7 Reasons Why Your Conference Needs A Sabbatical Policy for Pastors (Part 1)


The Lord established the rhythm of work and rest during creation, (Genesis 1 & 2) and this rhythmic cycle was lived out weekly by Adam and Eve.  This cycle supported wholistic  (mind, body, and soul) relational living with God and each other.  The rhythm between work and Sabbath is a real blessing spiritually, mentally, physically, and socially.  It makes sense then, to apply this relational understanding between work and Sabbath to our professions. Organizations with employees or care-givers who have instituted some type of sabbatical program have discovered increased morale, a built-in atmosphere of caring, and established sustainability.  Unfortunately, many Christian organizations have overlooked or have not been able to incorporate or value this benefit as an asset within its policies for employees. 

Among the care-giving professions benefiting from sabbaticals, pastors committed to the life-long journey in ministry may significantly thrive. One pastor did a search on the internet and found 26,000 renderings of pastor sabbaticals, so the subject is gaining momentum, and pastors are beginning to experience the benefits.  A sabbatical for a pastor can ensure optimistic staying power, balance in the ministerial approach, and long-term health, to name a few benefits.  

Here are seven other possible benefits for establishing a sabbatical policy for pastors in your conference.

1.   It Helps Pastors Get Out of a Rut.

     Sometimes pastors need to shake things up a bit. Sabbaticals give opportunity and time to learn many new things that may not be realized in the fray of repetitive ministry. Sabbaticals can give you space to learn a new language, play an instrument, or update your technical skills.  Doing something different is not as hard as they may think. It could be surprisingly beneficial and easily integrated for a much better life and work in ministry.

2.    It Reminds Pastors They Are Not Indispensable

Sabbaticals are not applied for and vacations are not taken, because many pastors are challenged to determine the best time to actually take sabbaticals.  Sometimes this is born out of the real sense of a job, or the fear that a task or project may not get done unless they are present.  A sabbatical will help pastors with a sense of leadership balance. Knowing the church will roll on while they are gone will help bring appropriate delegation and ministry release.

3.    It Revives Clarity of Purpose

Role and meaning gets blurred when pastors suffer from the tyranny of the urgent. When mission is highjacked by other agendas, other visions, and other missions, real purpose is lost. Stepping away with a sabbatical helps pastors re-identify their role, meaning and purpose in pastoral ministry.

4.   It Impacts Health and Balance

Sabbaticals can be a period when physical, mental and spiritual rest is recaptured in a brand-new way. Rejuvenation and balance can be re-established without the responsibilities of people in your care. Sabbaticals will not only help improve pastors’ health, they can also be a time of destress and burnout prevention. Ministry without good health is very difficult. Rest and relaxation are needed to recuperate from certain medical conditions and a career break may be just the answer. A sabbatical can help in a huge way.

5.    It May Enrich Marriages in Pastoral Ministry

Constant couple stress and even fighting may can be addressed or alleviated with a sabbatical. In eHarmony’s list of nine things couples argue about most often, many result from time constraints. The top arguments include not having enough individual free time, time for household chores, time for sex or time with kids or pets. Although many spouses of pastors work outside of the home, during the sabbatical much more intention could be given to restore the balance of work and home life.

6.   It Could Recharge a Pastors Spiritual Life

Believe it or not, pastors wrestle between “being” versus “doing,” and the challenge quite frankly for many pastors is ensuring “doing” does not overtake “being.”  Being with God should ever to be balanced with doing the work of God.  How can one do the work without ever spending time with God. Recharging spiritually through prayer, meditation, and Bible study is a huge incentive to support or start pastor sabbaticals in your conference.

7.   It’s All About People

When ministry is done well, it focuses on people, and pastors who serve people need to be aware of service or caring fatigue. Because pastors are in the people business, taking a break from them is needed. In fact, Jesus gave us this example. (Mark 6:31). His witness to us is a real reason pastors need to come aside.       

In the next article of our newsletter, I’ll share recommended steps towards implementation of a conference sabbatical policy. We’ll look at best practices for time periods, financial possibilities, and ways to involve the local church in the journey.