Free PDF: Sabbaticals for Ministers: The Benefits for Pastors and Congregations

By Focus on the Family
  • A pastor in a small town in the rural West took a one-month sabbatical after five years of ministry. This was about the only benefit the pastor received, but it was a fruitful endeavor and resulted in a new perspective on ministry. The church and board both accepted the concept, and it allowed for them to have new voices sharing the Word of God during that month. Their main concern was who would do the work of the ministry on weekdays. In time, however, a plan that spread the work around to several lay leaders was developed and followed.
  • Another senior pastor took a three-month sabbatical, which was a part of a personnel policy. It was a time of refreshment and inspiration. However, there was a lot of concern about the coverage that would be needed during his time away. He and the other church leaders realized that expectations were often too high to be shared efficiently. Thus, the delegation of duties was problematic. Eventually, the decision was made that a seasoned interim pastor would be a better fit for the extended leave, instead of relying on volunteers and associate staff.
  • One minister took a self-funded sabbatical for six months. This time away was not for academic pursuits or for personal enhancement or accomplishment (something that would normally be considered in a continuing education benefit of compensation). It was to be a time of rest and renewal, but it did end up as a hardship on his family’s finances. It took the pastor about three weeks to come to terms with the tension that had built up in him over eight years of pastoral ministry. But eventually, a sense of normalcy and humanness returned, and the minister was able to think and reflect without being rushed or feeling on edge emotionally. The time off allowed his body and soul to rest and to recover from the strain and drain of ministry. A newness of life, a greater awareness of simple things, gentler moments and deeper spiritual insights were then demonstrated by the minister and his family upon their return.

There is joy in ministering to people within the context of church life. The depth of relationships that a pastor experiences with his people is unmatched in any other vocation. It can be consuming in its satisfaction. Yet, with this calling comes the challenge of hearing the voice of God through a cacophony of voices clamoring for attention. The concepts of rest and renewal are foundational to healthy ministers and congregations. Ministers need Sabbath rests so they can minister with a new freshness, a new vitality. Sabbaticals—extended time off from regular schedules and committee meetings—can serve as a detoxification from the to-do lists, demands and expectations of pastoral care.

Leviticus 25:4 reads, “In the seventh year the land is to have a sabbath of rest, a sabbath to the Lord.” This command to Israel concerning the soil allowed the fields to recover so they would keep producing food. Without it, the land would essentially wear out and become useless. Similarly, an extended rest is the secret to longevity in ministry and to maintaining spiritual, mental and physical health. Sabbaticals make room for God! They are made possible by trusting that other members of the church, with the help of God, can take care of things while the pastor is resting, reflecting and being renewed.

To sustain Christian ministry, its leadership needs renewal and rest, a time to “be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). By slowing down for a time, both church leaders and their congregations can come to know and obey God in new ways.

Click here to download the free PDF booklet that outlines why sabbaticals are important, the history of sabbaticals, the need, the benefits for both clergy and the church, and how to plan for a sabbatical.