10 ideas to seed your Sabbatical thinking

1 Aug

A sabbatical is extended leave taken for the purposes of renewal of vision, refreshment of ministry, or enrichment of leadership. Sabbaticals are a minimum of 6 weeks, often 3-4 months and up to a year. Sabbatical leave is an opportunity not only for review and reflection but also for personal and professional equipping and preparing new material for use in ministry. Sabbaticals have an element of rest and of re-charging the ministry batteries, but they are not primarily long service holiday leave or primarily study leave. If you are already exhausted or deeply in burnout, you need recovery time not a sabbatical. If you are considering a change or transition you need a discernment process not sabbatical leave. Sabbaticals are usually for leaders who are staying on where they serve and are investing in the long term. If however you are seeking a healthy strategy to prevent burnout and to sustain a long term ministry, a sabbatical might just go down as your wisest and best decision.

Here are 10 ideas to plug into your thinking as you consider a what to do on a sabbatical

  1. Explore your relationship with God in prayer in new ways (especially ways that are outside your normal church experience and your own spiritual tradition)
    1. Visit churches which embrace of other expressions of Christian faith and join their worship (Charismatic, liturgical, evangelical, ethnic, house church, Quaker, Taize, etc )
    2. Go on a couple of spiritual retreats (Prayer retreat, Emmaus walk, silent retreat, directed retreat, Ignatian retreat, visit a monastic community of prayer, walk a pilgrimage, get away by yourself on a personal retreat, go bush and camp alone)
    3. Embrace some new spiritual disciplines that are compatible with your personality.
    4. Read a couple of the spiritual classics or contemporary works on prayer.


  2. Grow yourself through some self-awareness and personal reflection
    1. Get a handle on your personality, conflict resolution style, leadership style, teamwork behaviour, stress management style etc. Read some books, attend a course, work with a mentor, do some reflective thinking on how you relate, work and deal with issues like conflict and stress.
    2. Gain some insight into how you process things differently to others – reflect on what this means for your leadership practice.
    3. Practice some new approaches to self management over the sabbatical.


  3. Build your key relationships.
    1. Have some intentional time with your spouse – a marriage enrichment / encounter weekend, several weekends away together over the sabbatical, read a book on marriage together, create a marriage photo story.
    2. Have some time one to one with your children (even adult children) and / or parents. Have some extra time to catch up with what is happening in their lives and enjoy doing some things together over your sabbatical.
    3. Recall some activities friends have wanted you to do with them in the past but you have had weekend or weeknight commitments which have prevented you from accepting. You have said “No” to your ministry commitments over your sabbatical, now say “Yes” to things you have had to decline in the past. Give them a call and arrange to do some of these while you are on Sabbatical. E.g. a weekend at a country town festival, bushwalking trip, boat trip, fishing weekend, cottage on the coast….
    4. Celebrate together. Find some important things to celebrate over the course of your sabbatical and enjoy these times with gratitude to God. These may be family occasions, times with friends or a small group.


  4. Do some reflective writing.
    1. Thoroughly review the last season of life and ministry. What have been the significant events for you? Why? Reflect on patterns, processes, opportunities and stresses. What have you learnt through them? What do you need to change or adjust for the future? What do you need more of? Less of? What will sustain you for the next season?
    2. Talk your observations through with a mentor.
    3. Document your own emerging or already clear philosophies of life, ministry and leadership.
    4. Work out your core values. .. your personal life mission… your vision for the next five years. If you have these in place, reflect on how well you have lived them.


  5. Select a couple of good conferences, seminars or courses and participate in them
    1. Choose a couple of conferences or seminars that you normally would not be able to attend and make the effort to go just to stretch your thinking and to interact with significant contemporary ideas.
    2. Choose something in an area relevant to ministry and leadership but not necessarily from a Christian perspective. Integrate your secular learning into a Christian framework.
    3. Reflect on the input either on a personal post-conference retreat or with a mentor.


  6. Engage some serious developmental reading and study
    1. Is there an area of leadership development, theology, Biblical studies, ministry, ecclesiology etc. you would like to explore in depth over the Sabbatical? Get a manageable booklist or resource list and work your way through the topic. This could be anything life-giving for ministry and leadership E.g. Celtic Spirituality, vision, teamwork in ministry, small missional communities, evangelism, renewal, ministry to the dying, aboriginal spirituality, the Kingdom of God, gender and leadership …..
    2. Write something for the use of others out of this e.g. Bible studies, sermons, articles. NB Theses and books are usually much longer term projects and are not usually the focus of sabbaticals.
    3. Present your learning when you return from sabbatical.


  7. Get physically fit and emotionally well
    1. A sabbatical is a great time to re-build physical fitness and emotional wellbeing. Set up a regular program of walking, running, gym work, or other forms of exercise.
    2. Work out a process of refilling to capacity your emotional tank with the things you find life-giving… I.e. nature, reading, walking, quality TV, film, photography, out with others, food, short trips away, visiting, hobbies, theatre, live music, poetry, etc
    3. Early in a Sabbatical is a great time for one or two psychological check-ups. See a counsellor who understands ministry just for an emotional health check-in. Ask about suitable well-being practices for your sabbatical.


  8. Get away – make a physical journey and let it be a spiritual journey.
    1. Family commitments (I.e children at school, spouse at work) may prevent you having a complete sabbatical away from home, but if it is at all possible get right away for as much of the leave as possible. Dislocation from the place of ministry is known to reduce stress, it provides perspective, increase openness to learning and it frees you from the expectations of everyday life.
    2. A sabbatical is a great opportunity for a journey with a theme focussed on learning. Visit places of Christian significance, churches, communities even individuals. On a sabbatical take the journey slowly savouring the key experiences and integrating them as far as possible as you go. i.e. A region of Australia, Holy Land, Greece and Turkey, Italy, Ireland, walk the Camino to Santiago, visit Taize…..
    3. It may be that you can rent or loan a holiday cottage from a friend or acquaintance for an extended period. If this is possible
    4. There are also possibilities of connecting with communities and becoming part of their life and ministry for a short period.


  9. Try something new
    1. A sabbatical is a great opportunity to try a new hobby, learn a new skill, or acquire a new interest. It sometimes takes more time than we have available in ordinary everyday life to explore these interest areas. They can however be extremely valuable for setting up better processes of self care on re-engaging ministry after a sabbatical. Take up walking, photography, family history, creative writing, music, woodwork, cooking…..
    2. Planning a series of new lifegiving experiences as an individual, couple or family is a great practice for a sabbatical. There is lots to gain from placing yourself in new and different situations where there is no pressure to do or be that comes from normal ministry commitments.


  10. Sort and organise, finish and complete
    1. There is often a range of small household, personal or life related tasks and projects that never get done or finished around home. It is great to get a list of tasks complete and finished. This significantly lowers stress. Balance completion of these with some of the other values above, but get a few things done and complete and off your list.
    2. Be cautious about starting large projects on a sabbatical – better to finish a heap of small ones. Only start something you are confident of finishing.
    3. A sabbatical is a good time to sort, organise and order life. This resolves a lot of things and prepares you for the next stage of life and ministry.

2 Replies to “10 ideas to seed your Sabbatical thinking

  1. Great tips!
    I am thankful that points discussed above kind of helps me see things clearly .Its a good opportunity to be on sabbatical.The freedom and peace of mind is very enriching.I am glad that I was bold enough to step out of my comfort zone and took the sabbatical though no one understood how I badly needed one.Now I am so excited and thrilled to be enrolled in Bible classes and learning new and deeper truths about God.

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