The Fallow Field
In the Old Testament, there were numerous applications of the Sabbath principle.
One related to how farmers were to work their fields.
Since soil can be overworked and depleted of the minerals that keep it producing healthy, life-giving produce, God instructed the Israelites to care for their land by giving the earth its own time to rest and be renewed. Therefore, once every seven years, a section of the field was to lay fallow, allowing time for the soil to be refreshed for the next six years of production.
Eventually, academic institutions picked up on this principle and began giving professors fallow time, not merely as a break, but as an opportunity for growth so that the university would benefit. A report from the Trustees of Columbia University in 1907 says: “The practice… of granting periodic leaves of absence (Sabbaticals) to professors was established not in the interests of the professors themselves but for the good of university education.”
The same is true for pastoral Sabbaticals. (At this post, Thom Rainer gives five reasons why Sabbaticals are so important for pastoral and congregational health.)
While an extended Sabbatical may be coupled with vacation time, it should not be considered a holiday in the traditional sense.
This kind of season for renewal goes far beyond the ordinary time given for standard vacation. While a congregation may encourage a pastor to take 3–6 weeks of annual, paid vacation, a true Sabbatical is typically 3–4 months in duration and may last up to a year (as in the case described by Eugene Peterson in The Contemplative Pastor).
Planning for Sabbatical
What would a pastor do during such an extended time away from his ordinary pastoral calling? Using the word “do” may not be the best way to communicate what a…