Sabbatical Leave at Coastal

As a part of Coastal’s overall commitment to our staff, all full-time pastoral staff members are offered sabbatical leave during key junctures in their ministries. 

What does “Sabbatical” mean?

A key spiritual principle taught throughout scripture is the rhythm of working, and then ceasing for a time from our work. God himself modeled this for us. Genesis 2:2-3 says, “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” 

The Hebrew word for rest is “Shabbat”, which simply means to stop or cease. Since God modeled rest (Shabbat) for us, it should come as no surprise that God’s people were commanded to follow his example and rest (Shabbat) as well. “Remember the Sabbath (Shabbat) day by keeping it holy (Exodus 20:8).” The rhythm of working and resting is a divinely modeled and commanded principle. 

Why Sabbatical leave?

Woven throughout the fabric of congregational life are its pastors. They are always on-call and are asked to perform their duties among a dizzying array of requests and expectations. On top of that, they carry the spiritual and emotional burden of leading a large number of people, and walking with them through the highs and lows of life. Over time, the demands can wear down the best pastors. It is not a job for the faint-hearted, and requires a balance of intelligence, love, humility, compassion, and endurance. Most importantly, it demands that pastors remain in touch with the source of their life and strength. Like all people of faith, good pastors need moments to renew and refresh their energies and enthusiasm to avoid burnout. 

Today the concept of a sabbatical is widely recognized as a necessity for allowing pastors the opportunity to take an extended break from ministry duties for renewal and refreshment. It’s beneficial to the pastors within a church, as well as to the congregation. Why? Two reasons: 

  1. Sabbaticals increase longevity – Studies show that a pastor’s greatest season of effectiveness occurs after 10 years of full-time service within the same congregation. Therefore one of the greatest investments a church can make is to invest in a pastor’s long-term personal growth and renewal.
  2. Sabbaticals retain pastors, reducing cost – It’s expensive to replace a pastoral staff member. The time it takes to search for a candidate, cover responsibilities in their absence, fly candidates in and out for interviews, cover moving expenses, etc., all weigh heavily on a congregation’s budget. Strategically providing sabbatical time for renewal saves the church from losing both momentum and money over the long haul.

What does Sabbatical leave look like?

Coastal’s sabbatical leave policy includes the following details: 

After completing seven years of full-time service at Coastal, a full time pastor may submit a written proposal to their Staff Leader for a sabbatical. Four months prior to the start date of your proposed sabbatical, they must submit a written proposal of how their time will be spent. The proposal should include following items during their time away:

  • Some kind of learning experience (ex. conferences, meeting with a mentor, etc.). 
  • Deliberate time for reflection (in many cases with a counselor)
  • Time set aside to rest (including a vacation experience with family)

Once the proposal has been accepted they will be granted time off with pay. This will not be counted against their allotted vacation time.

During the sabbatical experience, the pastor will make provisions to completely disengage from their pastoral duties: plan to have everything covered, put their cell phone down… to have another staff member answer e-mails, worship at another church, etc.

After they get back from sabbatical, they will meet with the Leadership Team to reflect upon what insights were gleaned during the sabbatical experience and to celebrate what God has been doing in their life.

A Personal Word from Pastor Hank about his Upcoming Sabbatical

Donna and I love Coastal! AND we feel particularly blessed to lead a church that takes such good care of it’s ministers by offering a Sabbatical plan after significant amounts of time serving.

Last year, knowing that my time for a sabbatical break was coming up this year, I applied for a grant (and won it) to cover my sabbatical expenses from the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Program. To win an award like this is quite a blessing from God!

A time of intentional renewal apart from the day-to-day demands of ministry will allow me to rest, reflect, and refill some of the deep places in my soul (some of which I am sure I am not even aware are empty). I have found I am most effective in my Calling when I am practicing healthy rhythms (like Jesus) of rest and work. I look forward to taking advantage of this opportunity to reinforce this rhythm and find needed refreshment for my mind, heart and soul. 

Another exciting aspect of this sabbatical will be my wife’s participation. Donna has always been a partner with me in ministry. She has her Master’s degree in Social Work and uses it effectively as a long-term (18 years now) volunteer at our church. Donna actually comes to weekly staff meetings, handles a load of counseling, organizes the church’s large events and manages much of our marketing, and she does it all without pay. She deserves time away and will truly appreciate this season of renewal. 

Besides Coastal getting a pastor and wife renewed and ready for the next season of ministry, there are other benefits for our church as well. Hearing from others in the pulpit with different perspectives for a three month block of time will enrich our church. Also, experiencing my absence for an extended time will lessen the church’s dependence on me as the founding pastor, and create space for others to use spiritual gifts in service to the congregation. 

So, we will be away this summer (June-August). My expectations are that at the end of this renewal time, both our church and its pastor and wife will have grown closer to God, increased appreciation for each other and be more prepared to move forward into a new and exciting season of ministry together. 

I can’t wait to see what God does!

Pastor Hank