Going on sabbatical may seem to be a growing trend among ministry leaders today. The rise in pastors scheduling these seasons of rest may correspond with the growing difficulties of ministry in the modern age. Or perhaps it’s from a greater awareness of these difficulties. It may also be that society is placing more emphasis on mental and emotional health than ever before. When we consider the rate at which people are falling away from pastoral work, the number is astounding. Many within the church are looking to those in pastoral ministry, seeing the signs of wreckage, and wondering how they can help stem the tide of that burnout. For many churches today, sabbatical has become a means of assisting their leaders and loving them well.
When it comes to sabbatical, every pastor and every church does theirs differently. Some churches may offer this break as a gift to their hardworking minister after so many years of service, while sometimes, it can be extended after perceived signs of burnout. Other types of sabbaticals are a matter of policy, where leaders can accrue sabbatical time. Some pastors may take a purposeful sabbatical to spend it on learning or growing in specific areas of ministry, rather than simply taking time to rest or connect with their families. How you choose to pursue sabbatical is up to you and your church.
1. Take inventory of your holistic health
Some pastors are reluctant to take time off, believing their time and energy should continue to be spent serving their church. Some even refuse to see the signs of burnout in their own lives. Taking time for sabbatical may teach you a few things about yourself and your own rhythms of ministry, though it may take time to recognize the signs of exhaustion. Sabbatical allows our leaders time sit with their experiences in ministry, to debrief and process where the Lord has taken them and how He has led them. It’s not always easy to sit with the areas in your life that need attention or renewal. Having the space and time to reflect can help you look at the things in your life and see where you need to place greater strength in the Lord.
The burden of leadership and of exercising your gifts and responsibilities can truly wear you out. Taking time away offers you the chance to return to your ministry with a fresh perspective that will benefit your organization long-term. Sabbatical can reassess your patterns of rest so that you don’t fall back into the patterns of before. This time of refreshment can create new motivation within your spiritual walk with Christ, offering a new excitement as you enter back into your ministry spaces. You church will receive the benefit of a changed and refreshed perspective.
2. Pursue sabbatical through prayer and community
You should enter into a season of asking the Lord what He is preparing in your life, your family’s life, and in your ministry. Ask also that He would help others to see your need for sabbatical. Commit to praying consistently for that, spending significant time in prayer before broaching the subject with another leader in your church. You may need other people to help advocate for your time away on sabbatical. Be in close enough community with others who will recognize the signs of burnout in your life and take action on your behalf. After all, ignoring the signs of rest could be an act of disobedience.
Consider having a conversation with your leadership regarding the overall culture of rest within your church. Be able to communicate an upcoming need for rest, that it would be a proactive conversation rather than a reactive situation. Remember that you are modeling what rest looks like for your congregation and fellow leaders.
3. Lean into a theology of rest
Your rhythms of rest play into your theology of rest. Scripture encourages rest for the people of God, that we would remember that God is working for us amidst our resting. It’s an act of rebellion to believe that our circumstances are so dependent on us as we work ourselves into the ground. That level of hard work doesn’t serve our congregations, nor does accepting the world’s hustle culture that only leads to burnout.
We must be countercultural in our pursuit of rest. The Israelites didn’t rest because they didn’t trust God. They didn’t believe God loved them, worked for them, cared for them, and provided for them. It was truly a spiritual issue—don’t let the same be said about the culture of your church.
4. Let your church serve you in this way
If your people are excited for you to pursue rest through sabbatical, take it as a sign to move forward with doing so. This could be a sign that your congregation is at a healthy point where you can step away for a short time; it means you’ve done incredible work in the seasons leading up to your sabbatical. You do not have to enter sabbatical with guilt; instead, remind yourself that God is giving you and your family space for rest and recalibration. Embrace His purposes in that.
Your church is responsible to the Lord for the ways they care for you holistically—heart, mind, and soul— as the shepherd of your church. So, let them serve you and your family in this way. The time you are away will allow others in the church to step up. Sometimes, it is beneficial for the church to be without their pastor for a short season, that they may receive the opportunity to lean into their own leadership strengths.
At the end of the day, sabbatical is all about resting in the goodness of the Lord and finding your strength in Him. Taking time away from your ministry can allow you to rest, find perspective, be rejuvenated, and experience God’s provision for yourself, your family, and for your congregation as a whole.
Be prayerful for the opportunity to pursue this sabbatical rest and allow God to do what only He can in this season.
Adapted from Episode 657: Sabbaticals for Church Planting Pastors of the New Churches Podcast. Listen here for more!
Published October 23, 2023