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  • Writer's pictureRev. Joel L. Tolbert

Pastoral Sabbatical, Week 1

Updated: May 12, 2019

Today, I begin a three-month sabbatical. I've been with the congregation I currently serve, Oconee Presbyterian Church in Watkinsville GA (, since Easter, 2012. This past Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019 I led the high-holy festivities and worship services. Monday, April 22, my wife Jill and I took a week's vacation in Jamaica. Today, Monday, April 29, is the first day of a three-month sabbatical.

(If you need more info on a sabbatical, check out this letter that went to the congregation)

As the sabbatical got closer, a member of the church asked innocently, "Why do pastors get a three-month sabbatical? I never got a three-month sabbatical in my job." Before I could bite my tongue, I replied: "When I was in the corporate world, I never needed one."

I served twelve years in the corporate world, as an Engineer, then Marketing Manager, then Sales Manager. In those twelve years, we moved four times, across three states. We had three children. I was a frequent flyer, and frequent hotel stayer, and frequent car renter. I worked long hours. I worked with a wide variety of people from all over the country and globe. Success was easily and tightly measured, and income was based on ability to accomplish goals given by supervisors. I sometimes failed, sometimes made progress. I sometimes argued or disagreed with coworkers, vendors, competitors, or even customers. We created and launched and solved. I got tired, exhausted, and needed vacations. But in those twelve years, I never needed a sabbatical.

Today, I need a sabbatical.

This job/calling/profession/career is different than my former corporate profession. Where I once woke up imagining problems to solve, as a pastor, I see people and I feel the weight of their problems with them, knowing I cannot solve them. (C'mon God!) Where I once strategized steps to chip away resistance or obstacles to accomplish launch dates or sales quotas, as a pastor, I now see the vast difference between our reality and the Kin-dom (another way of saying Kingdom without it being so male) of God, and I try not to be too disheartened, frustrated, or overwhelmed. (C'mon God!)

And perhaps the hardest... Where I used to be a person, a friend, a husband, a dad, now I am the pastor, always the pastor, with every word and every action being measured against a standard others would not impose on a friend, colleague, or themselves.

I am praying this sabbatical allows me to experience life without all the extra others place on me as pastor, if only for a while. What will it feel like to be removed temporarily from the critique or judgments others put on the pastor? Another reason for this sabbatical is to spend more of my emotional energy on myself, instead of spending it all on others. What will it be like to really feel my own feelings, to empathize with myself, and to offer myself the grace and guidance I so often extend to others?

I intend to stay home and do some work around the house, to write and read and study, to play guitar, and to learn Spanish. I hope to laugh, and play, and notice things big and little all around me. I will give time to scripture, prayer, and worship at various congregations. I pray this Sabbatical brings me closer to the person God created, and accelerates me toward the person God is calling me to be.

Thank you, church, for this gift of Sabbatical.

Blessings, Laughter, and Loving be yours,

Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

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