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The word “sabbatical” has different meanings depending on the context in which it is used. It has one meaning in the academic community, another meaning in its biblical usage, and still another in many secular settings.

For the purpose of this article, I define sabbatical in simple terms. It simply means time off for rest and/or study. The time can be a few days, a few weeks or, on rare occasions, a few months. The pastor is given paid leave for rest, rejuvenation and, perhaps, deeper study. I would love to see churches of all sizes provide this requirement of their pastor, even if it’s only for a few days.

I have the opportunity to work with lay leaders and pastors. I have a pretty good view of both perspectives. And I am convinced that more lay leaders need to insist their pastors take regular breaks even beyond vacations. Allow me to provide five reasons for my rationale.

  1. A pastor has emotional highs and lows unlike most other vocations. In the course of a day, a pastor can deal with death, deep spiritual issues, great encouragement, petty criticisms, tragedies, illnesses, and celebrations of birth. The emotional roller coaster is draining. Your pastor needs a break—many times a break with no distractions.
  2. A pastor is on 24-hour call. Most pastors don’t have an “off” switch. They go to sleep with the knowledge they could be awakened by a phone call at anytime of the day. Vacations are rarely uninterrupted. It can be an exhausting vocation, and a sabbatical can be a welcome time to slow down.
  3. Pastors need time of uninterrupted study. It doesn’t usually happen in the study at church or home. There is always the crisis or need of the moment. Church members expect sermons that reflect much prayer and study. The pastor’s schedule often works against that ideal. The sabbatical can offer much needed, and uninterrupted, study time.
  4. Pastors who have sabbaticals have longer tenure at churches. Though my information is anecdotal, I do see the trend. And while I cannot prove a cause-and-effect relationship, I feel confident that pastors who have sabbaticals are much more likely to stay at a church because they are less likely to experience burnout.
  5. Pastors who have sabbaticals view the time off as an affirmation from their churches. I have heard from many pastors who share with me a sentence similar to this one: “I know my church loves me because they give me a sabbatical.” Pastors need affirmation. Sabbaticals can accomplish that goal.

I estimate that only about five percent of churches offer sabbaticals. In almost every case where I am familiar, the relationship between pastor and congregation is very healthy. I do think at least one of the reasons is the sabbatical.

What is your view of sabbaticals for pastors? What would you add to my five reasons?

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Comments

    • says

      Yes Lord, few realize that the work of the ministry continues well through the week and can be quite consuming. I too would not mind having one and am dancing at the thought.

      I hear the mention regarding ‘productivity’. The harvest of souls is the only productivity that we the clergy should be concerned with. Should we be developing our flocks (truly the Lord’s), their ‘right relationship’ with Jesus will remain. If the Pastor going for a few weeks derails the church, perhaps Jesus wasn’t the Cover to begin with and merely the bait.

      If it be Jesus, and not a person a couple of things should persist:

      Worship of Jesus
      A credible ministry team who can do praise/worship, deliver a message, encourage and inspire and even correct should it be necessary but most of all pray.

      After all, it is not anyone person who is the Head but Christ radiating.

  1. Jeff Glenn says

    Works for me!!! When do I leave??? Seriously, speaking for bi-vocational pastors, I’m thankful I have “vacation days” with my secular job that allows me to take time off to spiritually re-fuel when needed.

  2. Mark says

    I have seen a Minister who was granted some time off from preaching duties during the summer. He said it helped him and I would not argue against that. However, this church did not have Sunday night church and the minister did not have to do much for Wednesday night so he really only to have one sermon per week, not 2-3 like some have to do.

  3. says

    Pastors have tough jobs for sure, but no tougher than those of us responsible for hundreds under our care in the business world. Why should a church pay for the lack of productivity while their pastor is off on sabbatical? That seems to be poor stewardship of the Lord’s money.

    • Justin says

      The point of the article was that a sabbatical would be productive. If the pastor is able to experience spiritual renewal, gain a fresh vision, and recharge his batteries for another extended time at his current church then both the pastor and the church benefit from time away.
      Also, you made a comparison to the business world. Successful businesses know how to give their employees and executives the right amount of time off so they do not burn out as well. Even owners of companies need to know how to practice this for themselves. The principle of rest is found in the first chapter of the Bible.

    • Robert E. Hays says

      I agree 100%. We pastor people who have to go to work day after day, month after month. They have to be there at 8:00 in the morning and can’t leave until 5:00. If they are late or leave early, they often have to take leave to make up for it. They get a week’s vacation, maybe two, often. Nobody is paying for them to take three or six months off, but they are expected to pay the salary of a preacher who can show up for work at any time of the day , come home early, have “family day” during the week, etc. I became bi-vocational about ten years before full retirement and it was an eye opener. If preachers want to do something different for a while, let them take some months off and go into the secular work place. They will rest their minds from the horrible stresses of ministry, learn something about how the real world operates, and become more compassionate about the things their parishioners have to go through every week, every month, without someone’s coming yup to them and saying, “Here, you poor thing. Take some time off at my expense.”

      • steve johnson says

        “Learn how the real world works?” Many if not most pastors have worked secular jobs before ministry and some work secular jobs during ministry. To be quite honest, that phrase is offensive to those of us who know how the real world works.

        Perhaps the real world could come with us at 3 in the morning to tell a mom that her child has been killed in a car accident. Perhaps the real world could answer an 11 pm phone call with someone complaining about his name being left out of a bulletin.

        I understand your point that we all have a role to fill. We all have our job stresses. But trust me, the average pastor understands how the real world works, and lives in it.

        • steve johnson says

          Thom my voice text butchered that last post. Could u fix the obvious grammer errors so I don’t appear to be as dumb as dirt? Lol

        • Robert E. Hays says

          That phrase, “how the real world works” used to rile me up, also, when I was in the vocational ministry. I didn’t like it. And I am not saying that pastors don’t have some pressures which are unique to them. I was in the military and then in business before I went to seminary, also. I am not inexperienced. I am just saying that I think often time preachers – Presbyterian, at least – are well taken care of by their congregations, and they tend to take that for granted. To ask for time off on top of it is asking a little much, at least some of the time.

          • Steve Johnson says

            Thew phrase doesn’t rile me up, but quite frankly it minimizes my life experience–and again quite frankly minimizes what I do in my ministry. Again many if not most of us pastor types had or have “real’ jobs and fully understand how the ‘real world lives”.

            As a side note–not directly to your comments , Mr Hayes, but helpful none then less, let me share that while Ive been in pastoral ministry for close to 20 years , Ive never had a sabbatical, never been offered one and to be honest have never asked for one . To be brutally honest I’m not sure what to do on a sabbatical anyway. :)

            But here’s the thing, in my never to be humble opinion (although I’m trying) –if the deacons in a given church would live up to their call and their charge, then the need for sabbaticals would be greatly reduced. If Deacons would “Deac ” we pastors would have ample time to “.. give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word” as was ORIGINALLY INTENDED according to Acts 6 where we see the Deacon ministry being created.

            Add to that this— if members would live up to their call as Christians as outlined in both the Bible and the Church Covenant, again the pastor would be afforded what he needed in the way of time to fulfill the most important part of his call, which is proclamation of the Word of God. Its the “foolishness of Preaching” which causes men to believe–not administration, not hospital visitation, not settling goofy and ridiculous arguments, not making sure the bus has gas in it.

            Now that’s not to say the pastor shouldn’t have other functions. And for the record, I do all the things I listed and more–and most pastors do as well. And to be fair there are some lazy pastors who aren’t worth a flip in the pastorate or in the secular world of work.

            Ultimately Sabbaticals are fine–and helpful I’m sure. But in my mind they would be far less needed if those in the NT local church would find their role and fill it.

        • says

          Amen Brother Johnson! Some are quick to judge when they have never walked in the shoes of a Pastor. Many of us work secular jobs as well as pastoring. Pastors are also human. While I have never taken a sabbatical or know of any clergy who have taken one, if it’s available don’t judge those who do. Give the Pastor a break. Many are doing the best that they can with what they have to work with.

    • Bill Landers says

      I hear you Jim, but there is not a lack of productivity while a pastor is on sabbatical. I have never had one either, but can see how much productivity is accomplished by offering a pastor a sabbatical. His personal productivity as well as the church’s. It’s not that he is on vacation, which is how it is viewed by many.

    • A pastor who gets it says

      Jim,
      I guess calling it “the Lord’s money” is convenient when you’re trying to be stingy with it. Hope that you have enough of “the Lord’s money” left over when your pastor burns out and you have to replace him. I’m sure you’re a blessing to him though, being that you have real world experience. I’m sure he thanks God every day for people in his church like you! It’s okay though, because I guess you tithe a lot so you are untitled to a terribly harmful opinion.

      • says

        I’m not stingy at all, but I do think it is a misnomer that pastors jobs are harder than secular work. In the secular world there is no such thing as a paid sabbatical – I think you are being way too sensitive. Think about it from a layperson’s point of view. It is not unusual for some to work a secular job, work overtime, tend to the house, and prepare and teach a weekly bible class or host and care for a smal group ….. Can we gave a paid sabbatical too?

        • A pastor who gets it says

          Jim,
          I can appreciate your not wanting pastor’s jobs to be considered harder than others. Everyone’s situation is different and each of us face unique challenges in any setting (ministry, business, politics, govt., etc.). My wife worked at a major DC law firm as a financial analyst for seven years. The firm is huge (about 1,000 partners), and it is as corporate and secular as it gets. One of their firm-wide policies is a paid, two-month sabbatical for EVERYONE employed by the firm on their 10th year. To say that paid sabbaticals don’t exist in the secular world is not accurate. They may not exist in YOUR world, but they do exist and they are beneficial not only to the company but to the worker. If you are in a position where you oversee hundreds of people perhaps you should use your influence to institute a sabbatical for yourself and other executives in your company. But don’t cheat your pastor because you haven’t led you company to take care of its executives.

    • Scott Hill says

      Jim I have done both secular work and Pastoring. I’ve currently been a Pastor for 15 years and while I’m only one example I can say with confidence that they are NOT the same. I was going to go on a long explanation as to why they are different, but it just hit me that I would be wasting my time. If scripture and common sense alone doesn’t point out the clear differences then I don’t see how my anecdotal evidence is going to sway you.

      • says

        Scott,, that’s not fair. Please show me the scriptures that tell me the job of Pastor is harder than running a business. I am not arguing that mine is harder, but I don’t think a Pastor is harder than mine. Obviously depending on the circumstances one may be harder than the other, but surely not in all cases. I am open to learning – what scriptures should I be looking at? Fair question, is it not?

        • says

          Jim,
          I do not want to be argumentative but here is one difference. A Pastor is leading into eternal consequences while as a business leader the gains and losses are not directly eternal.

    • says

      I would like to bring to the table a unique perspective that The Lord has graciously allowed me to experience. I am an Executive Pastor in a church that has recognized the wisdom of awarding a sabbatical to its pastors on a scheduled basis. The first after seven years of pastoral service in this church. Our Sr Pastor was awarded his first sabbitcal shortly after I was called to this church in 2006. He was awarded 6 weeks of leave and at the time had served this church for just under 20 years as it’s Sr Pastor. It was a delight to see what it did to his spirit, vision, energy and joy.

      Iam presently planning my own sabbatical to focus on areas if renewal and vision that my wife and I have. We will take our leave on the mission field at a frequent short-term partnership location only this time we are going to “stop and smell the roses” together.

      I said my perspective is unique and it is. I entered ministry while taking a sabbatical leave from my business career where I had become the President & CEO of a public company. The sabbatical leave turned into a time of reflection, renewal and reassessment of the future and the contribution I was be enabled by The Lord to make. It was a turning point for the usefulness of my life I the service of the Kingdom.

      Being a pastor is more stressful than the experience of my business career on several critical levels. As a CEO I could demand performance. As a pastor I can demand nothing. As a CEO I had share holders who expected a return. As a CEO I have members who think I serve only them. As. CEO patterns of development were forecasted. As. pastor very little fits a forecast. I could go on and on.

      The key is a pastor needs a sabbatical to find the patterns that develop in his life, in his family, in his church, and the context into which he leads.

    • says

      Hi, Jim. I am moved by your observation regarding the rigors of the pastor’s work in juxtaposition to the rigors of the business world. Speaking as someone who has been in bivocational ministry (I have served simultaneously as a lead pastor and as a store manager for a leading retail electronics purveyor), I can testify to how difficult it is to come home from a double shift to turn right around and visit someone who has just been taken to the emergency room, and then to return home and get called to a home at 2 a.m. to pray with the family of someone who has just passed away,only to get back to the store for 8 a.m. for another full day. I did this routine (although in ministry there is no such thing as routine),for 5 years, taking vacation time when my work schedule allowed. I can appreciate your vantage, and thank you for your candor and openness in this dialog. I appreciate also the “walk a mile in my shoes” tenor of these posts, and I look forward to further insight and discussion of this topic with you and our fellow travelers. Blessings on you today.

  4. Tommy Mitchell says

    You are singing my song! I will complete 10 years at our current church in May! I would love a July sabbatical! I have thought about it for years! Week 1 – Rest, away! Week 2 – On campus at either SBTS or NOBTS for a week of reading, research, and some interaction with a willing professor! Week 3 – Rest Away with a bit of planning for preaching / visioning Week 4 – Some physical challenge (wrapped in some fun). Probably won’t happen – but it would be awesome!

  5. says

    Thom… poor, poor choice of image depicting pastoral sabbaticals. A beach with a hammock? Really, Its not a VACATION ON THE BEACH, OR A VACATION AT ALL. The image defines the experience as leasure and falls into the trap of reinforcing the idea that many people have that pastors are lazy, privilidged, and lack either a real work ethic or commitment. I have served one chruch for over 25 years, have had four sabbaticals an in every case had people comment on “enjoying my vacation!”
    But in every case I produced either a research piece on some issue important to our church’s life and ministry or some extended emphasis in preaching or ministry that would not have been possible without sabbatical. I don’t know that you sign off on the images used to present your material which is always excellent, but it set the content in absolutely the wrong mode. Please help both our ministers and our people get your messages right even through the graphics.
    Cordially,
    bruce

      • steve johnson says

        Thom, that criticism of your wording using “vacation” is a prime example of why as sabbatical is needed–relief from criticism! By the way, in typical pastoral fashion, you gave in. Keep the peace pastor! Lol ( btw I give in quite easily too ;)

        • Jim Kress says

          I chuckled about the hammock and beach image :-). But isn’t that image precisely what evokes so much of the comments on this blog?
          I wonder what would happen if all of us reading this blog were given free, unlimited use of a hammock on a tropical beach? My guess is most of us would last about an hour, maybe a day. Some real ‘slackers’ might last two days. But I’m persuaded that a sense of restlessness would come over once the novelty has worn off, and that urge to “do something”, “be productive” would start to take over any one of us, regardless of our gender, age, race, or vocation.
          Which brings us back to original purpose of a sabbath – yes? (Genesis 2:2)

  6. Mrs. Pastor's Wife says

    After more than 20 years in ministry, my husband is only allowed 2 Sundays off a year. Of course, we save them until the end of the year, because we never know when we will need to miss for a sickness, family crisis, or to attend another church for a special event. A sabbatical truly would be a way for him to feel affirmed. But how do you ask for one? If I were share this link on my wall, I guarantee you that criticism

  7. Mrs. Pastor's Wife says

    *would await. So, if you read this and are not on a church staff, please propose this for your pastor! He needs it, would love it, but probably would never ask for a sabbatical.

  8. Sean Lucas says

    Written into my call was a four week writing sabbatical every other year. Because of the way I group my vacation in the summer, in those years I’m generally out of the pulpit six straight Sundays. Not only am I able to get some emotional rest and good work done, but I come back fired up and ready to go for the new ministry year. Also, I take those writing weeks seriously: five days of eight hour writing days, which is its own kind of exhausting. But I feel like the church is paying me to write and extend its ministry outside our walls.

  9. Allen Calkins says

    Already in the remarks there seems to be a bit of reluctance to see the need for a sabbatical for pastors. It seems like the focus is on how it benefits the pastor. But I would think it would also benefit the church in several ways:
    1) By getting to hear someone else preach for a while (more than a single Sunday) without going to a different church. Variety is a good thing.
    2) It could be like an intentional interim within a pastor’s tenure if the church/pastor brought someone in to preach that could address areas that needed to be addressed in the church.
    3) Absence may make the hearts of the people grow fonder and more appreciative of the pastor they have when he returns (It could, of course, go the other way too…a reason some pastors do not even take their allotted vacation).
    4) It could reset the clock for a ‘pastoral restart’ allowing the pastor to more easily shift gears and refocus his preaching and ministry without changing churches….it could even lead to a new honeymoon.
    5) It should return an energized and excited pastor back to the church grateful for the church’s generosity in allowing him the time off and excited again about the ministry possibilities ahead.
    How can ANY of these things be anything but good for the pastor, his family, AND the church he serves?

  10. Preston says

    Great post Thom. It’s sad that many churches unknowingly will work their pastor into a place of burnout. The ministry is unlike the business world for at least three reasons. You mentioned the emotional roller coaster. It is also a unique blend of professional and personal life – they cannot be separated. Thirdly, it is a constant spiritual battle.

    We sent our pastor on a four-week sabbatical and it was wonderful for him. Probably not long enough. He had to be honest with the deacons and share with them where he was emotionally and spiritually. I believe most churches love their pastor and would do this if they only understood the need. Pastors are always hesitant to ask.

    A good book on this: “Leading on Empty” by Wayne Cordeiro. Our pastor had all the deacons read it , and he didn’t even need to ask. They told him to take a sabbatical. http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/0764207598

  11. Frank Emrich says

    Last year I took a so called sabbatical. It was the worst experience in over 35 years of ministry! While I was gone for almost 2 months some people used that time to talk behind my back, discussed my every weakness ( both real and imagined) slandered my wife and I etc. if you take one, watch your back brother!

  12. Rick Lawrenson says

    My church personnel policy includes sabbaticals. I’ve had two so far and anticipate a third before I retire. And I just started my 24th year at this church.

  13. Pam says

    Our church gives our pastor a sabbatical every year. He gets the whole month of July off to do whatever he wants/needs to do. I cannot tell you what a blessing this is for our pastor AND our church. We dearly love our pastor and he continues to care for his flock during this absence by putting guest preachers in his pulpit that we continue to learn from while the pastor is recharging and participating in other ministries that he cares about. The church always anticipates his return and we benefit from a rested and studied servant. The sabbatical is an expression of love that goes both ways, from the congregation to the pastor and then back from him to us. I cannot imagine not giving this wonderful gift to our pastor who so selflessly shepherds us all year long.

    • Ed says

      Pam, as a pastor, I cannot express enough how awesome you and your church family must make your pastor feel. What a blessing you people are, to him and to so many who have read this.

  14. Gloria Batey says

    I have a problem with the word sabbatical in relationship to pastoring. I’m the child of an old school pastor who took time for biblical studies, travels and spiritual enrichment, but always put the support of his congregation and the community at large first. That’s the nature of the commitment. Jesus never took a sabbatical. I think pastors should take vacations and make time to fortify themselves, but always maintain connected and leaders over their flock. I also think if the pastor has a strong support system: associated ministers, deacons, trustees, business managers, etc., they should not have to wear themselves out to the point they need to be away from the church and out of touch for extended periods.

    • A Ministry Wife says

      Jesus also didn’t stay at one church or have a home for his three year ministry after which he was crucified. Also he was God. Not all churches and ministries are alike and I think a Sabbatical can be great say for a pastor that is the only pastor of his church.

    • says

      This might work if every pastor were the same.
      But, actually, I recall a few times in the New Testament where Jesus left even his disciples seemingly to take a break (remember when he told them to cross the lake without him and then the storm came up?) I wish God called perfect people to be ministers but unfortunately, as with church members, it seems God calls people like you and me who have our own needs and shortcomings…

  15. Brian says

    A few years ago, as a deacon in my church, I championed the idea of a sabbatical for our pastor and the rest of the church agreed. We gave him a full month off an I think it did wonderful things in his life and the life of his family and the short time was good for our church as well. I think the idea is a necessary one, though the specifics could differ from one instance to another.

    • Andre Jackson says

      We need to look to the Catholic church for this model. A month or two in my mind is NOT a sabbatical. A real sabbatical allows a pastor to do what (s)he does not have time nor resources to do otherwise for self enrichment and advancement. Catholic priests get ONE YEAR OFF every seven years! Unfortunately most of us don’t have the proper systems in place for our churches to run effectively for a year without us. I attend conferences, seminars, theological intensive, etc, take holiday breaks, weekly days off, and a month long vacation every summer but NONE of these can be considered as a real sabbatical!

  16. David Mann says

    Thom,
    I noticed during my time as a Director of Missions that many congregations have a fear that their Pastor will leave shortly after the sabbatical is complete. This fear is just that, anxiety based on very little fact. While it is true that any person who takes a concentrated time before the Lord may make changes in their life, sabbaticals alone do not encourage a pastor to leave. I worked with congregations who were truly afraid their Pastor would leave them if they gave him more than a two week vacation. Pastors need these times of rest.

  17. Caleb Kolstad says

    Pastors need time for uninterrupted study of material not specifically related to a sermon or a SS lesson. Most of us have stacks of books we’d like to read (need to read) but do not have time to do so. :)

    Another helpful post from a friend of pastors and churches alike.

  18. Bill says

    My church blessed me with a 90 day sabbatical after 5 years of service. Your article is spot on. I had some difficulties in my 4th year and looking forward to the sabbatical kept me going. Since my return, I feel that my preaching and my ministry have gotten stronger.

  19. says

    Very good post.

    I was here for 13 years when the elders devised a sabbatical policy for the pastors of our church. They granted me a 13 week sabbatical, which I partially used for getting work done on my doctorate.

    It was an incredibly refreshing time and I came back energized in a way that is indescribable. I think your last point about viewing the sabbatical as an affirmation is very weighty. It told me the elders and congregation wanted me to be healthy and content. It told me the wanted me to stay a while. It’s true, we have no “off” switch, it’s impossible. Unless you’ve done it, it’s hard to explain.

    I’m 17 years in at the same church I came to out of seminary. The sabbatical served almost as a reset button. I’m as excited about the future as I was early on.

  20. Larry Elrod says

    Thom,
    Your blog is well taken. I have many friends serving as pastors who could benefit from some uninterrupted time alone with God. I know such time is precious to me.

    I would like to see our convention make some commitment through the Cooperative Program to help pastors and churches do this by providing interim pastors and financial support so that is possible even in the small church in remote areas. Maybe you, from your position of influence, could stir this pot.

    Have a blessed Lord’s Day.

    Larry

  21. Jim Cumbee says

    If I was a pastor, I suppose I could support how hard the job is, the value of getting away and renewing one’s spirit, how no one understands the pressures, blah blah blah. But has a hard working tithing businessman, I say “really”? Are you kidding? I wouldn’t say I don’t want or need a sabbatical, but as a business owner and longtime observer of businesspeople, I don’t see many regular church members can afford to take an extended uninterrupted time of “renewal.” Trust me when I tell you, in love, regular joes in the pew resent it when this happens (I know we shouldn’t, but we do, pray for us, on your sabbatical.).

    • says

      With all due respect Sir, I don’t know of another profession where the CEO is on call 24/7. Any pastor worth his weight carries the burden of, not just his family, BUT as the Article stated, an entire church. You can’t quantify the stress level on the number of sermons he preaches in a week. Not can you relate a “standard” 40/50 hour a week “business man” job with the load of a Pastor.
      I’ve been both, AND I’m telling you, you don’t have a clue.

      • says

        Ah, but Patrick I assure you – CEO’s are always on call 24/7/365. We have a number of families whose income and livelihoods depends on our performance. When we don’t perform bad things happen to those we employ. I will grant you that you too are always on call, but that was my point. One job is not necessarily harder or more demanding than the other. Please be fair – work is work and stress and stress.

        • Ron T. says

          Jim, I do not doubt that as a CEO, you face stress. However, I feel you are missing the main point of the difference. Let me ask you one question. Does what you do as CEO of your company affect the very soul and eternal life of the people within your company? As a Pastor for example, what I say to a person when they are on their deathbed, can and does directly affect that persons eternal life. If I say something wrong or appear indifferent to their situation….it could cause that person to turn away from God and spend eternity in hell. The opposite is true as well. Can you say that your responsibilities as CEO have the same eternal consequences? You… have to answer to your stockholders and employees, Pastors must ultimately answer to our Creator.

  22. Marilyn Jones says

    Pastors need time away for their wives and children. The job of a real or should i say a full time pastor demands a lot of time away from family. Their families often go without their loved one and make major sacrifices. So, to compensate for that they need time away from it all. They are just as important as the congregants. Plus pastors need time to just chill and enjoy quiet time to be refreshed and to hear from God.

    • Ben says

      Marilyn,
      Your response reminds me of the importance of Sabbatical for a pastor’s family. In my last church we totally relocated our facility doing a lot of the work ourselves. Not wanting to let the pastoral work slip during relocation I consistently put in 70 + hour weeks. When I was home I literally collapsed into my chair. During this time I buried two babies in our church of 100 and walked through several family crises. Our people loved us but had no idea the toll this took on our family. I missed crucial times in my oldest son’ s life and he has since wandered from the faith. Sabbatical allowed me to spend needed time with my family that was eaten up during this very stressful time.

  23. says

    I just took 4 weeks. Yes, my church and I have a great relationship after nine years, BUT honestly, it wasn’t an option, I had to take time off OR perhaps never be in ministry again…
    I couldn’t believe. What a few weeks (uninterrupted) did for my clarity, creativity, compassion and most if all my family! Obviously, spending time with God just for the sake of alone time and worship was refreshing.
    People have no idea what it’s like to constantly “fix a meal” for others, BUT not have time to eat.
    Remember guys out best “work” is overflow… Otherwise, the “Master Chef” dies of starvation.
    I also recommend the book “Leading on Empty” you’re not alone, and you’re worth it!

  24. Lisa K. Scott says

    As a pastor’s wife and a pastor’s daughter, I feel I can speak to this. Neither my dad or my husband have had a sabbatical. I think it is an amazing opportunity for ministers. To address the layman’s point of view-I am a school teacher and so I understand not being a full-time minister sorta! The difference? In my job, my husband does not have to come spend all hours with me at my job. He doesn’t leave his job to come straight to mine. I do, however, spend hours with church responsibilities on top of my full-time job. Ministry is often a family job. Our entire family is on call 24/7. When there is a hole to fill, my kids and I jump right in. I truly believe a minister’s family needs sabbatical time. People ask why PK’s go bad. I say it is often because they don’t have normal lives like other people’s kids. The life of a ministry family is NOTHING like the life of any other. You can’t even compare the two. My husband, in addition to full-time pastoring, also has a side job. This allows us to pay for extra expenses that come our way. Does your job pay for your health insurance? My hsuband’s job does not. There is no way to compare the job of a minister and his family to that of a businessman. Sorry! Jumping off soapbox now!

  25. Barry Knaub says

    Every pastor is different and so is their situation. I write only from my own experience. I have been a full-time pastor for almost 24 years. I take a week vacation most every year and short 2-3 day trips when I can. I do not have a scheduled day off but God gives me plenty of rest. I not only do ministry, but I mow grass, plow snow, and do most repairs around the church. I always want to be available 24/7 when the people need me. Why would I need a sabatical from what I love to do? Why do I need to “get away” to be renewed when the Lord renews me daily? How could I possibly get down when I see our amazing God at work every day? Burn out in ministry happens when I serve in my own strenght. I don’t have a job. I have the great calling of serving my Lord and ministering to His flock. Why would I want to “get away” from that? Even though I am in my 60′s I have no plans to retire. My “sabatical” will be when I hear the words, “Well done thy good and faithful servant.” I pray that I can “burn out” for Him! Maybe you just need a Snickers!
    Isaiah 40:29-31

    • says

      Yes sir, I’d love to be in your congregation. What compassion. Kids sick?! “Have a snickers” Marriage falling apart, “Have a snickers” “Man I love this 24/7… With such callousness I can see why you don’t need a break

    • says

      That your “go to?” “Have a snickers?” Man the compassion exudes. Your congregation is lucky to have you. What’s that, marriage failing, “have a snickers” no wonder you don’t need the time off…. IF that’s your standard, You’re taking it.

    • says

      I actually like the “Snickers” part but I do have to say, not everyone God calls is a wonderful, out-going extrovert as you seem to be. The prophet Amos comes to mind as someone who did not enjoy being in the lime-light but was called to carry God’s Word into the world and did so faithfully. I also think of Elijah, when under pressure got away until he could once again hear that “still, small voice” and distinguish it from all the other cacophony around him.
      I have a friend in the ministry who strikes me as being a lot like how you describe yourself. He would be with people and preaching every hour of every day if he could… …I ain’t him, but I love my calling. I just happen to be created an introvert and need silence and stillness to recharge from time to time…

    • says

      Barry, I enjoyed reading your post, and from the beginning, you impressed me as a very compassionate and dedicated pastor. Your comment about taking your sabbatical when you hear the voice of the master welcoming you home reminded me of the words of a Gunnery Sergeant I served with many years ago. Gunny Fanion used to declare “I’ll rest when I am dead. ” in my opinion, Gunny was a great marine, and a superb role model and an exemplary leader. Semper Fi, brother Barry.

  26. says

    After 8 years at my current church experiencing growth each year, I found myself with no vision or strength to keep going. I contemplated going to another church or even planting a church, but after much counsel and prayer realized I was just burning out. My deacons have agreed to a 90 day sabbatical to help get my focus and to dream new dreams for our church. It is not a vacation, but an investment of time to guard against the breakdown of my relationship with Christ, my marriage, and my pastoral ministry; breakdowns that occur frequently in the secular world where rest is not valued.

  27. Barry Knaub says

    Really! From my entire comment, you only see a “Snickers” reference made in jest and you attack me presonally? Very Christ-like! I am praying for you.

  28. Mark says

    Take an afternoon off and get out of the office if you are getting the burnout or need to clear your head. Even the Pope took the afternoon off sometimes. And being Pope is an entire lifestyle change. Now, it is well known that Blessed John Paul II would go to Northern Italy and ski in the afternoons if little were going on in the Vatican. He said he enjoyed enjoying and experiencing G-d’s creation.

  29. Allen Calkins says

    WoW! This post has received a lot of emotional posts. As a pastor who has also been ten years in the business world in a high stress position an a pastor for twice as many years I can testify to the fact that pastoral stress is significant and quite different from the stress I experienced in the business world worrying about project deadlines, budgets and the demands of a few unreasonable bosses along the way. Without a doubt we all need more time off! Marriages are crumpling because most businesses care nothing at all about the health of their employee’s marriages or if employees are on the brink of burnout. Employees are like cogs in a giant machine. If the cog wears out for whatever reason, you just replace it in the least costly and most cost-effective manner. THAT IS THE WORLD! That should not be the church. IF church leaders want the be led and taught by healthy pastors then they need to do what they can to lead their church to provide for their pastors physical and emotional needs. Churches need to set an example for the world to follow in the grace-filled way they treat their pastor and other paid staff. If that means offering a sabbatical to pastors every 5 or 7 or 10 years and paying them a wage above a living wage and providing them REAL days off and uninterrupted vacation times then that is what church leaders, led by the Holy Spirit should influence their churches to do. Maybe that means the pastor DOES get treated better by your church than you do by your very ‘for profit’ corporation. Isn’t that how it SHOULD BE?
    In every church where I have served as pastor there have always been people who thought my salary was too much because it was more than they made even though I sacrificed to receive a masters degree and many of them did not bother to do anything bet get out of high school. There have also been people in every church who thought I should not have any more than two weeks vacation and no days off other than Saturdays and whatever is left of Sunday and not ever drive a car newer than theirs. I cannot imagine any less Christlike way of deciding what a pastor needs than what the godless corporation has ‘blessed’ you with as an employee.

  30. PJ says

    Thom, thanks for the article. The title alone was worth brining about the discussion that was needed to be started here. I will not get into what has already been said pro vs con and I will not try and defend or refute either side. I truly believe there were some on here that reacted first (we used to call that a gut-reaction) without prayer, without the Spirit’s guidance, and without any research. Things like this remind me of God’s Children meaning well, but taking a PC stance for something or aginst something and they have done no research on the subject before opening their mouth and proving how ignorant they are on a given subject. My family has gone through so much that I believe I can say with confidence that if some of the pastors (or laymen) that have written here went through they would have quit with less happening to them. Long story short-my wife’s mother passed away, my mother open heart surgery, my father going through cancer and radiation at the same time, our elemenatary son for almost 2 years has had uncontrolled seizures, my wife has had 2 surgeries (without a single church member come to check on us or help us with meals, even though we serve the church without reservation), I have had 2 personal health scares (and lots of tests), and a teenager (with ADHD) and a 2 year old todller. Our church is a small church plant that has seen some growth and at the same time when you start to grow and gain momentum, we have had couples leave for all kinds of different reasons. God does coninue to show His faithfulness (even when the church members don’t). Our Elders came to me and ask what a “sabbatical” was and if it was something they could give me to help with alot of what we have been going through. I was pleased with their desire to search out something to do, whereas just doing some of the things a church members should be doing anyway and being the church’s own cheerleader would be a start. We did our research and put this into place. I think this will help some who don’t understand what a “sabbatical” is and help others who may be contemplating establishing the opprtunity in their church. A sabbatical is not a vacation. In fact it is not to be taken with the family. This is a time for an individual to get away without being disturbed by the church or his family duties to reflect on his ministry, his messages, and his mission. To those who were asking for scripture, believe it or not, Jesus did take several of them and taught them to the disciples. He often said to “get away to a solitary place” and this was not with their families. He even took one for 40 days and nights himself “before” he started on His “mission” to start the church. Our Elder Board set these paramaters: 1. This is not a vacation and this is for the pastor not his family. He better use his vacation time for his time with his family (too many pastors use their vacation time while with their family to do these church things that should be done during a sabbatical, instead of spending time undivided time with their families.) 2. After 10 years you are allowed 4-8 weeks off for a sabbatical with Elder Board approval prior (each year as needed with prior approval from Elder Board first). 3. The Pastor must present what his “need is” for the sabbatical and the goals he would like to accomplish while away. (ex: how will you be able to prove or measure the success of your sabbatical. Books read, books/papers/messages written, excercise goals, vision refreshed, direction for the church, etc.) 4. The Pastor must present how things will be taken care of in his absence (for his ministry and his family). 5. Immediately upon return he will meet with the Elder Board and present his measurements of attaining his goals set forth for his sabbatical. 6. The Edlers will meet and determine based upon that if his time was well spent and he accomplished the goals they approved prior to him leaving. If he didn’t or he accomplished some, they are able to make a determination based off of that if he will have to pay back some of the pay while away or if it will still be paid for as prior approved. I hope this helps clarify to some people at least what our church felt a sabbatical is and approved to be. Thanks again Thom for getting the discussion started. To some of us war wounded servants still plugging along we could use some time off to go to the top of the mountain to spend some time without ministry, church members, and family to simply see if we can get the face to glow once again and come back down with new marching orders and a fresh new direction to go!
    Because of Him,
    PJ

    • Robert E. Hays says

      If this defines a sabbatical, I KNOW I wouldn’t want one now. Repay part of the money that the Elders decided I had not measured up to using right, according to their way of thinking? I don’t think so! Quite frankly, I hear some bitterness (probably justified!) and it sounds likes someone on the edge of burnout. If PJ is going to stay there, it sounds to me like he needs to preach a long series of sermons on the church, its nature, its responsibilities to each other, etc. Eph. 4: 11,12 would be the unifying theme of the series. That series would be just the start. This church is in trouble and if it doesn’t get straightened out, PJ may need to find somewhere else to be. I don’t mean to sound too strong, and I do not mean to offend, but sometimes we need someone to talk straight to us, whether we like it or not.

  31. PJ says

    Also sorry for all the bad spelling errors, there wasn’t a spell checker. Also to those comparing this to “real world” experience. How many of their companies send them on training trips, conferences, or working retreats without their families. A sabbatical is not time off, but rather a time of reflection and depper training, reflection, research, and planning without the possibility of interuption. A vacation is a vacation and should be spent with family members spending undivided time with them. Thanks for letting us share our thoughts (for some of us after we prayed first).

    • Jim Kress says

      Hi PJ,
      Your church has quite the system of accountability in place for sabbatical rest. I could not help but wonder if the early church elders had such discussions among themselves? Is the board and your church really, truly, deeply at peace with such a system? Are the elders trying to protect you? Or themselves? If so, from what? Why? It seems legalistic and controlling to me.
      I suspect if every person is honest (including me) there is at least a twinge of jealousy, envy, anger, and pride present in a discussion of sabbaticals.
      As a pastor who has worked vocationally and bi-vocationally, as an associate and lead, in churches large and small, and worked in companies large and small, I affirm the difference between pastoral work and business work. I affirm the difference between eternal and temporal results.
      But I do not affirm the difference between sacred and secular. A CEO and a pastor (lead or associate) have far more in common than they do different.
      To infer that a CEO, or employee, has more or less ‘pressure’ than a lead or associate pastor fuels the entitlement system that is killing our country and, more soberingly, our souls. I think this whole issue is a matter of love, trust, respect, and grace in relationships with one another.
      In other words, I would not enjoy a sabbatical leave if I knew that, upon my return, I had to ‘justify’ it before my church, with fear of paying it back if the board evaluated it as unproductive. This is not because I am against accountability, nor against having honest discussions about how spare time is spent. Nor am I anti-feedback or criticism. But I am against self-justification and self-righteousness. Being a pastor/shepherd of a local congregation is a grace of God, mediated by His people in a local congregation. Being a leader or employee of a local business is also a grace of God. In short, we deserve nothing. I cannot help but wonder how our relationships would change, at church, home, and work, if we lived liked we believed it.

  32. says

    I’m one of those “crash and burn” pastors. I tried to take a Paternity leave when my second child was born, but before you jump up and down and start screaming, it consisted of not keeping office hours for a few weeks. I attended all meetings, led all worship services, visited and worked out of my home. But, because I was a pastor, I heard “preachers don’t need time off” and “I don’t get paternity leave, why should he?” were some of the least hurtful comments… Partly as a consequence of that experience I rarely took vacations and never sought a sabbatical which might have saved me from 5 years out of the ministry. After that 5 years though I am productive, inspired and my family life is strong. I’m sorry everyone doesn’t have the opportunity to have a sabbatical but, at least in my conference, a sabbatical is NOT paid leave. You find grants or make do off your savings and you must work and turn in the results of your study. It is regarded as if it’s continuing education which, I believe, is ubiquitous in the secular world.

  33. says

    Our church family provides a sabbatical for all church staff members every 7 years. We provide one month with the possibility of adding up to two weeks vacation onto the sabbatical. A couple of years ago the church recognized that as senior pastor, I needed to have this time every year, so they now give me July off each year and still allow me to take my vacation time as I can throughout the year. They are most generous.

    And here’s a sabbatical benefit you didn’t mention: it is good for the church. As someone once put it, “If the pastor’s good he deserves a sabbatical; if he’s not, the church deserves a sabbatical.” But it also works to help increase appreciation between pastor and church and it allows other staff and members to step up and grow in leadership and ministry.

  34. JC says

    sounds like we touched a nerve here. I have been a small business owner for a number of years before pastoring 30 years in small to medium sized churches. Yes, I had some of those long, long days and nights with all manners of ministry needs but I have always had the time to sleep in after some long nights and been able to take a little extra time off here and there in the slower times. One thing not to miss here is we are not at odds with each other. laity and clergy are partners and equal partners at that. Ministers are not called out to be better than anyone else so that they deserve different treatment.
    God has called and equipped those ones He has chosen. We do not need to spend so much time worrying about the church taking care of us. God takes care of our every need .
    Bless those who receive the time off and bless those who don’t. I served enough different churches to see how different they can be. it’s hard to compare dissimilar things.
    God bless all and maybe the most blessed can lift up the less blessed. I have served in associations where there was more competition than cooperation. Let us encourage one another rather than nit pick and second guess. you can find plenty to criticize in this note and plenty to disagree with but after all its only my opinion

  35. Mike says

    The vast majority of churches, in America today, would frown on a sabbatical & not grant one. But many pastors can become burned out over time. A lot of places just don’t think about this. You’re wise to care for your pastor if you don’t do so. I think every 5-7 years, a pastor ought to get a month sabbatical. Not every year. It is refreshing for most & a pastor comes back with renewed energy. I understand the arguments against it. But unless you’ve been a pastor, you don’t understand the challenges sometimes. It’s easy to be a critic (of pastors) & there are plenty of them out there. I think a sabbatical, every 5-7 years, of a month is a good thing, but I can understand why many would say, “No, I can’t go along with it.”

    • Robert E. Hays says

      With all due respect, one month every five to seven years is not, in my opinion, a sabbatical. Heck, that’s just a long vacation. I think the reason there may be some disagreement about the whole idea here has to do with definitions. When I think sabbatical, I think, at the very least, of three months. Many would push for six. I have known a very few that went longer.

  36. Tim Forsythe says

    I am not a Sr. Pastor, but a youth pastor and have been going hard since for the last 13 years. During that time I have done many camps, retreats, and mission trips and very seldom was able to have appropriate time given back to me after the events. Now I am suffering from burnout and look back at not properly taking time off as a major reason for it. I truly think if a church would have given me a sabbatical at some point burnout would have been prevented. You just get to the point that you can’t keep pouring into others if you do not have the opportunity to recharge your battery every once in a while. So every church needs to have a built in system where they give sabbaticals after a set amount of time served. It is a win for the pastor and the church when it happens.

  37. says

    In my over 28 years of “active duty” in Ordained Ministry, I have yet to take a Sabbatical. The parish I am serving doesn’t understand the need for such a time, and our leadership team gets antsy if and when I bring it up. My wife also is going to be a tough sell on the concept of Sabbatical. I have been in this current parish for 8 years now, and I wish I could say that it has been a pleasant (if not palatable) tour of duty. I would appreciate some guidance on how to plead the case of a sabbatical before these two tough courts.

  38. Nathan Silver says

    I am coming up on the 11th year of my first pastorate. Over the course of the first 3 years i had the opportunity of having a great man of God that helped me. He was not serving as pastor and was and still is a great mentor to me. He has mentioned several times that taking a few weeks to a month off would be a good idea. Preparing three expositional messages a week, teaching a College Sunday School class, pastoral counseling and ministry all take an emotional, mental, and often physical toll on a pastor. I also teach at a local Christian school, but have in times past work construction and other jobs while pastoring. In these past eleven years I have gotten married, became a father, lost my own father to cancer, my brother-in-law to a motorcycle accident, my daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and recently with Celiac disease. The church has been very supportive, however I only missed 2 Sundays due to all the previously mentioned personal difficulties. It is difficult to minister to the needs of a congregation while you neglect your own. I also preach several meetings at other churches a year. Life doesn’t stop or slow down. When I return from a meeting it is time to get back into the pulpit where I pastor.

    I could be the youngest guy that has responded to this article and I may be the least experienced and educated, but I know that just one week of “vacation” a year helps me to look at things from outside the box. I am able to spend more time seeking God’s will for our church and how it can make an impact for the Kingdom of God in our community. If a pastor could take more than a few days to seek his Savior’s guidance I personally believe ALL churches would benefit greatly. It would allow the pastor to be rejuvenated, refreshed, and refocused. I beleive that longevity is needed to make a lasting impact. I was 22 when I was called to Mt Carmel. All the deacons were several years to my elder. Now, after 11 years, the church has changed and God has blessed. Only a few other pastors have stayed as long as I have. Those that have got burned out. I have spoken to several of them and that is their words. I would love to stay 11 more, but I am feeling the strain these other great men felt in their tenure.

    Thank you Thom for your ensight and help. Especially to a young pastor you just wants to make an impact in his community for Jesus.

  39. B. Darrell Sammons says

    I received a link to this article from a lady I had the honor of serving at a former pastorate. Here is my response to her wall message on Facebook: Excellent article,______ ______. Of course, for some reason I enjoy the comments of such articles much more than the actual articles. I have heard of sabbaticals, and (as seen in the comments) what people think of them.
    I once heard of a church that believed in sabbaticals so much that when they brought on a particular new pastor his tenure BEGAN with a month long sabbatical. He had served the previous church for close to 20 years without any legitimate vacation or rest time. Instead of being in one pulpit one Sunday and in the next the following week, something very different happened. The first Sunday at the new church was a time of worship and celebration. After the service, he began a month-long sabbatical. The new church loved their new pastor, and knew he was in need of renewal. Although he had not even began to serve that “branch office” of the Kingdom, he had been in continuous faithful service to the Lord for more than 20 years without a time of renewal. What they got in return was a pastor that knew, from the beginning, that he was loved and his service to the Lord was recognized. Oh, and it didn’t hurt the church. They just asked the interim to stay a month longer, and when the time was over they had a fresh, and reNEWed shepherd.
    Unfortunately, sabbaticals or “vacation” time never exists for most pastors for obvious reasons that could be seen in the comments regarding the article. Thanks, ________ for being one that sees a time of rest as beneficial for a pastor.

  40. Phillip Raimo says

    If we get days off, vacation time and other time away, this should be enough. We should be studying daily and building on our own relationship with the Lord. People get burned out because we loose sight of Jesus in the ministry. It is never about us but giving God the Glory and letting Him be our rest. My pastor just passed away after a battle with cancer and his last message was a week prior to going home to be with the Lord. I ha and I’ve herd men retire from ministry and I don’t get it. We are Called….. If the ministry is small then cut back but never leave the flock to tend for themselves.

  41. Lemuel Billingsley says

    This is wonderful, I hope to get this article before my staff. As pastors we really do need a break from preaching and the hustles of life to redirect our focus and especially for prayer. As a Baptist pastor, I normally go up to a monastery for a few days and have many times come back refreshed. thanks for sharing this also.

  42. says

    I am finishing up tomorrow the 3rd week of a 4 week sabbatical that the church I pastor extended to me. They also gave me money to do things to refresh me. This is the first sabbatical like this I have had in 22 years of being a pastor (9+ here at this church). I have been to a missions conference and a conference Chick-fil-A puts on. Next week I will be at a Johnny Hunt Timothy-Barnabas event. But this past week I spent 4 days by myself at Ridgecrest in the mountains of North Carolina. I was able to plan out an entrie years worth of messages and had several days when outside of ordering a cup of coffee or lunch, the only One I talked to all day was The Lord. I cannot begin to tell you what these 4 weeks will have accomplished in my life. I would encourage every church after a certain tenure (our church has made it every 5 years) to give you pastor a minimum of 4 weeks and some resources to do some things that will refresh him. I am proof of the incredible blessing this practice is.

  43. stan herrod says

    I am in my first Pastorate however I also who had a Grandfather and Father who where pastors who never had time off or sabattical as u call it . I seen the effect on my family as a child and I has been married for 15 yrs. Before I started parroting so with a wife and three girls I already knew I wanted to ensure that not only me but my family had this recoperative time off also. So when I took on my first Pastorate I ask for certain weekends that where special to my family and I . I think this sabattical goes beyond just the pastor it also involves the children and your wife. I believe this has helped show my children that not only is the church family important but they are important also. After theses times away from the work at hand I am afforded a refreshment and a family strengthening.

  44. stan herrod says

    I am in my first Pastorate however I also who had a Grandfather and Father who where pastors who never had time off or sabattical as u call it . I seen the effect on my family as a child .I have been married for 15 yrs. before I started pastoring so with a wife and three girls I already knew I wanted to ensure that not only me but my family had this recoperative time off also. So when I took on my first Pastorate I ask for certain weekends that where special to my family and I . I think this sabattical goes beyond just the pastor it also involves the children and your wife. I believe this has helped show my children that not only is the church family important but they are important also. After theses times away from the work at hand I am afforded a refreshment and a family strengthening.

  45. Victor Czerwinski says

    Do not understand the concept of a Sabbatical . When did this idea come into being ? Is it biblical ? Did the Apostles have Sabbaticals ? I have read of ministers such as Luther, a John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, and more, teaching , preaching , studying , writing books, without so called Sabbaticals. Just having the Lords day off to renew there strength . Is this a modern concept that has come out of the 19th century ??
    My pastor has gone on a three month Sabbatical, I wish I could have a 3 months rest to study the bible or write a book !

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