the shape of leadership

Four Reasons to Take a Sabbatical

Know when it’s time to get away

Influence Magazine on May 17, 2018

Maybe you’ve heard of a pastor taking a sabbatical. Chances are, you haven’t taken one though. Thom Rainer estimates that only 5 percent of churches offer a sabbatical to their pastors. Yet many church consultants and professionals believe most pastors need one.

So, what is a sabbatical? The term comes from the academic world, where a professor may take a semester- or year-long leave of absence. This is not a vacation, but a time to reflect and work on research and writing projects.

Sabbaticals in the world of ministry work the same way. The time off is much shorter, ranging from just one or two weeks to a few months. A sabbatical isn’t just a vacation. Instead, it’s a time of focused rest and renewal. Pastors on sabbatical don’t typically answer emails or phone calls, but they do spend time in study, planning and prayer.

Should you take a sabbatical? You may have asked that question, or perhaps your board or ministry team brought it up. Here are four reasons you should seriously consider taking an extended and focused break from day-to-day ministry for a time.

1. Your Stress Levels Are High

A pastor’s job is hard. You are on call 24/7. Even when you take vacation, there may be an expectation that you will respond to any emergencies that arise. And as a shepherd, you take on the emotions and cares of your people. This leads to a buildup of stress that, over time, can have disastrous effects.

Pastors on sabbatical spend time in study, planning and prayer.

It’s important to take days off regularly and manage your schedule. But there may come a day when the stress is so great you need to step away for an extended period of time.

2. You’re Experiencing Mission Drift

Nearly every organization eventually enters a time when it begins to drift from the original mission statement. As you grow in ministry and prioritize new opportunities, the original direction of your church may start to move. Stepping away for an extended time of focused rest and research can help you reset the vision.

3. There Is a Big Change Coming

It may seem counterintuitive to take time off when a large-scale change is on the horizon. But once the wheels start moving on the next big project, stepping away will be that much more difficult. Taking a sabbatical before a big change, like adding a campus or starting a building project, can recharge your batteries and better prepare you for what’s just ahead.

4. You’re Taking on a Special Assignment From God

Many pastors feel the desire to write a book, mentor other ministers, go on a missions trip, or even teach in a seminary. Because those projects have the potential to conflict with your calling to be a pastor to your congregation, taking a sabbatical to answer that assignment from God may be the answer.

Your ministry can be better when you return from a sabbatical ready to go. There are some dangers involved in stepping away for a time, of course. But if you or someone on your team feels like the time is right to take a sabbatical, then earnestly pray and follow the Spirit’s leading. It may just be time to take a long break.


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