How to Pay for a Pastor’s Sabbatical

How to pay for a pastor's sabbatical
Finding money for a pastor sabbatical is possible, even for a small church.

Finding funding to pay for a pastor’s sabbatical is a daunting task, especially for a small church. However, with some advance planning there are several ways to make it possible. The first step is to plan the sabbatical in detail for both pastor and congregation. Once a detailed plan is in place, it’s easier to determine the sabbatical’s price tag. Quiet Waters Ministries offers help in planning a sabbatical. They suggest applying for a grant to fund the whole sabbatical.

Request a grant

In 2004, Christianity Today said You Need a Sabbatical – Free. How can a sabbatical be free? The Lilly National Clergy Renewal Program gives grants of up to $50,000 for a three- to four-month sabbatical ($15,000 of which can be used for congregational renewal). According to the application materials, to apply for this grant there are several requirements that must be met:

  • “A detailed plan that includes 1) the length of the program, 2) the pastor’s activities during the program, 3) congregational renewal activities that will take place during the pastor’s absence, and 4) how the pastor and congregation will share their experiences and insights with one another when the renewal leave is completed.”
  • “The congregation must continue the pastor’s salary and benefits during the renewal leave.”
  • “The pastor and an authorized congregational leader need to certify the pastor’s intent to remain in the congregation at least one year after completing the program.”

Sabbatical planning should begin at least one year in advance. Applications for 2020 must be submitted by April 11, 2019. There are a limited number of grants, so the church would be wise to have an additional plan for sabbatical funding.

Budget for a sabbatical

Rather than relying on a grant, some churches would prefer to budget for a sabbatical. Absorbing the full cost in one year would be impossible for a small church. However, saving a little each year over a five-year period would grow a nice fund. Before budgeting, the church should have a general idea of the length of the sabbatical and its projected cost. Then the church could break that amount into yearly or quarterly amounts to save. A sabbatical plan like this would make a small church’s compensation package look much more attractive to pastoral candidates.

A sabbatical matching fund plan

Another way to pay for a pastor’s sabbatical is to offer a matching gift fund. In this plan the pastor designates a portion of his salary (5% to 10%) and the church matches the amount. At the end of five years the pastor and church would have a good-sized fund. Here are some ways to make this fund more versatile:

  • Ten percent of the fund total could be used for congregational renewal while the pastor is away.
  • If the pastor leaves the church in less than five years, he keeps only what he contributed to the fund. The church would keep the rest to help pay for a new pastor search.
  • If the church fires the pastor, their portion of the fund could be part a severance package.

Side note: Churches could set up a similar fund for missionaries when they are on home assignment to ensure they have finances for a period of true rest.

Research and plan for tax implications

Finally, any plan for funding a pastor’s sabbatical should include planning for tax implications. The people at Church Law and Tax have put together some helpful resources for this purpose. The last thing we want to do is cause a financial burden for the pastor that will work against all the good rest he finds on sabbatical.

What are some creative ways of funding a sabbatical? Leave a comment below.

Please, leave a comment below. I personally read all the comments and I try to respond within a day. Or we can interact on Twitter (@PastorsSoul) or on our Facebook page.

© Sean Nemecek, 2018. All rights reserved. Request permission.


Sean Nemecek, (M.Div. Grand Rapids Theological Seminary) is the director of The Pastor’s Soul, and pastor at First Baptist Church in Tustin, Michigan since 2001. A third-generation pastor, he grew up listening to pastors and their families talk about the realities of ministry. Now he wants to use this knowledge to bless the church. Sean is married to Amy, a poet and freelance book editor. Together, they have a 17-year-old son.


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