Planning Your Sabbatical

In my first two posts I talked about hidden stress and the need for a sabbatical. Assuming you are convinced of the need we can now continue to ask two questions: how long should you be gone, and where should you go? These are the two big questions I wrestled with for quite a while before I finally came up with an answer. I’ll start with the time question first.

How Long Should You Be Gone?

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My wife and I on sabbatical in Chile.

My church granted me a three-month sabbatical. That was great, but I was afraid to take three months all in a row. What if I picked the wrong thing to do? I didn’t want to return home feeling that I wasted my time. Coupled with that, my church leaders were a little concerned about me being gone for three months. I’m the primary speaker at church. To just vanish and replace me with others seemed like it might be too big a shock to the system.

To solve both concerns, I only took six weeks to start. That way, if I made poor choices, I still had another seven weeks to do it right. Plus, in six weeks, most people at church would barely miss me (since during the summer many people are gone on vacation). This decision took the pressure off me to come up with the perfect plan. Even if the six weeks were a failure, I’d get another chance.

Whatever you do, take at least three weeks. It takes a week to unwind, and as your sabbatical draws to a close, you naturally start to take on stress as you prepare to return. Three weeks will give you at least one pure week to decompress.

Where Should You Go?

The hard part about this question is it’s really different for everyone. What is good for me may not be good for you. I read how many pastors spent their time on sabbatical but I was never convinced that I should do the same thing. I heard about one pastor that went to Disney World for two months. Whatever floats your boat! That would stress me out. 

This wasn’t meant to be a vacation. I wanted my congregation to know that I was not only working to destress but to broaden myself for their benefit.

The questions you have to ask yourself are:

  • What recharges my battery?
  • What will help me stop thinking about my normal work?
  • What will not just give me a break but actually enrich me so I have a deeper well to draw from when I return?  My sabbatical wasn’t meant to be a vacation. I wanted my congregation to know that I was not only working to de-stress but to broaden myself for their benefit. 

I started coming up with possibilities:

  • Take a seminary class. I’m a student at heart and love to learn.
  • Go to Israel. Again, this would be like a traveling classroom.
  • Find a cabin on a lake and spend time reading and studying like I don’t normally have time to do.
  • Visit another country/culture to get a fresh perspective.
  • Visit other churches around the country to see how they “do church.”
  • Stay home and do everything I’ve put off for twelve years while I built our church.
  • Go live in a community of believers (Holden Village in WA or Jesus People, USA in Chicago).

I gave my list to our Operations team at church. I told them that since they were paying my salary while I was away they should have some say in what I do. One person said, “You should go as far away from Wisconsin as you can possibly go.” That sounded good to me.

The next person said, “Go to a language school.” I had always wanted to learn Spanish. So that sounded good too. They discouraged me from just going to a classroom setting since that probably wouldn’t give me the life altering experience I wanted or needed. After studying the Israel option, I nixed that because it would have cost me $10,000 for a quality trip for both my wife and myself. Plus, the trips were so intense I was afraid of coming back exhausted.

So what did we do for six weeks?  I’ll talk more about that in my next post. Thankfully, we made some great decisions that gave us the refreshing we were looking for. Be sure to shoot me your questions and I’ll work an answer into upcoming posts.

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  1. Pingback: The Impact of a Sabbatical - F. Remy Diederich

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