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What is Sabbath rest, as described in Scripture?The Biblical concept of Sabbath means “to rest” or “to cease.” It first appears when God rests on the seventh day of Creation. Throughout Scripture, Sabbath-keeping is setting aside time that God consecrates and makes holy. Old Testament law instituted a weekly Sabbath, an expanded period of rest every seven years, and, every 50 years, a year of Jubilee. 

The New Testament frees us from legalism, but also reminds us we should make every effort to enter into God’s rest. The underlying principle of Sabbath rest throughout Scripture is trust in God’s provision rather than our own labor, trust that He provides for us and restores us as we rest in him.

What is a pastoral sabbatical?A pastoral sabbatical includes elements of rest, disengagement, study, exploration, reflection, and prayer. It is a time for the pastor to step away from the routines of regular ministry and experience a change in perspective, receive spiritual nourishment, and focus on a deepening relationship with God. 

It is also an opportunity for a congregation to grow in its participation in ministry. It lays the foundation for envisioning and planning future ministry.

Is a sabbatical a vacation from the church?Although some components of a sabbatical may sound a bit like vacation, it is not a vacation from the church. It is an opportunity for pastors to reconnect with parts of their life that are important but difficult to prioritize in the middle of routine ministry. These include their sense of calling and the roots of their spiritual journey. Times of sabbatical give pastors the opportunity to shape themselves as better shepherds and leaders for the church and give rise to a deeper reliance on the Holy Spirit in their life. The intent of the sabbatical is for the pastor to return to the congregation refreshed and renewed, ready to move forward into the next phase of our life together. 

Why is Pastor JD taking a sabbatical now?Pastor JD’s desire, and the desire of our entire staff and LTWC Leadership, is to practice sustainable, biblical ministry. Church leadership--the executive and SRC committees feel that September 6 to November 6 of 2022 is the right time for JD to take his sabbatical. 

Counting Pastor JD’s entire tenure as Youth Director all the way through his current Senior Pastor role, JD has served 12 years at this church and has never once taken a sabbatical.

Are sabbaticals normal for pastors?Sabbatical leaves are most common in ministry or academic institutions. They are less common in the business sector, but some companies now offer this option because they see value for both employers and employees.

One of our goals at Living The Word Church is a sustainable ministry based on biblical principles, and we believe this includes planned seasons of pastoral rest and renewal. Many denominations, including non-denominational, have established policies of sabbatical leave. These leaves are most often granted after several years of ministry. 

Advocates for pastoral sabbaticals recognize that the pastoral role as shepherd and leader of God’s people requires them to seek God’s voice. A sabbatical allows time for pastors to explore areas of ministry outside their usual responsibilities, and pursue spiritual disciplines that will allow them to grow in their ability to lead and serve faithfully.

On a human level, these sabbatical leaves also allow pastors to rest, recharge and reconnect with family members in ways that can be difficult when they are also serving their congregations.Pastors who have taken sabbaticals say that they provided an invaluable foundation for fruitful ministry in the future.

This seems very sudden. Is everything okay?Though this plan may be news, Pastor JD and Leadership have been discussing and planning this for several months. Pastor JD has served almost 12 years in pastoral ministry at LTWC. This upcoming sabbatical is part of keeping JD healthy and fit for his role as our spiritual shepherd. We join in the chorus of denominations in affirming that pastoral sabbaticals are part of healthy, vibrant, and sustainable pastoral ministry and that this timing is optimal for him and our church.

Are there health problems? Is there a problem with the pastor’s leadership? Was he forced to do this?There are no negative circumstances or issues prompting the timing of this sabbatical. LTWC leadership and Pastor JD see this time away as contributing to a healthy, good rhythm for Pastor JD and his family, and for the congregation as a whole. We anticipate that this sabbatical will strengthen and deepen Pastor JD’s ministry effectiveness here at LTWC in years to come.

What are the benefits to the congregation of a pastoral sabbatical?A sabbatical is an investment in the future of the congregation. As pastors cultivate a deeper relationship with God, self, and family, they return reporting renewed energy and enthusiasm for ministry. Healthy pastors, in turn, provide healthy leadership for God’s people and enhance the life and ministry of the congregations they serve.

Congregations often experience growth during the pastor’s sabbatical as well. People gain confidence in their leadership abilities. Lay leadership may develop in creative ways. New people may try new things or experiment with different ways of approaching traditional ministries. The congregation hears from a range of voices in preaching and teaching. The pastor’s absence is an invitation to the entire congregation to see ministry from a wider perspective.

How will expenses of the sabbatical be covered?Consistent with several denominations’ policies, full compensation and benefits for Pastor JD will continue through the sabbatical. His pastoral responsibilities, including worship leadership and pastoral care, will be covered by existing staff and the congregation.

What are the dates of Pastor JD’s sabbatical?Tuesday, September 6, 2022, the day after Labor Day Pastor JD will enter his sabbatical. He will return to regular ministry responsibilities Monday, November 7, 2022, and resume preaching responsibilities the following Sunday, November 13th.

What are Pastor JD’s plans for his sabbatical?Pastor JD plans a focused rhythm of rest and renewal. This includes keeping a daily journal, reading, and spending extended times with God in prayer and reflection. Some weeks will center on his own time with God, and others will be structured to include more time with his wife and family.

… more information on the details to come

LTWC leaders believe that this sabbatical rest and exploration will shape and sustain many years of fruitful ministry to come.

Who will oversee the ministry during Pastor JD’s sabbatical absence?Staff and leaders will be asked about the ‘gaps’ or ‘holes’ that JD would leave while on Sabbatical. 

Our goal is not to simply rely on the existing pastoral staff team.

Furthermore, there are individuals currently within our congregation who are willing to check in every other week with individual staff team members for prayer, encouragement, and accountability.

Finally, LTWC leadership will meet in July to assess the health of the ministries and reflect on how JD’s sabbatical is impacting ministries and the church, followed by a time of reflection with JD and the church staff to process and chart a path forward as a church community.

Who will be preaching while he’s away?LTWC will utilize Tim Gauci, our associate pastor, along with other members of our congregation that have the gift of preaching. In addition, JD is will invite a few trusted pastors and speakers from other churches to help fill in for him. 

We will have an opportunity this upcoming fall to hear from multiple voices in our weekly gatherings. Furthermore, we will have the privilege to hear from other leaders and pastors within our broader regional network of churches that will enrich and bring new perspectives to us as a congregation.

What if I need Pastor JD for something?Pastor JD will be unavailable throughout the period of sabbatical and it’s requested that you don’t try and contact him through email, Facebook, or by phone. If there is a care need, or you need pastoral guidance, you can contact Associate Pastor Tim Gauci or Angel Reichard, our Children’s Director, and they will be able to find the best way to help.

We will receive a few updates from Pastor JD and his family via video or written correspondence that will give us a window into how his sabbatical is going and what he is experiencing and learning.

What about our other pastors? Will they take sabbaticals too?While each sabbatical scenario is unique and developed with the pastor, their family, and LTWC leadership teams, it is the hope that sabbaticals become a regular part of healthy, sustainable pastoral ministry at LTWC.

How can I best support our pastor and our church throughout this sabbatical time?• First, recognize that the church is not the pastor. This church does not belong to Pastor JD, it belongs to Jesus. In fact, the Bible calls the church His “Bride,” which means He loves it more than any pastor ever could. So recognize that what you are a part of in this church goes far deeper than the leadership of a single pastor.

• Second, lean in, not out. It’s very normal for some of you to think this would be a great time for you to take a break from ministry in either attendance, giving, or volunteering. Our hope is that this won’t be the case for you. The church is a body that needs all of its parts doing what they do best. Our church needs you and we hope that you take this opportunity to engage even deeper in our church and find new ways to call this place your home.

• Finally, pray for your pastor and his family. Though there are many great things about spending an extended period in this way, it can also be a struggle. Disconnecting from relationships for a period can be painful and changing the day-to-day rhythms can leave one wondering about their purpose. Pray for Pastor JD and his family’s journey through sabbatical and for his leadership to be renewed so that the church may benefit from what God is doing in him upon his return.

Will Pastor JD be in contact with the congregation when he’s on sabbatical?No. Sabbaticals are meant to be a time away from the congregation and the routines of pastoral ministry. The congregational leadership has made arrangements for pastoral needs to be covered in his absence so he will be able to take full advantage of his time away.

I still have questions and concerns. Who do I contact?Feel free to send questions to our SRC team. Feel free to share your questions and someone on our team will respond to you soon. 

Here are some great articles that talk about the benefits of a pastoral sabbatical