Today is my first day of work back from my summer sabbatical. First off, I want to thank my great church for providing me with this much needed opportunity. It has been refreshing and I feel energy for ministry in a way I have not felt for quite some time.
Pastors need sabbaticals. I know of some pastors who have approached their church board to ask for one and they have been turned down, or they are afraid to even ask because they know what the response will be. These boards and church memberships need to wake up and smell the coffee of what it’s like to be a pastor; which often is a cheap, burnt, stale coffee that’s been on the burner for waaay too long. Being a pastor is one of the most difficult jobs that exists. It is not the hours spent in the office or the research or the strategizing, it is the constant emotional and spiritual outpouring, a faucet that rarely shuts off. It is the relational weight you carry around, knowing you have befriended an entire flock and you desire to be there for them, but you can only go so far for so long. These things take a toll on a person. Pastors are not superhuman or superheros. If you think yours is, or treat him as such, I promise you he will be resigning within the next 3 years.
I firmly believe when you deprive a pastor of a sabbatical you are telling him or her, “We want you to burn out. We want your marriage to fail. We want you to have a severe disconnect in your relationship with God. We want frustration to drive you off the cliff of ministry and of life.”
What else can be interpreted when a pastor is crying out for help and the replies are: “Well I don’t get a break in my job, so you don’t either…” or “We already give you 4 weeks of vacation, what more do you need?” or “How will the church survive the summer without you?”
We already give you 4 weeks of vacation, so go ahead and cheat on your spouse as you feel like God has abandoned you, we certainly aren’t giving you more time off you lazy bum. Working in the business world is just like having the spiritual, emotional, and relational weight of an entire congregation on your shoulders, you didn’t realize that? (Yeah right. This is why every single pastor has a “fantasy dream job” in the business world where they don’t face the pressures of ministry. They think about it on the days they want to quit the ministry. Every pastor has this. And if they don’t, they will within a couple of years!)
Oh yeah, and sabbatical time is not vacation time. It’s very intentional with specific goals. And if you give your pastor a sabbatical, don’t make them do a million things they have to report back to you on. Trust them that they have an honest heart for God, otherwise you shouldn’t have hired them, and let the Holy Spirit lead them to what is best for them. This may be going to conferences, job shadowing at prominent churches around the USA, living in a cabin in the woods for a couple months, or even playing semi-pro football! Let your pastor make these decisions, not you. Children need babysitters, not pastors on sabbatical. Let the man rest with the Lord and get way from the expectations and pressures of church life for a few months.
And make it at least 3 months, none of this 4-6 week business. That’s about how long it will take for him to realize he doesn’t want to quit his job! Make sure you give him 3+ months so he can not only decompress, but also recharge and come back at full speed. Trust me, 3 months is an easy investment when the return is a fully charged pastor ready to minister in high spirits for the next 5-7 years, something you will not get without the sabbatical.
I’m not saying it’s always as dire as a marital affair and total collapse, but there are certainly some dramatic rumblings beneath the surface of many pastors that they are never able to be honest about because they will be judged or fired if they express them.
Some of you have pastors who never even use up the vacation days you do give them. This should not be applauded. No, these are the men and women you need to grab by the horns, wrestle them to the ground, and say “You will rest in the sustaining power of the Lord! You will stop working and will trust that God will continue working without you!” Whether they realize it or not, these men and women have just as many needs for sabbatical refresh as the person openly confessing they are running on fumes.
Your church will not fold if your pastor goes on sabbatical. If you think that it will, either 1.) You are serving a VERY small God who can’t go 3 months without your pastor saving the day for Him or 2.) Your church is extremely immature in its heart for ministry that you wouldn’t have enough people to step up to take care of the basic needs of ministry for 3 months. And if #1 is true of you, #2 will naturally be true as well, and vice versa. We serve a HUGE God, he can handle your church if your pastor goes off the radar for a few months. Be obedient to God as leaders in your church and allow your pastor to be renewed in a way only an extended sabbatical time can.