In the Bible, God spent seven days in creation mode and then took a day to rest. The idea of rest has been part of God’s plan for man from the very beginning. It is something that has been adopted in many beliefs and fields of work. Typically, it happens every seven years … but that is not a hard fast rule.
Many professionals, when they take a sabbatical will not be found hanging around their place of employment. They may stay at home or travel abroad. A sabbatical can be a little as a month away or up to a year until your return. But, the goal is always to return to the job, rested and refreshed. Sabbaticals are often times that professionals may write a book. Or, if they are pursuing their doctorate it, sabbaticals make the perfect opportunity to focus on writing the thesis statement. Perhaps a ministry workers theological or doctrinal beliefs have been challenged, so they decide to retreat into God and study His word. In some cases, a job is simply so stressful that a break is needed to rejuvenate oneself to return with a better spirit.
When one takes a sabbatical from ministry work, it may not be quite as easy to fully disengage. As a Women’s Ministry leader, what would a sabbatical mean for you? Would you temporarily step down from ministry leader? How long? Would you still attend church or would you take a break? Would you still attend your church, or use this time to connect with other churches in your area? What about your other ministry commitments? Are you taking a break from Women’s Ministry leader only, but still maintaining your other volunteer roles in the church, or are you stepping back from everything?
Each of your choices will come with benefits, and risk. If you step back from everything, and attend a new church… you may lose a connection with your church family. You could find that the ministry accomplished somethings while you are gone, and your ministry team doesn’t want to change the progression. You may even find that YOU no longer feel the call to serve in Women’s Ministry (even if they beg you stay). With sabbatical, the result could be a complete change.
Yet, you could return to ministry invigorated with new, fresh ideas. If you were feeling taken for granted, you may return to a more appreciative ministry team as they began to see exactly how much work you provided to the ministry. Of course all of these benefits and risks are on human terms. If they Lord calls you to sabbatical, He has a reason. He is going to be working out something new, better. If we trust Him, we go along for the ride regardless of the benefit or risk on human terms.
One thing we do need to be aware of while we are on sabbatical is when the ministry work creeps into our alone time. It can do this through gossip. When the interim leader is not leading like you did, when the team is not happy with this leader…. You will hear about it. When the team doesn’t like how the interim leader holds the meeting, leads prayer, plans events… You will hear about it. If the church responds to the interim leader differently than it did to you… You will hear about it. It may come in the form of complaints, or it may come in the form of questions.
It can almost make heading to church unbearable, because you LOVE the people but you are trying to get REST from the ministry work, and you are being reeled back in. Or, since you are taking a temporary break from ministry service … other ministries may ask for your help since now you are available? The questions begin with “would you mind” or “do you think you could” or even … “It would only be one time a month….”.
If you are not careful, you will find NO REST in your sabbatical. You will not return rested, refreshed, or even find your sabbatical time extends as you feel your not getting enough break.
When you find yourself being called to a time of sabbatical, make sure to:
- Pray over the length of the sabbatical, and depth of the sabbatical. How long? From what things?
- Pray over the location of the sabbatical. Out of town, in town but different church, in town at home church?
- Express the conditions of the sabbatical to your church staff, other ministry leaders, and your spouse.
- Be confident in your call, so that you can respond to requests for serving elsewhere with: “Thanks for asking, but I am on sabbatical right now.” And, do so without feeling guilty.
- Stand firm with team members that approach you about the interim leadership, that they need to take their concerns to the leader directly. You are on sabbatical, this is not your problem to solve.