The word sabbatical comes from Sabbath, which comes from the Hebrew word for “seventh.” Because work was forbidden, and rest was enjoined on the Sabbath day (Exodus 20:8–11), the word Sabbath came to be associated in Christianity with the idea of rest rather than the number 7 or the day Saturday.
In modern parlance, a sabbatical is a break from a job that provides a person a change of pace, allowing him to be more effective at his position when he returns. The purpose of a sabbatical can also be to work on other things to advance one’s career. A sabbatical is different from a vacation. A professor might take a year of sabbatical leave to pursue writing and research that he would never have time to do if he was teaching a full load. Although such a sabbatical is a change of pace, it is still considered work.
Some pastors also take sabbaticals. Most are not in a position to take a year off, but many are able to take a month or so once a year to pray, study, and plan their sermons for the upcoming year. During this time, they are often away from the church office and somewhat insulated from day-to-day concerns so they can focus on other things. Of course, many pastors of small churches hardly get a vacation, let alone an extended sabbatical.
While there is nothing about pastoral sabbaticals in the Bible, they seem to be a good idea. Sabbaticals can be times of rejuvenation for the pastor, and the church will benefit. If the church objects to paying the pastor for “a month off,” they should remember that a sabbatical is not a vacation but a spiritual retreat for the benefit of both church and pastor. The pastor will still be working. If it has the added benefit of allowing the pastor to spend quality time with his family in a cabin in the mountains or a cottage on the beach, so much the better.
A pastoral sabbatical makes good practical sense, and even smaller churches would do well to make it a priority to have their pastor take some time off for spiritual renewal, undisturbed study, and long-term planning. All pastors need a place that allows some escape from the seemingly endless demands upon their time and energy. Insisting that a pastor take occasional vacations to spend time with family is wise. Understanding that he needs personal/family time during the evenings and on weekends would not be a bad idea, either.