As I said in my first post, I will be taking a three month sabbatical starting on April 25. I’ll say more next time about what I’ll be doing. Today I want to cover my reasons for taking a sabbatical.
The word “sabbatical” comes from “sabbath.” This suggests that it should have something to do with rest, and that would be rest not as in sloth but rather the kind of rest that has its God as its origin and goal.
It’s not that way for everybody who uses this word. I have a number of friends who teach in seminaries, and for them sabbatical is not mainly a time for rest but rather for work of a different kind. They use the time to finish the book that will get them tenured or promoted. “Publish or perish.” Or, as it was for my beloved dissertation advisor, Charles Wood, it would be the break from teaching and other responsibilities as your final chapter at the university. I think they call it “terminal leave,” which sounds very disturbing.
Among ministers, we find an attempt to retrieve the sabbath aspects of sabbatical. So the ideal is for the person on sabbatical to reconnect with the holy rhythms that God has built into the structure of creation. This would involve a temporary cessation from the typical activities of one’s “professional life,” so that one can eventually be made stronger for it. It would involve work of different kind, perhaps more intensive and focused “soul work,” than what is typically possible in the relentless demands of pastoral work.
That’s the ideal. Of course, in real life sometimes the ideal doesn’t happen. And so there are pastors who take sabbaticals in order to look for a new job. There are pastors whose sabbaticals are indistinguishable from vacations. There are pastors who say they’re on sabbatical and yet are still seen frequently at their places of ministry.
I would like this to be very clear to all my friends: I am not taking a sabbatical to figure out if I am going to stay in my ministry at Trinity Church. Rather, I am taking a sabbatical so that I can stay (God willing). And not merely stay, as in hanging around with no passion, by simply coasting along. Rather, I want to stay here well, and I believe that the sabbatical is an excellent way to do that. Indeed, it might be my only way.
It is my expectation and desire to use the sabbatical as a time of renewal. It’s a wonderful gift of time. In it I will have not only room for rest but also space to create.
More about that soon.