Sunday, February 07, 2010

Sabbaticals for Christian Workers

What do you think of when you hear the word, "sabbatical"? It’s a rather large cover term, so a multiplicity of responses is fine. Before the meanings and models diverge, though, I think they have a few things in common. Whatever it is, sabbatical is an extended withdrawal (at least a couple of months, perhaps a year) from whatever it is a person does most of the time. And it is probably designed to help the person come back to work better equipped (one way or another) when the sabbatical is over.

After that, I think the ideas diverge. Two of the basic trails that emerge are rest and professional development. Maybe that’s why I’ve had a hard time, in casual conversation, communicating about mine. Because I’m not just taking a long vacation, nor am I going somewhere to take classes.

Why not? Wouldn't either of those things be helpful? I think they probably would, but I think there's a better approach for someone in my situation.

I suppose personality and purpose both come into play. My company’s sabbatical policy is only about a paragraph or two long but provides some clues about purpose:
  • “The request for sabbatical time must also include a purpose for the time.”
  • “Sabbatical time is for reflection and renewal and should not be considered vacation time.”
  • “The purpose of a sabbatical is to renew and refresh the employee so that they stay motivated and excited about their role in [company].”
I think the path I will follow these next six months is more like the one Eugene Peterson suggests for pastors and Christian leaders in an article he wrote some years ago. He starts by looking at the academic approach:
"The sabbatical is an entrenched tradition in academia. University professors, committed to the life of the mind, get them regularly every seventh year. And well they should. This life of the mind, teaching and thinking, is strenuous. The mind tires, grows stagnant, begins to repeat itself. The annual invasion of students, their curious and questioning minds strangely mingled with ignorance and sloth, constitutes a formidable challenge to a professor.

"Academia exists to protect and develop knowledge, but knowledge is not a dead thing in a book. It's a living dialectic; it requires fully alive professors to maintain it. If knowledge disintegrates into cliche or soddens into data, intelligence is betrayed and the mind dulled. And so the schools provide for regular renewal of the professorial brain cells by providing sabbaticals."
These days, he points out, churches are borrowing back the sabbatical concept from academia and giving their pastors study leave. But that's not what they need, says Peterson. What they've been giving out of is less in the world of book knowledge, much more soul-stuff. Their need is less for a renewal of the mind and more for a renewal of the spirit. He says we should give pastors (and other Christian workers, I would add) a sabbatical more closely rooted in the idea of the original source, the biblical Sabbath day or Sabbath year:
"If we are going to take sabbaticals, let them be real sabbaticals: a willed passivity in order to be restored to alert receptivity to spirit – prayer, silence, solitude, worship. It is outrageous that we acquiesce to the world’s definition of our word and let our unique, biblical sabbatical be put to the use of career advancement, psychological adjustment, and intellectual polish – with all the prayer and contemplation laundered out. The original intent of Sabbath is a time to be silent and listen to God, not attend lectures; a time to be in solitude and be with God, not “interact” with fatigued peers. If help is to be given to the pastor in mid-course, it is not going to come by infusion of intellect but by renewal of spirit.” Eugene Peterson, Leadership, Winter 1988, pp. 74-75
See also my previous post Sabbatical: Defining Terms

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing this article, it has given me the peace to step down from ministry so that i can be quiet and recharge with the Lord so that I can filled by HIS word and the Holy Spirit to do what I am called to do... worship the Lord and pray for HIS people to be healed as Jesus did.