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More Thoughts On Pastoral Sabbaticals And Leave

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With the interest in John Piper’s upcoming sabbatical, here is a post from the First Things blog by Matthew Lee Anderson which points out the positive nature of such times.

Simultaneously, the leaders of Richview, a Fellowship Baptist Church in Toronto, Canada, announced that they were granting their pastor, Daryl Dash a three month sabbatical. The leaders outline the purposes which they anticipate this time will acheive. Dash explains his perspective on sabbaticals here on his blog. While rest from normal duties is part of the aim, it is not so much vacation as a three month period in which spiritual disciplines of refreshment can be pursued.

A sabbatical in this sense is not a holiday. It is a mutually agreed period of time when normal responsibilities are laid aside. But the activities which are undertaken during this season will serve to refresh and renew the pastor for the work to which he will return.

In the context of Australian Presbyterianism, pastors are well cared for with regard to the provision of time away from pastoral duties. We received four weeks annual leave (five in Victoria) and also are granted twelve weeks long service leave every ten years. I don’t think US pastors would have that level of leave provided for. I don’t think many pastors working for independent churches in Australia would receive that level of provision.
But there are problems.
When people ask me if I’m a bit weary, I admit that I am, but always point out that I have a lot of accumulated annual and long-service leave.
I’m not burned out or overworked, I’m stupid. There’s a difference.
Part of our accountability with our churches should be to use our leave.
If we don’t use our long service leave within a reasonable time frame, we should lose it.
No-one who retires should have six to nine months of LSL to use.
There may be seasons when the pastor’s presence is needed for extended times. But churches should know that sooner or later they will receive diminishing returns from their pastor’s continuing presence.

There isn’t a culture of intentional sabbatical. Some are using their LSL to participate in short term mission or to engage in some form of reflective study. I’m not aware of any specifically offered personal spiritual development which someone could undertake during such a time. It would be helpful for pastors and their eldership teams to believe some form of intentional and accountable spiritual development is essential.

I can write this because both of the parishes in which I served were and are very, very generous with their support of me in this regard. Back in Mordialloc when I returned from leave to conduct a funeral they credited me with a whole replacement week of leave. Mount Gambier has paid my way to attend Preaching Conferences in Sydney. The care and concern that is shown to me continues to challenge me about the need for intentional self care.

At the moment, I don’t need a sabbatical, what I need to do is use my leave.
But sabbaticals should be part of ongoing pastoral formation.

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