4 Steps to Your First Sabbatical

September 11, 2018
4 Steps to Your First Sabbatical

By Mark Dance

Sabbaticals are awkward for pastors and for churches, even for those in academic communities. Outside of the world of academia, you can pretty much assume that few in your church understands, much less cares about granting you a sabbatical.

I would like to help you change that in your church because you and your church will both benefit from this practice.

I am convinced more pastors would experience a longer and healthier ministry if they consistently practiced a weekly Sabbath and periodically took a sabbatical. And today I want to help you get four steps closer to your first sabbatical.


Step 1: Walk Slowly Through the Process

Ironic that a pastor would rush into a season of rest. Many sabbaticals are reactionary.

Start by finding an advocate to champion your project. Be careful to make sure you understand and respect the right channels of approval. If your church already has a sabbatical process, then do your homework and follow that process respectfully.

I required my staff to submit their sabbatical requests before the annual budget was finished so that they would not need to ask for unbudgeted money later. If you show up in the middle of a budget year with a half-baked plan, don’t expect everyone to get excited about it.


Step 2: Clarify the General Purpose

What is the win for you and your church? Is there a book or ministry initiative you need to do some off site research on? If your sabbatical is a response to ministry burnout, tell them how you plan on getting healthier spiritually, physically, and emotionally.

Sabbaticals are more than vacations, but don’t assume your people know that. My last church didn’t have sabbatical policies when I became their pastor, so I helped them wrap their mind around it by calling it a “Project.” Projects are easier to understand than sabbaticals - especially to the vast majority who did not work on a college faculty. So what is the purpose of your project?


Step 3: Articulate Your Specific Goals

Communicate your specific goals during the application process, then afterwards come back and share how you achieve those goals. Much of what happens on a sabbatical is not goal-oriented or measurable, so do your best to explain what is.

My first sabbatical - I interviewed 12 pastors about church growth and relocations because our church was experiencing both.  

My second sabbatical - I spent weekdays in remote Arkansas cabins reading, resting, and writing a sermon series/book on the Sabbath, which I preached soon afterwards. I will eventually publish that book.


Step 4: Express Genuine Appreciation

Sabbaticals are not a given, they are a gift. Guard your heart from any feelings of entitlement. An ungrateful disposition will not only kill the deal for you, but also for those who serve alongside or behind you.

Be prepared to get less than you ask for. I asked my church for a month because I knew that two or three would be too much to ask from a church with no history of sabbaticals. Understand that a church willing to  make an investment like this in your life and ministry is an exception to the norm. Be appreciative both on the front end and after you have finished your sabbatical.


 Sample Sabbatical Plan

  • Full time pastoral staff only
  • Eligible after every five full years of service
  • Four weeks with the full salary and benefits (1-3 months is average)
  • A special project in their field of service
  • Considered on a case-by-case basis (can be rejected/amended)
  • Approved by Senior Pastor, Finance, and Personnel Committees
  • Employee must apply in writing for reimbursement of expenses
  • Application will be made 90 days prior to starting  

Mark Dance, D.Min. has been the Director of LifeWay Pastors since 2014. Mark and Janet live in Nashville and have two grown children, Holly and Brad. Mark was the pastor of Second Baptist Conway from 2001-2015. Connect with Mark on Twitter, Facebook  or his


*This article is used with permission.