Okay, I am excited. My congregation has a sabbatical policy, and it’s my turn. But when I bring up the subject for discussion, either at home or at church, the response is always the same: “What is this going to cost? How are we going to pay for it?” Everyone agrees (well, almost everyone) that I deserve a break. Now I have to get creative and figure out how to take a sabbatical within some serious budget constraints. What do I do?

If the person thinking these thoughts could be you, consider a home exchange. Perhaps even give thought to a home and ministry exchange. A home exchange is two households swapping homes. (You live in ours and we’ll live in yours.) A ministry exchange adds the possibility of swapping pastoral duties as well. (You serve my parish and I’ll serve yours.)

Why Exchange

This sounds complicated. I need my sabbatical to lift me up, not wear me down. I need more energy, not more work.

A sabbatical is meant to revitalize you, so you want a sabbatical you can afford to enjoy. If you are going to get any refreshment at all, you need to get out of town—and that gets expensive. Lodging is a major expense for travelers, and a home exchange helps you control that expense.

A sabbatical is meant to stimulate you. Your budget is limited, but your imagination is not. You are looking for more than just the pause that refreshes. You want an adventure. You want to go places, meet people, experience life somewhere else. A home exchange is more than budget friendly; most often, it is memorable. Your sabbatical won’t last forever, but you want the memory of it (and the energy you get from it) to last as long as possible.

A sabbatical is meant as time away—time out from under the usual crush of parish life. If you have a family, you are probably not the only one to have this need. Other family members deserve a break as much as you do. Over and over, we are reminded that clergy families, not just clergy, suffer from stress and burnout. A home exchange gives the whole family a sabbatical.

A sabbatical gives the laity an opportunity to grow. Even though you are convinced that it would be good for your lay leaders to manage the ministry for three months without you, you know that some of them would be happier “managing without you” with a resident pastor. Even with a ministry exchange, plenty of growth will be taking place. The new pastor will do ministry, but will do it differently—it’s inevitable. The lessons gleaned from the sabbatical may continue to emerge for months afterward, as you hear from your parishioners what people did—and did not—like about the way the new pastor did things while you were gone.

Three Models

I really care about the congregation I serve. How can I make sure they receive adequate pastoral leadership and care during my sabbatical? What are my options?

A sabbatical involving a home or ministry exchange may employ one of three models for managing pastoral duties.

The first model is the traditional sabbatical. This is for the person who chooses a home exchange but no ministry exchange. In this model, the person with whom you exchange homes has no responsibility for pastoral duties. Prior to your departure, the congregation arranges to employ another pastor, who will share pastoral duties with the laity. Key areas of concern include worship, pulpit supply, pastoral care, church programs, and church management. In most congregations, the minimum service required of the supply pastor, or part-time interim pastor, involves pastoral care emergencies and the Eucharist. Often, arrangements are made for a retired pastor or a neighboring pastor to provide these services. The lay leadership supervises and coordinates the bulk of these day-to-day pastoral duties.

The second model is the full-time ministry exchange. The pastor of another congregation agrees to exchange homes and pastoral duties with you during your sabbatical. The exchange pastor and your church leadership agree to the list of responsibilities, and these duties are put in writing. The Mutual Ministry Committee or Pastor-Parish Relations Committee is introduced to the exchange pastor, and a plan is formed to facilitate the smoothest possible transition.

The third model is the limited ministry exchange. You and another pastor exchange homes and pastoral duties on a part-time basis. The laity is involved as they would be in the traditional sabbatical. However, there is no need to hire another pastor to fill in for essential services. A customized plan is developed for the exchange pastor to provide specific pastoral duties (i.e., worship, preaching, and pastoral care emergencies) only.

Each of these three models requires negotiation and communication skills. You seek to balance your needs with those of your congregation. When you opt for a ministry exchange—either full-time or on a limited basis—the needs of your exchange partner and his or her congregation must be considered as well.

No Need to Burn Out
Imagine what a difference it would make if every pastor in every congregation could look forward to a three-month sabbatical every four years! Imagine especially what a difference this would make to pastors serving smaller congregations.

Imagine what a difference it would make if high school students saw the ministry as a profession where meaningful service was rewarded with regular sabbaticals—instead of burnout.

A home or ministry exchange may not solve the sabbatical problem for everyone, but it is an affordable solution many have not yet considered. Like all other privileges in life, a sabbatical presents a set of opportunities and challenges. This is not surprising, since stewardship is involved. Each of us has unique gifts and ministries. Each of us lives and works in unique personal and professional settings. As you look ahead, I hope you will think of a home exchange or a ministry exchange as an additional resource for a most refreshing, stimulating, and memorable sabbatical.