7 Reasons Every Church Should Give Their Pastors a Sabbatical

sabbatical

 This article is the result of the observed blessings that my husband and I have already experienced from our self-induced, year long sabbatical that we began two months ago. We have both been surprised with how rich of a time this has been for us. The amazing part? It’s just begun. {I should clarify that we are between ministries, so we decided to take a full year. If we were returning to a ministry, it would likely be one or several months in duration.} God has showered us with His goodness, and from that, we long for every {tired} pastor to experience these blessings as well!

Sometimes a sabbatical is hard to come by, for various reasons. But often it’s a matter of churches not being aware of the need. In fact, a lot of folks automatically assume that a sabbatical is equal to a vacation, but sabbaticals and vacations have different purposes. Sabbaticals are for the purpose of intentional rest and spiritual strengthening for future ministry. If you desire for your church to have pastors who are healthy emotionally, spiritually, mentally and in some cases even physically- then give them a sabbatical. This includes not just the senior pastor, but the assistant pastor, the youth pastor, the music pastor, and whatever other kind of full time pastor you have on staff. They are “real” pastors too, and they need rest. This post focuses mostly on pastoral staff, but perhaps even other full time ministry staff should be included in the consideration for a sabbatical.  Generally in ministry, rest is underrated. In our lives at large, rest is overlooked while we rush about busily… and then this is what happens:

“Somewhere along the way, we stopped valuing the idea of rest. We lost sight of the fact that it’s a critical part of our health and it’s a critical part of our faith….We preach a thousand sermons on repentance for every one we preach about rest. And then our lives burn out, our pastors burn out, our families burn out–and we wonder why.” –John Acuff

What are some of the ways that pastors benefit from a sabbatical {which will in turn benefit the church}, and what are the reasons behind churches getting on board with this idea?

#1: Your pastor needs an opportunity to declutter his mind

 Call it stress or overload or whatever you wish- pastors carry a lot on their minds during their waking hours. {My husband even has ministry nightmares in his sleep.} Pastors get pulled in all kinds of directions each day, depending on what messages the phone calls bring or what is going on in the church at any given time. Add that to reconciling the stuffed calendar with each department and taking care of church business. The list goes on and on. Actually it never ends. And then there are his personal concerns, which often get pushed to the end of the list.  My husband has remarked to me several times lately,  “Now that I’ve had a chance to rest, I’ve realized how tired my brain was.”  Even if your pastor doesn’t appear to be physically tired, he may well be mentally tired. A sabbatical allows him the opportunity to relax his brain from the mental stress he carries.

#2: Your pastor needs time and freedom to nurture family relationships

Regarding their relationship with family: Pastors have a tough time ‘balancing’ it all.  One of the children has a birthday party scheduled, but the phone rings and a freshly grieving family needs him. A family vacation is begun that has been planned for a long time, but a church funeral cuts it short. Pastor and his wife have a date scheduled well in advance, but a meeting or church event steals the night on the calendar. Pastoral families are willingly flexible, and most of the time I think pastors really do strive to have their priorities right. But it’s not always easy being on call 24/7. Time and freedom to just fill the roles of a husband/father for awhile is so valuable for pastors. A sabbatical gives him the chance to set his planner down for awhile.

#3: Your pastor needs time for self analysis 

Maybe you didn’t realize it, but pastors can struggle with being cynical or having a “Murphy’s Law” mentality. Disappointed ministry dreams, conflict, betrayal or constant criticism from staff or church members, being overworked or spread too thin, or perhaps the need to be bi-vocational- there are many aspects that play into pastors becoming cynical.  By the same token, pastors absorb a lot of pain- maybe I should say they stuff a lot of hurt deep inside and keep going. A sabbatical gives them the chance to evaluate the state of their hearts. You may even hear them say, as we have, “I’m realizing that I’ve become cynical” or “I didn’t realize how much I was hurting.”  Having time to process these emotional burdens is crucial the the future health of the pastor, which will in turn affect your church positively.

#4. Your pastor needs an extended opportunity to be fed

He’s always feeding someone, this shepherd of yours. But who is feeding him?  Listening to live sermons and Christian music, reading good books, going to conferences and retreats, taking classes, and getting counseling are just a few ways that a pastor can feed himself. The everyday schedule demands of ministry sometimes only allow him to “grab a snack.” A sabbatical gives your pastor the opportunity to spiritually feed himself until he is satisfied…to linger long at the buffet, which will benefit both himself and your church when he returns.

Pastors are advised to minister from their overflow. But sometimes this is difficult. Sermon preparation is demanding. And it’s not like pastors don’t enjoy studying {they do}. It’s more an issue of being required to pour out their heart and soul three (plus) times per week. It’s an issue of not always being able to replenish his heart by the same measure that he poured out…and as quickly as he poured it out. Example: it takes a lot less time to empty a bucket of water than it does to fill one. A sabbatical gives him large amounts of one-on-one time with God….and not for the purpose of pouring out. But he will return ready to pour out again. Funny how that works.

#5. Your pastor needs to view church ministry through the eyes of a layman

His life revolves around the church. Yours doesn’t. Once in awhile, it’s good for pastors to see ministry from the “other side” in order to understand and minister with lay people more efficiently. In between our first and second ministries, my husband worked a secular job. It was difficult for him to attend all of the church services, and to make them on time. He wasn’t able to be as involved as he wanted to be during that time. He has commented often about how thankful he is for that perspective. It has made him a very understanding and gracious pastor who works patiently with lay people. A sabbatical will give your pastor a chance to have a balanced perspective of lay people. Because….I think that, at times, pastors forget that they are working with volunteers.

#6. Your pastor needs time off from the ministry roller coaster.

Thom Rainer (CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources) says this: “A pastor has emotional highs and lows unlike most other vocations. In the course of a day, a pastor can deal with death, deep spiritual issues, great encouragement, petty criticisms, tragedies, illnesses, and celebrations of birth. The emotional roller coaster is draining.”  For some of you, roller coasters are enjoyable, but can you imagine riding a roller coaster at Disney World every day, all day for an entire year? After awhile the ride would take its toll on your body. In much the same way,  after a number of years, pastors become weary of the ministry roller coaster. One of the most enjoyable things about our current sabbatical is the blessing of being able to walk into church and just. sit. down. This gives an opportunity for others to look after the nursery, the music, the classes, the ‘public relations’, the phone calls, the drama ;), and all of the details that make services run smoothly.  During the week, someone else is responsible for scheduling and planning events, giving counseling, and navigating the often unpredictable schedule. These are normally things that pastoral couples enjoy doing {we do}, but the ups and downs can wear on a family.  A sabbatical will give your pastor a chance to get off the roller coaster for awhile and be at ease. This will help him immensely when it’s time to get back on it.

#7. Your pastor needs a healthy, happy pastor’s wife.

Sometimes the pastor’s wife needs a break too.  In fact, she may need one even more than your pastor does. Statistics show that vocational ministry is one of the top most stressful career choices. Pastors’ wives often live under insane amounts of pressure and criticism. Blogger and former pastor Joe McKeevor wrote this article about pastors’ wives. He correctly noted that they are the “most vulnerable person in the church.”  The success of your pastor depends largely on the support of his wife.

When you hired him, you didn’t get two for the price of one. But if you lose her, you’ll lose him too.

You may be surprised at how many pastors’ wives entertain thoughts of escaping the stress they are under at church, just because of their husband’s job.

Someone (not in ministry) recently communicated to me “If you find ministry so difficult, then maybe you aren’t called.” I think that this is exactly what the devil wants us to think when things get tough. I love how one pastor’s wife put it:

“Ministry is the hardest thing I’ve ever been a part of, yet I am empty without it.”

This accurately states how pastors and wives feel about ministry. And it also exposes the need for sabbaticals. The length of time is subjective- it doesn’t have to be a year- how about just a month? Even a short time of concentrated rest would be very beneficial to both pastor and church.

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By giving your pastor a sabbatical, and you may well preserve the future of his life and his family. If you think that statement is a bit dramatic or over the top, try googling the statistics for discouragement, depression, anxiety, divorce and even suicide in pastors.  Or take a peek into my email inbox and see weariness and heartache that pastors and pastors’ wives are facing. The rate at which pastors are leaving the ministry for good is also alarming. Many times, these pastors are tired and become an easy target for satan, who likes nothing better than to destroy leaders and take others with them.

The gift of a sabbatical will do more for your pastor than any other gift you can think of. And the neat part about it? It will enable him to turn around and give back to you and your church with a renewed passion and commitment. It’s better than a bonus or a pay raise. It’s an investment that will yield eternal results. It’s a choice your church will not regret.  Skip the tie this year, and plan a sabbatical for your pastor instead!

Let’s Chat: What are your thoughts on sabbaticals? Have you ever taken a sabbatical from ministry? If so, what were some of the blessings you received during that time?

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About Leah {Embracing Grace}

Leah Highfill accepted Christ as her Saviour and became a child of God at the age of 18. Originally from the USA, she and her husband moved to the mission field of Canada in 2005, where she served in full time ministry as a pastor's wife for 10 years. During their tenure there, they became dual citizens. Leah and her family recently returned to NC and are currently enjoying a much needed sabbatical for the year of 2015. She homeschools her children {Small Son is 9 and Tiny Daughter is 7} and teaches private piano lessons on the side. She can be found reading, writing/blogging, playing the piano and violin, or ice skating. A friend to ministry wives everywhere, Leah has a passion to inspire hope and to encourage women in their walk with God. Her first book, Expecting Grace, was published in 2013. Expecting Grace is the story of Leah's experience and survival of a life threatening pregnancy, and of many medical and financial miracles along the way. Her second book is currently in process. Join her grace-filled journey right here at Embracing Grace!

14 thoughts on “7 Reasons Every Church Should Give Their Pastors a Sabbatical

  1. Well, we are one week into our first sabbatical, so I am not an expert by any means. But I have already noticed we both are getting more sleep and feeling less stressed. We are enjoying spending more time with our children and doing a more in-depth Bible study with them. I am enjoying not have the feeling of “how am I ever going to get all this done before Sunday?”. I’m sure there will be more blessings, but that’s all I have for now.

  2. Great post Leah! I have to admit, I haven’t really given this much thought. I like the term sabbatical and think it could be most helpful and even healthy. All that you say on the different aspects of ministry are true and I can easily see how a minister is stressed on a continual basis. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I will think and pray on it more.

  3. I think this is an excellent idea! However, when you’re in an unhealthy church (with very few willing to serve in any way–especially lacking men willing to teach or lead spiritually) and your husband has to work a second job to support your family, what can you do?

    I determined after our first year here that if and when we do leave (no plans at present), I will write a letter highly recommending that they give the pastor more than a week’s paid vacation for each of the first two years. Even now that we have two weeks, that doesn’t seem like enough, particularly with family at a distance and in opposite directions. Of course, the second job complicates things as well.

    1. Tammy, you are right that it is very difficult to get a sabbatical when you don’t have anyone to replace the pastor while he is away, or if you have an unhealthy situation that may get worse if you are gone. There are no easy answers to this- how I wish there were! My husband and I were in full time ministry for 10 years before we took our current sabbatical. Even so, it was our choice and my husband decided to resign because otherwise we would not get the rest that we desperately needed after everything that God saw fit to send us through. We, too, lived 2,000 miles away from family and it took 6 of our 14 vacation days in the car just getting to our family. I would like to see more churches fitting the pastor’s vacation specifically to his needs, not just a set number of days or weeks like other professions. I hope that you can get the rest you need and perhaps even a sabbatical in the near future!

  4. I can see what a blessing a sabbatical would be for a pastor and his family. We were at a retreat for pastor’s and missionaries one year and the guest speaker was a local pastor who had just returned from a six month sabbatical at the request of his wise deacon board. He returned to his church refreshed and ready to serve again. As a missionary, and having served alongside my husband for several years as he pastored, I’m wondering if a church might not use a furloughing missionary to step in so he can take a 1-2 month furlough. If the pastor had a place to go during that time the missionary could stay in their house. It then would not be necessary to pay a salary for an interim pastor. A love offering would be nice since the missionary would be losing the love offerings from speaking at churches during that time. (Those love offerings are what help to raise money for projects and oftentimes to pay for living expenses that continue even while the missionary is living in the States.) It would also be beneficial to the missionary to know or remember the stresses of being a pastor in the States. It would help to bond the missionary with their sending church or a supporting church. Anyway, just thinking it might meet a need for a pastor needing a sabbatical! As a side note, just let me say that a furlough is not a sabbatical. It is a time of change in the norm. Ministering in churches in English and in our own culture is nice, and we often get taken out to eat and places we wouldn’t go to on our own. However, it is still ministry. We are still in the lime-light. People still feel the right to critique everything we say, do, wear, etc. Thankfully though, we can be in charge of our schedule, and if the missionary husband is willing, a time on the front end or back end of a furlough can be a time of rest and renewal.

  5. My husband is putting together a salary and benefits proposal for a possible Youth Minister position. We have only been married a little under 2 years and I am still a little new to the Pastor’s Wife life. I am nervous because one of the benefits he would like is a 3 week Sabbatical after 5 years. Is it common for Youth Pastor’s to take a Sabbatical after a period of time. I know that the average cycle of a Youth Pastor is 12-18 months but we are hopeful that we will be able to be there much longer. So many questions and things to learn for a new Pastor’s Wife. Any tips?

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