Many of you know that my wife and I are currently in Scotland. We are spending time with our family and our newest additions to the family—twins! I really enjoy being a grandpa! This morning I’m sitting at a Costa coffee shop thinking about how important it is for pastors to take extended time away from their “regular ministry.” This extended time is what we call a “sabbatical.”
The idea of a sabbatical may sound exotic and even a bit slothful, but a sabbatical is not a vacation. Vacation is “get away” time. A sabbatical is more than that—it’s biblical! In this, as in all things, we should follow the teachings of scripture. Strangely though, of the ten commandments, the command to sabbath is the one we disregard most often. So we begin with scripture and three more reasons why a pastor needs a sabbatical.
Ministry is more exhausting than even pastors realize. During college I worked construction in the summertime. One summer I took a week off to be the guest speaker at an Elementary Camp. My obligations were quite simple – hang with the kids during the day and speak for 20 minutes at night. What surprised me was how tired I was by Thursday morning. I was beat! Emotionally and spiritually worn-out! –far more tired than working my construction job. That day I realized how draining ministry can be.
“The capacity to do nothing is actually evidence of a lot of spiritual growth.”
-John Ortberg, Soul Keeping
Too many pastors go, go, go and never stop to recharge. Your pastor needs time to spiritually and physically recharge. I recommend that a senior pastor takes a sabbatical once very seven years and, staff, at least once every 10 years. Ryan Sanders put it this way, “An evening on the couch isn’t rest; it’s catching your breath. A week at the beach isn’t rest; it’s retreat. Deep rest takes a long time.”
Sabbaticals helps reset priorities and goals for a pastor. A number of years ago, Linda and I took a Sabbatical for two months. We spent our first month in Europe. One of our goals was to learn more about John Wesley’s methods of outreach. We spent time in England tracing his steps from his birth in Epworth, to his group meetings at Oxford, visiting his first church in Bristol and spending time in his home London. This time away changed my perspective of evangelism. Wesley was willing to do whatever it took to bring people to Jesus. He was willing to break with tradition by reaching out to the commoner. He conducted open air meetings and encouraged his brother, Charles, to write new songs that connected with the culture.
This part of our sabbatical gave us new confidence to come back and make needed changes in the local church.
Sabbaticals can be a great time to deepen our love for our family. It is amazing how the weight and stress of ministry can disconnect us from the ones closest to us. The older I get, the more I realize how important my family is and how it takes some deliberate planning and even cost to be together.
Too often, ministry leaders give of themselves to help other families and have little left for their own. Sabbatical is an opportunity to reconnect with those closest to you in deep ways. -Ryan Sanders
During our sabbatical Linda and I realized how much we enjoyed being together. She did have to get after me about “going” too fast and I found out she had a hard time reading a map. Beyond that, things were great!
BEFORE YOU GO…
Two important things:
- The Pacific Conference offers financial help for assigned pastors and staff who would like to take a Sabbatical. You can download the application here. Pacific Conference Sabbatical Grant Application (fillable)
- This year our Midwinter Retreat for Pastors and Spouses will focus on the practice of Sabbath. Be sure to save Feb. 4-6, 2019 on your calendar!