I am fortunate to have a church and denomination that understands the importance of taking a sabbatical. They granted me a three-month sabbatical. I took half of it this summer. I’d like to take a few posts to help pastors think about their possible need for a sabbatical and then how to go about it.
First question: why do you deserve a sabbatical? Few other professions offer them. What makes a pastor so special (or is it lazy) that they should get one when 95% of other professions don’t?
My first answer is that more people should take sabbaticals…in all professions. So maybe the question is framed wrong. Maybe we should be asking why more professions don’t allow for a sabbatical every seven years.
I’m not going to go into a deep Bible study on this. You can do that on your own. But I will say that God established the importance of sabbath in creation itself. Sabbath doesn’t mean “rest.” It means to cease, to stop. God worked the idea of sabbath into his creation for two reasons: one, we need to stop for our emotional and physical health. We weren’t designed to go 24/7. Two, we need to stop for our spiritual health. When we stop, we are saying that we not only trust God to work through our effort, we trust him to work in our ceasing.
Okay, so a sabbath is biblical but why for weeks or months? Isn’t a weekly sabbath good enough? It has to do with the nature of the job. Sabbaths are especially important for people who are ultra responsible, like a business owner. Any profession that requires you to carry an emotional load 24/7, even while you are away from the office, should get a sabbatical. You need weeks or months to help you to fully cease, disconnect, and get the rest you need. Taking a week or two off may get you away from your job physically but not emotionally. You need a sustained break to recharge your batteries.
Sadly, many pastors take a sabbatical AFTER they melt down. That’s not a sabbatical. That’s called recovery. I have a friend who collapsed in the middle of a sermon. His “sabbatical” came after his collapse and was more for healing than refreshing. He’s trying to play catch up now and he can’t seem to quite get there. I have another friend who owns his own business. He almost died of a heart attack this year due to stress.
Personally, I could feel the need for a sabbatical for at least a year. I planted a church eleven years ago, went through two capital campaigns, had a building built, and managed a few key staff transitions. It all took its toll. Pre-sabbatical I had unexplained fatigue and depression. Every time I even thought about getting away I’d tear up. I knew something was wrong. But now, post-sabbatical, I can tell the difference. Something inside of me changed. I got the break and refreshing I needed. I’m ready to go again.
In my next post, I’ll talk about what to do on a sabbatical. But today I just want you to consider taking one. Talk to your church board about the possibility. Some churches offer their pastor a sabbatical every seven years. That’s nice but I think that should be a guideline. Rather than put a timeline on it, I’d go more by stress level. If you have gone through a two-year push to plant a church, do a capital campaign, or manage a church crisis, a sabbatical might be in order, whether you’ve been there seven years or not.
If you are not a pastor, maybe you could suggest a sabbatical for your pastor. It’s very hard to promote it for yourself. It feels selfish. So you will do him/her a favor by bringing it up. My administrator pushed the idea at my church and I was very grateful to her for it.
What are your thoughts? Have you been on a sabbatical? Do you wonder if you might need one? Have you suggested it but got shot down? What questions do you have about sabbaticals? I’d love to hear from you.