People of faith across generations have persisted in spiritual practices they believed would sustain and bless life over the long haul. Like prayer, like community, like Sabbath and sabbatical, some practices spread through a person’s soul or a community’s life and, in one way or another, bless us profoundly for the long-haul.
In the case of pastoral ministry, regular renewal and sabbatical times are opportunities to receive sustenance for the long-haul. Renewal leaves help leaders with uniquely demanding schedules carve out time to renew their resources for that ministry. These leaves express a community’s commitment to faithfully structure itself in ways that will sustain life for all its members. While not all businesses and institutions in our culture prioritize sustaining and blessing structures, the church has prophetic opportunity to embrace exactly this sort of blessing process, for its leaders and for itself.
Another way to think about this is around pastoral passion: at some point in a pastor’s discernment regarding call to ministry, she was able to tap into a wellspring of joy around the calling – however inchoate at the time – that led (in most cases) to her taking on the challenges of eschewing a more financially lucrative career, obtaining theological training and ecclesial vetting, and forming herself as an emerging pastor. Sabbaticals are times to re-tap into that vein of connection with God and with God’s people so that joy in the calling might reenergize the work of the calling.
If a pastor were to walk into her office after a few months away feeling energized and refreshed for ministry, ready to step back with vigor into her pastoral duties, then what might she have been doing for those months prior? The answer, of course, varies radically among pastors, and that is a good thing. Renewal leaves should be designed so that an individual pastor in all her individuality can live into the joys of her particular avocationas, spiritual disciplines, relationships, and so on in ways that will be vitalizing beyond what any one-size-fits-all program can hope to achieve. The same holds true for congregational activities undertaken during the pastor’s leave period . . .
Sabbath itself challenges many cultural contexts, ancient as well as contemporary. Whether it’s a Sabbath day after six days of labor or a Sabbath year after six years, the concept pushes us to expect, both for ourselves and for our neighbors, periods of time when we will not necessarily expect the production of tangible results. Practicing Sabbath provides a divinely-sanctioned opportunity to value the lives of entire communities based on grounds other than productivity and usefulness for work. However, somewhat paradoxically, precisely this “stepping away” from day-to-day productivity can be the catalyst for greater excellence in a congregation and a pastor’s ministry.
– excerpted from “The Practice of Sabbatical as Renewal,” a chapter co-authored with Robert Saler, in Sacred Habits: The Rise of the Creative Clergy (Intersections: Theology and the Church in a World Come of Age) Paperback – September 21, 2016, by Rev. Chad R Abbott (Author, Introduction), Rev. Carol Howard Merritt (Foreword). 187-203.
Sacred Habits: The Rise of the Creative Clergy is now available on Amazon.