A recent study conducted by Lifeway Research found that while most pastors reported that they loved pastoral ministry, nearly half also reported that the demands of their job were too much for them to handle, and they were burning out. Is your pastor running on empty? Offering a sabbatical may be the wisest investment in—and a gracious gift for—your pastor.
Sometimes when a church floats the idea of a sabbatical, church members begin to protest: “I’ve worked hard my whole career, and I’ve never had the luxury of a three-month vacation!” There’s some validity to this reaction. Pastors aren’t more deserving of a period of rest than small-business owners, farmers, or stay-at-home parents. Pastors don’t work harder than others. But our work is different. Pastoral ministry requires late-night visits to the hospital to comfort a bereaved family and sitting across from a couple whose marriage teeters on the edge of collapse. Pastors mediate conflict and bear the suffering of others. We can’t do these things without spending ourselves in the process. Most pastors I know wouldn’t trade their job for the world, yet the pressures of pastoral ministry can empty us, leading to spiritual fatigue or even burnout. That isn’t good for the pastor or the church.
A sabbatical is a designated time (usually three to six months) for your pastor to recharge his or her batteries. While different from a vacation (or family leave or educational leave), a sabbatical creates time and space for a pastor away from the demands of pastoral responsibilities in order to focus on his or her spiritual, mental, and emotional health. During the summer of 2016, my church graciously offered me three months of rest. I used the time to read and write, to travel and teach abroad, and to make lasting memories with my wife and three children.
Pastors are different from one another, so what nourishes the soul will differ from one pastor to the next. For some, a study trip abroad will be restorative; for others, a lengthy spiritual retreat will feed the soul. The point is to relieve your pastor from the pressures of ministry to instead be ministered to, so that he or she can in turn be more effective in serving your congregation. I returned from my sabbatical nourished in my soul and eager to return to my role as pastor.
It is generally understood that those who are always giving of themselves for others but never taking care of themselves eventually become ineffective caregivers. Give your pastor a break! He or she will come back restored and better equipped for ministry in your congregation.