Perhaps some of you read my recent blog entitled Am I Spiritually Sick. There I spoke about the recent need I have been feeling to care for my soul. I am so busy “doing” that I forget about “being.” As a minister, I need to care for my inner life so that I am serving others from an overflow of my own relationship with God, not out of duty which can lead to burnout. This has led me to think more deeply about my views on Sabbatical.
Denominations and many campus ministries have periods of Sabbatical – times where staff are freed from there normal working duties for three to six months to do a number of things such as rest, study, vacation, visit other churches, and more. I’ve always wrestled with the thought of Sabbatical for myself personally and for Campus Renewal as a ministry. I’m not sure it is Biblical, but given my state of mind/heart I am questioning my questions. Ha!! So here are some thoughts.
Sabbath vs. Sabbatical
There is no doubt that Sabbath is Biblical. God rested on the seventh day and He commands us to keep the Sabbath in the Ten Commandments. I don’t believe this is just an Old Testament command either (like any of the ten commandments). However, I don’t believe the Church needs to keep the Sabbath in the exact same way as the Jews were told. We don’t all have to Sabbath the same way. Remember Jesus’s teaching that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
I, for instance, Sabbath on Saturdays. I do not do anything related to CRM work on Saturdays. I don’t return calls. I don’t open my computer. With rare exceptions, I don’t schedule events. I basically try not to do any job-realted work. I do, however, do work around the house and yard and watch a lot of college football, in part because these are enjoyable activities for me and in part because they are not work (meaning, they are not my job).
We should all practice the Sabbath, no matter our line of work. We may define it our own way. At the very least it means getting away from work and doing things we enjoy and being with people that we enjoy. I consider it a sin not to do so on a weekly basis (with exceptions to be sure). I am unsure, however, that Sabbatical is Biblical. In large part because only “ministers” get a Sabbatical.
Why Do Only “Ministers” Get Sabbatical?
My engineering friends do not get a Sabbatical. My business friends do not get a Sabbatical. My teaching friends… well maybe they do, but they really deserve it! This is where the idea of Sabbatical is hard for me. I believe in the priesthood all believers. By that I mean I am not more of a “minister” or “missionary” than you are where you live, work, or play. This is a very, very deep conviction for me. It makes the idea of “ministers” getting a Sabbatical foreign to me.
Sure, ministers may need to be careful to “tend to their soul,” but no more than the computer programer needs to do so. When talking to my friends about this, some said that I (as a minister) need to be even more careful to take care of my inner life because I need to minister to so many people in my line of work. I, however, felt like I could argue the exact opposite. It’s my computer programmer friend who needs to care more about her inner life because she has to be at work 8-10 hours a day while I get to read the Bible and pray with folks 8-10 hours a day!
My “pro-Sabbatical” friends have convinced me a bit when it comes to thinking of “working Sabbaticals.” Recently one of my pastors was given a Sabbatical from the church, but there was a high degree of accountability and structure to the Sabbatical. He had to do so many hours of study. He went to Europe to take a class with a well-known professor. He toured Europe and studied church history. Another pastor I know takes a yearly “Sabbatical” to plan sermons and calendar for the year. It’s more of a study break.
I am close to being convinced that this type of Sabbatical is useful (though maybe not Biblical). It’s work, but it is a change of pace from normal work and a chance to get rejuvenated for the year or many years ahead. It’s almost like on-going education that many of our careers require.
What Do You Think?
Honestly, I want to know your thoughts. I have been asking friends about this a lot over the last year or two. I like to hear what people think about the subject. I may even want someone to convince me that Sabbaticals are Biblical and I need to take one now!!
I am truly uncertain on all this, so I do welcome your thoughts.
Justin Christopher is the director of Campus Renewal Ministries at the University of Texas and author of Campus Renewal: A Practical Plan for Uniting Campus Ministries in Prayer and Mission. He gives leadership to the Campus House of Prayer and the missional community movement at the University of Texas.