The past few years have been brutal for pastors and churches. It’s unique that the whole globe has been touched by the challenges of a pandemic and division over responding to it. Barna Research cited that 42% of pastors have considered quitting in the past year. Do you know if your pastor is one of them?
I’m losing count of how many friends I’ve watched step out of ministry altogether, have emotional breakdowns, or leave their churches amid conflict. Add to that the number of pastors and ministry leaders who continue to fall, disqualified from ministry. The landscape is not pretty to survey right now.
I’m writing to you as a pastor. Many pastors don’t feel the freedom to speak up or make requests on their behalf. They don’t want to place undue burdens on the church and her members. Often, pastors are hesitant to speak up because of the backlash they’re afraid of or have experienced in the past.
This summer, our church gave me and my family a three-month sabbatical. I knew I needed some time; I had no idea how much I needed it, though. My family needed it and needed an undistracted husband and dad more than I realized, too. Please read this as a gentle encouragement to have a clear sabbatical policy to care for those who care for your souls, and to encourage your pastor(s) to take a sabbatical.
The truth is that sabbaticals, when done well, have great benefits for the church:
1. Leaders will have to lead.
When things get dropped, or situations get messy, pastors ought to step in and help lead the church through them. It’s almost inevitable that people will come to expect the pastor’s involvement and naturally stay in the background. A sabbatical forces other leaders in the church to make decisions, work through conflict, and lead ministries in the pastor’s absence. A good length of time is one in which issues actually have to be dealt with and not just punted until he is back. The church will be stronger in the long run if its leaders lead well. A sabbatical forces other leaders in the church to make decisions, work through conflict, and lead ministries in the pastor’s absence. Click To Tweet
2. New leaders will emerge.
The Reformation reintroduced the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers (1 Pet. 2:9–10). Voids in church ministry and church leadership can turn into God-given opportunities to have people step up in ways they never would have on their own. When everything is humming along, people will sit back and enjoy. A sabbatical creates opportunities to identify new leaders and leadership-quality members in the church.
3. The church will hear different voices.
Over the 13 Sundays I was gone, our church heard seven sermons from our pastors and another six from guest preachers who gave their time to serve our people. It was amazing for the church to hear incredible preaching from a diversity of voices who were all preaching the same Jesus. Of course, some Sundays were better than others, but that’s true every Sunday anyway. When a pastor isn’t the lead or main preacher, it also gives opportunities for other voices to rise up within the ministries they oversee. It’s a great benefit and can be a lot of fun. When a pastor isn’t the lead or main preacher, it also gives opportunities for other voices to rise up within the ministries they oversee. Click To Tweet
4. Your pastor and his family will be refreshed.
Pastoral ministry is heavy. There’s no clocking in or clocking out. For a pastor and his family, social, spiritual, familial, and vocational realities are all wrapped up together. I needed our church to literally change my email password so I couldn’t check in on anything. My love, care, and anxiety for the church didn’t go away while on sabbatical, but it gave me the space I needed to rest at deep levels.
It was beautiful for me to return to our church after the longest stretch I’ve been away since planting it, and to know that I was wanted, but not needed. As I stepped back in, I had an increased sense of my own calling. After a couple of years of carrying a heavy load, the fog in my heart, soul, and mind had cleared away. The church will benefit from a rested and rejuvenated pastor and his family. After a couple of years of carrying a heavy load, the fog in my heart, soul, and mind had cleared away. The church will benefit from a rested and rejuvenated pastor and his family. Click To Tweet
There are lots of practical considerations, of course. Planning ahead and thoughtfully preparing to grant a sabbatical will help to make it as successful as possible for both the pastor and the church. It can feel scary for both the pastor and for you, the church. That’s especially true if this hasn’t been a past practice.
Lord willing, having built-in sabbaticals will help to avoid burnout, disqualification, or other reasons to force leave time down the road. The benefits to the church are worth it, so consider giving your pastors sabbaticals.