Why Do Pastors Get Study Leave – or Even a Sabbatical?

I came from a Presbytery where it was assumed that pastors would take sabbaticals after 6-7 years of service in their church.  I now serve a Presbytery where sabbaticals seem rare.  Why would a pastor get 1-3 months “off”?  Postal workers, office managers, chefs, and doctors don’t get that kind of paid vacation.  This is what people have said to me, and clearly some interpretation is needed.

Study leave for clergy – much less sabbatical time – is a misunderstood “perk” of professional ministry.

Study leave is required for pastors across the board in my denomination – 2 weeks minimum – in hopes that the pastor will read, attend classes, write, or process the layers of ministry that cannot be done while working  6-7 days a week.  People understand that professors and others in higher education take sabbatical or study leave to work on their intellectual specialty.  But many don’t understand that pastors need this as well to serve with fresh eyes and minds.

The PCUSA now calls Ministers of the Word and Sacrament Teaching Elders, which points to the fact that teachers need to study so that they will continue to have wisdom and insights to share with others.  And pastors need to step back and pray/reflect/worship/listen to the sages of our faith.

But here’s the crux of my concern for the 21st Century Church:  shouldn’t all church leaders get some form of study leave?  My previous church encouraged the music staff to take study leave but the budget allowed for little more than a local workshop.

Yes, all congregations are struggling with tight budgets.  But I believe a healthy 21st Century Church encourages all leaders to take a day – or a week or two – to study and learn from others beyond our particular communities.  I’m grateful for my denomination’s record on offering regular local training for everybody in our congregations.  Just last weekend, the Presbytery of Chicago offered LEAD.

Sometimes we all need to get away so that we can return fresh and ready to continue our service.  This week I’m headed to Columbia Seminary outside Atlanta.   Check back with me this week and I’ll let you know what I’m learning.

But in the meantime, I have a couple questions:

When was the last time you or your pastor took a sabbatical?

– What do you do on study leave?

Image from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA.

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2 responses to “Why Do Pastors Get Study Leave – or Even a Sabbatical?

  1. Our employee handbook says that anyone who works more than 20 hours a week gets study leave. They get paid for that time, though we don’t yet have the budget to pay for their conference/workshop fees. It’s a step in the right direction, anyway.

    I think technically I’m eligible for a sabbatical anytime after October…we’ll see how that goes. #sigh

  2. My pastor is on leave now and it is heartily justified. She needs it as much as the congregation needs it for her. Take the sabbatical if you are eligible and do not give it another thought. The time you take for prayer, study and writing is good medicine for your church as well as for you.

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