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Guidelines for Sabbaticals in the Allegheny Synod, ELCA
Approved by the Allegheny Synod Council: January 17, 2004


Vision: Throughout Holy Scripture, from Genesis’ beginnings to Jesus’ ministry and the church’s witness, accounts of holy activity are clearly set apart by rest, quiet places, and time for restoration. God has given us, God’s people, the Sabbath pattern as a time of renewal, a time to be reminded of whose we are and what we are called to do, a time of rest that refreshes us for life.


In the lives of ministers of the Allegheny Synod – associates in ministry, diaconal ministers, and pastors, time apart from the regular responsibilities of ministry benefit both the ministry setting and the minister. Over an extended period, a Sabbatical, rest separate from the immediate expectations of congregational ministry, can renew a congregation and refresh a leader’s sense of call for ministry. As the minister is released from the regular responsibilities of the call, it does not mean that congregational life is suspended. In fact, many congregations report that the Sabbatical was a time for growth and renewal.


Each Sabbatical will be unique. Sabbatical is clearly permission for a minister to be blessed by time away. In the church, as we discuss Sabbaticals for pastors, associates in ministry, and diaconal ministers, the challenge is for us to pursue its meaning for each Christian community. These guidelines are intended to help congregations and ministers create a mutual plan of rest and renewal for ministry.


 Purpose, Rationale, and Expectations




We are familiar with the Sabbath, the seventh day of creation, when God rested. The word “Sabbatical” is derived from Sabbath, and is defined as a time reserved for rest, research, renewal, enrichment, learning, spiritual growth, travel, and strengthening of ministry gifts. Sabbaticals provide opportunities to see new directions, renew relationships, to begin new pursuits. Nourishing one’s soul and changing perspective requires a change in one’s space and place. Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness, after which his ministry set off on a new course.


Preparation for a Sabbatical is important, and openness to the movement of God’s Spirit in the life of people and minister is vital. A Sabbatical is arranged in consideration of the congregation’s ministry. It can be expected that while a minister is on Sabbatical, congregational life –worship, education, outreach, evangelism, etc., will continue. Sabbatical leave is not a vacation, nor is it only continuing education. While life-long learning and continuing education are vital for all, and ministers are expected to participate in regular opportunities to grow and be strengthened, the Sabbatical is an enriching component of ministry, which may include particular continuing education opportunities, but most likely will encompass more. Necessarily, the plans for a Sabbatical will be mutually detailed well in advance of departure.


Many congregations reflect that while their minister was away they learned new things about themselves and the ministry they share with one another. Thus, renewal of God’s people and minister occurs. Sabbaticals provide a means by which the congregation can minister to their leader. The Sabbatical may also bring into being a Sabbatical for the congregation, a time to rethink the “busyness” of congregational life, a time to reevaluate the congregation’s relationship with God, a time for the Holy Spirit to lead their ministry in new ways. Most importantly, the congregation gains a minister who returns to God’s calling with renewed vigor, insight, appreciation, and vision.


Ministers of the church in the Allegheny Synod–associates in ministry, diaconal ministers, and pastors, need Sabbath time, to break away from the stress and strain and the 24/7 nature of ministry. A Sabbatical gives a minister more than a time to study, learn, and rest. For to keep the Sabbath is to renew one’s trust in God to provide, by abstaining from those activities that provide material resources. A Sabbatical provides ministers time to be nurtured by God, reflect on their relationship with God. A Sabbatical gives the minister an opportunity to reflect on God’s call and discover the importance of who they are in the light of who God wants them to be.


 Benefits of Sabbaticals




Sabbaticals provide a means for the congregation to gain new insight into mission and ministry and to minister to their called leader. A Sabbatical leave will benefit the congregation, the church leadership, and their shared ministry. A few of these benefits are listed below.


For the congregation

 an opportunity to show support for the minister and their family a time to develop lay leadership by assuming some of the minister’s responsibilities an opportunity for learning new ideas to enhance their ministry renewed congregational leadership opportunities for spiritual growth leadership stability, while not losing an effective and respected minister to burnout or a new call 

For the church leadership

 a time to renew their energy and rediscover their zeal for ministry an opportunity for learning new ideas to enhance their ministry a time for prayer, rest, and renewing their relationship with God a time to spend with family and friends, to renew and strengthen relationships an extended time for focused study and spiritual growth 

Mutual Benefits

 renewal of the covenant between the leader and the congregation improved understanding of each other’s perspective – the leader will experience more of life in the pew during the Sabbatical, and the lay leadership will come to a greater understating of the congregation’s ministry ministry is renewed, revitalized, and stimulated an opportunity for learning new ideas to enhance their ministry 





Suggested Sabbatical Guidelines


A Sabbatical is encouraged for ministers-associates in ministry, diaconal ministers, deaconesses, and pastors, of the Allegheny Synod after 5-7 years of service in the same setting, beginning after three years of First Call Theological Education.


The length of Sabbatical is encouraged to be a minimum of 3 months, though each Sabbatical may vary in length, depending on the covenant agreed upon by the congregation’s council and the minister. It is strongly encouraged that the entire Sabbatical be taken continuously to allow for disengagement from pastoral responsibilities and duties.


Sabbatical time is not considered vacation time or continuing education time for the minister but a separate experience of renewal for continued ministry.


Planning for a Sabbatical can begin anytime. When possible, it is suggested that the discussion begin early in a ministry.


Final preparations are encouraged at least 6 months to a year in advance, including the writing of a covenant, which provides full compensation and benefits for the minister and outlines the vision and practical details of the Sabbatical.


A covenant designed by the congregation’s council, or its designated representatives, and the minister is encouraged. The congregation’s leadership usually does the final affirmation of the covenant. The time of planning of Sabbatical should focus on the vision and hopes for the Sabbatical time as well as practical arrangements regarding pastoral coverage and financial considerations for the congregation. Conversation with the synod can help facilitate this planning and implementation so that it is intentional and mutually beneficial for both the congregation and the minister.


As Sabbatical coverage for a congregation is discussed, there are resources within the synod to help in planning for pastoral coverage. Possibilities for Sundays include utilizing the gifts of retired pastors, worship led by authorized lay leaders of the synod, youth led worship services, hymn sings, etc. Coverage for pastoral care may be arranged in a variety of ways, including support from area pastors.


It is expected that a minister will return to their call from the congregation after their Sabbatical. It is suggested that in the Sabbatical covenant this expectation is discerned between the congregation council and the minister, with at least one to two years of continued service after the Sabbatical being the norm.


Upon return from Sabbatical, the minister is encouraged to provide a reflection or report to the congregation about the Sabbatical experience. This can be flexible and creative in its form, yet, provide an opportunity for congregation and minister to learn from and explore the benefits of the Sabbatical time.


**A comprehensive list of sabbatical resources, ideas, retreat centers, etc. are available at or by contacting or 814-942-1042**