritual disciplines and practices. Our personal observations and experiences, as well as the discouraging statistics and anecdotes on pastoral departures from ministry all confirm the destructive effect of not incorporating the Sabbath rhythm of meaningful rest into our organizational responsibilities to staff members.