Minister Sabbaticals are Not Academic Sabbaticals

By Renee Ruchotzke

GA Chalice next to Fort Gibson Lake, OK

Ministers who serve in congregations with college professors as members often get asked what project or publication they will be working on when they are planning a sabbatical. The question is understandable in an academic setting, where sabbatical plans need to be pre-approved and a report of accomplishments or publications is expected afterward. But we do not have these kinds of expectations for parish ministers.

Ministry is a demanding profession. Ministers are on call and emotionally available day and night for pastoral emergencies, except when they are fully on vacation. They tend to only get one day off during the week to tend to personal needs and relationships.

Crafting weekly sermons requires ongoing learning and study. Weekly, ministers set aside time for reflection and writing to craft their sermon and accompanying worship elements. Yearly, ministers spend a few weeks for study leave, so they can attend a retreat or training, or do a deeper dive into an area of interest.

But there is a deeper demand on ministers, of maintaining a ministerial authenticity and presence that draws from the core of one's being, from one's spirit. Replenishing their well of being is essential to a minister's ability to serve faithfully and authentically. It's still important to have a sabbatical plan with goals. It is fair for a congregational board or committee on shared ministry to offer input, but only in service of the time away being a time of rest, reflection, and renewal for the minister.

So if your minister is planning a sabbatical, please don't ask what they are going to produce. Instead ask about what they need to feed their soul.

About the Author

Renee Ruchotzke

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke (ruh-HUT-skee) is a Congregational Life Consultant and program manager for Leadership Development.

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