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Why Every Pastor Needs a Sabbatical

Why Every Pastor Needs a Sabbatical

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.

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Resting Ain’t Easy

Two Sundays ago, I preached on “Resting in God’s Power” as a way of concluding our “Not By Might, Not By Power, But By My Spirit” Declares the Lord sermon series:

As I mention in the sermon, resting is not an easy thing for me.  It’s especially hard as a pastor where you have the option of working as much as you want, and the work you do is ‘ministry’, not just work (much easier to justify).  My job isn’t a 9-5 job where I punch in and punch out but is a job where I can always be doing things to make our church stronger: hanging out with people in the church, doing more outreach, etc.  And it’s not to say that I don’t enjoy these things, but if I don’t keep boundaries on them, I end up running my ministry-batteries dead, along with my marriage and my sanity.

In an attempt to recharge my batteries, and as a way of practicing what I preach in my above sermon, I’m taking all of August off from preaching.  The move to our new building (plus name change) has taken a lot more work/energy than I had anticipated and as we gear up for our Sept. 18th Grand Opening, I know I need some time to recharge my creativity, while also freeing up time to finish the work needed for the Grand Opening.  I enjoy preaching, and think it’s something I’m gifted to do, but preaching every week wears me down over time.  Like a musician forced to write one new song every single week, eventually the creativity, quality, and passion run dry.

I’m a transparent person so bear with me here.  I’ve always struggled with missing a Sunday, or with guest preachers, because of the exact symptoms I preach about in this sermon: my insecurities about who I am (am I only valuable if my church is growing?) and my lack of faith/trust in God that my church will be fine without me being the one preaching every week.  So in this past week, in an attempt to recharge my batteries, I’ve really struggled with the complexity of taking an entire month off:

On two occasions that I told people I wouldn’t be preaching this month they were visibly disappointed.  While I know their reaction is a means of complimenting me, it also fills my distorted thinking with anxiety:  What if attendance sinks this month and doesn’t recover?  What if the work God is doing in these people’s lives stops this month and doesn’t recover?  What if the window of opportunity that has been opening now closes shut?  Included in this is the general anxiety of being a people-pleaser, wanting to please these people’s expectations of me, in the same way I have a hard time saying ‘no’ to any social invite that is church-strengthening or outreach-related, because I don’t want to let someone down.  All of these questions point towards the unhealth that is in me.  I assume that I am not the only pastor (especially solo church planters) who thinks these things.  As I take this month off from preaching, I observe that preaching is essentially an addiction in my life and I am now feeling the withdrawal symptoms.  Even though it is something that wears me out and fills up a lot of time that I often would like to use on other ministry efforts, there is that piece inside of me that needs it to feel in control.  As if God could only use my preaching to work in someone’s heart, not a guest speaker’s, or that it’s my preaching that changes hearts, not the working of the Holy Spirit.

As I get healthier in these areas, I think our church will get healthier in them as well.  I think I’ve conditioned my church that Sunday morning is about hearing me speak, not about coming before God as a community to worship Him and to listen to His word being taught, joining together to be strengthened as we seek to accomplish his mission 24/7, allowing Him to do His work through us, understanding that we are a community where all do ministry, not a one-man show.

As I said in my sermon, resting in God’s power is not easy and I, like everyone else, need to give myself Jesus’ grace for not getting an A+ in this area (thank you, Jesus).  The difficulty of this topic is the reason we are to observe a weekly Sabbath, so we can be reminded of these truths.   The Sabbath is an exercise, like doing bench press, that stretches our faith/trust muscles, bringing pain and discomfort (though the day is meant to be enjoyed, the discipline needed to stop and make it happen is painful), so that we come out stronger on the other side.  This week has already done this in me, and I know the rest of the month will as well.  I’ve very thankful for this month off, as well as my Sabbatical next summer (3 months off, June-August, which will mark 7 years of planting/pastoring Crossroads).  Though this time off scares me, it is a good scare.  It is a scare that is forcing me to realize that I am unimportant and God is important.  That my church doesn’t need me, they need the Holy Spirit.  That the Church is a beautiful body made up of many parts for God to use, not just one part (me) that the rest of the parts hinge on.  These are all things I’ve already known cognitively, but it takes some bench pressing to really work them out into reality, painfully, but coming out the other end much stronger and healthier for it.

 
 

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