We believe both congregations and pastors are strengthened “by providing opportunities for pastors to step away briefly from the persistent obligations of daily parish life and to engage in a period of renewal and reflection. Renewal periods are not vacations, but times for intentional exploration and reflection, for regaining the enthusiasm and creativity for ministry, for discovering what will make the pastor’s heart sing.” (Lilly Endowment).

“To engage in a period of renewal and reflection may well be one of the greatest gifts a pastor can give a congregation.” — Bishop Ann Svennungsen

Experience has demonstrated that it is best for the pastor and congregation to work together to design sabbatical. Both should agree on:

  • The length of the program
  • The pastor’s activities during the program
  • Congregational renewal activities that will take place during the pastor’s absence
  • How the pastor and congregation will share their experiences and insights with one another when the sabbatical has completed

Experience has also demonstrated that the ideal renewal program is an uninterrupted time of three to four months.

Elements of the Sabbatical Plan

Each of the following elements needs to be reviewed and evaluated for its relevancy to specific congregational situations.

A sabbatical leave of three months may be granted to ¾ to full-time rostered staff and lay professionals after five continuous years of service at one ministry site. Support staff may also be granted a leave of three weeks after four years of continuous service at the same site.

Congregations with multiple staff shall identify additional priorities for eligibility when two or more staff members have similar service longevity.

Goals and objectives for the sabbatical, plus the potential benefits to the individual and congregation, need to be discussed and established early in the planning process.
Up to three consecutive months of sabbatical leave may be granted after five years of continuous service in the congregation. The length of sabbatical leave needs to be discussed and stated in the plan, including beginning and ending dates.

During the sabbatical, the congregation is expected to provide full salary and benefits to the individual. Car allowance may be a negotiated item. Accrued continuing education funds may be used by the individual for a sabbatical.

The congregation will need to make arrangements for ministry during the sabbatical period. This can range from full-time replacement to supply preaching. A sabbatical leave is also an excellent opportunity for lay leadership to take on some aspects of replacement ministry.

In terms of meeting the above costs, it would be wise for both the congregation and the individual to budget for these several years in advance, if possible.

A sabbatical leave is intended to benefit both the congregation and the individual. Therefore, upon return, at least one year of additional service is expected following a three-month sabbatical, and at least six months of service following sabbaticals of two months or less.

A written, personal report will be submitted to the Congregation Council within 90 days upon completion of a sabbatical. The report will include, among other items, material on (a) the value of the sabbatical for personal and professional growth, and (b) the potential impact on the individual’s service to the congregation.


Lilly Endowment
Louisville Institute