Sabbaticals for Church Planting Pastors

Episode 657: As pastoral work has in recent years grown more difficult, sabbaticals seem to be a growing trend. Host Clint Clifton discusses the need for, value of and different approaches to sabbaticals with Jessica Thompson, director of operations for the New City church planting network, and Colby Garman, teaching pastor at Pillar Church in Dumfries, Virginia.

In This Episode, You’ll Discover:

  • Different reasons for needing to take a sabbatical
  • Various goals for and approaches to engaging in a sabbatical
  • How a sabbatical changes a pastor’s perspective upon returning to ministry
  • The role sabbatical plays in modeling healthy rest for a congregation
  • Ways taking a sabbatical can help other staff members

Helpful Resources:

Please subscribe to the podcast and leave a rating and review on iTunes.

Sharable Quotes (#NewChurches):

It feels like sabbaticals are a growing trend. To me, it seems to correspond with the growing difficulty of pastoral work, the rate in which people are falling out of pastoral work. @ClintJClifton

For whatever reason, a lot of people are looking around at pastors, pastoral ministry, and going, “There’s a lot of wreckage, and are there any ways we can somehow stem the tide of that wreckage?” @Colby Garman

I think, society, as a whole, is placing more emphasis on mental health. How are you doing emotionally, mentally? And recognizing that is important. – Jessica Thompson

Maybe a generation or two before us, or maybe even me, earlier in my pastoral ministry career, viewed things pretty two-dimensionally. Now, I think I recognize there’s a lot more to people than meets the eye. @ClintJClifton

There’s been a lot of criticism for how millennials think about work. We grow up with a mindset that we’re laborers almost first and foremost. What can we accomplish, and what can we get out? Some people are looking around, going, “I don’t think that’s having great results.” @Colby Garman

Everybody does sabbaticals differently. A lot of times Sabbaticals result from signs of burnout. Some are policy driven. In our case, we thought, “This is a way to be a blessing, something proactive that we think might rejuvenate him and his family.” @ClintJClifton

I think there’s a reluctance on a pastor’s part to take sabbaticals. They think, “Well, I shouldn’t need it. Burning out for Jesus. Who’s got time for a sabbatical?” Then, if they took it, they didn’t feel like they were truly gone. – Jessica Thompson

One of the things I learned was that I was more tired than I thought I was. It took some time to recognize that. @Colby Garman

Some things can’t be renewed without taking time to think about them, to process them. The space and time for reflection helped me look at some things I wanted to strengthen that I didn’t even realize I needed to. @Colby Garman

Often, when I’m thinking about somebody going away on sabbatical, I’m thinking, “There’s a good chance they’re going to come back with a fresh perspective, or a fresh energy, for the work that’s going to be really beneficial to the organization long-term.” @ClintJClifton

I’ve seen people come back with a fresh perspective. It’s also a great time for a reset. It gave a chance to not fall back into the same patterns you had before. – Jessica Thompson

It’s a complicated thing, coming back, because that time, whatever shaping takes place, it’s going on outside the system. I’m thinking, “What should be different?” That means some shifting. @Colby Garman

We also see that some people just don’t come back. They might for a short amount of time, but they realize they don’t want to go back and do what they did before. It has a lot to do with where somebody’s at when they go on sabbatical. @Colby Garman

When a sabbatical is needed, one of the signs you will see is a general sense of apathy or irritability. Everything is frustrating. You’re not really a joy to be around. – Jessica Thompson

I’ve seen pastors who have a sense of guilt in leaving to take their Sabbatical. “I get this break, and the people doing ministry and church work around me don’t.” – Jessica Thompson

The burden of leadership and exercising your gifts and responsibilities wears you out. @Colby Garman

I heard Sean Sears say one time, “The best way to get refreshed is to get really tired doing something else.” @ClintJClifton

If you are weary before a sabbatical, there’s a thought that the sabbatical’s going to fix that. Some people don’t need a sabbatical. They need to learn how to have good rest rhythms in the flow of life and time. @Colby Garman

In saying, “I need it,” you are modeling, for your congregation and your leaders, how important rest is. – Jessica Thompson

It’s an act of rebellion for us to think things always depend on us and to work ourselves into the ground. That level of hard work doesn’t serve our congregations. @Colby Garman

If you’re considering asking for a sabbatical, you should commit to pray consistently for that before you ever broach the subject with a leader in your church. There’s a lot of landmines around that. @ClintJClifton

I would encourage you to be in close enough community with some other leaders in your church that they recognize those things about you early on. @ClintJClifton

Published April 12, 2022

P.S. Get our best content in your inbox

We send one email per week chock full of articles from a variety of Church Planting voices.