Sabbatical is an Old Testament concept that involves a period of rest for renewal of spirit, refreshing of hope, and kindling of passion. While one of the primary Old Testament references is about letting the land rest every seven years, reality is that personal rejuvenation is far more important. That’s why the Indiana Ministries Board of Directors made a provision in the IM Employee Manual for ministry staff to take a sabbatical. I appreciate the Board reminding your state pastors of the importance of modeling intentional self-care.
Beginning now through August 5, Jeff is on sabbatical. He will be totally unavailable during sabbatical. Alexis will be monitoring his emails in case you forget. Jeff won’t be answering his cell phone. The Indiana Ministries staff knows not to contact him. If you need something during this time that you might normally call Jeff about, just call the IM office and we’ll be glad to help you.
In the last 12 plus years that I have been involved as a staff member in state ministry, there are a number of times I’ve recommended a sabbatical to a pastor and talked to the church board about the need for the pastor to take a sabbatical. Many of these situations were prompted by emotional depletion, burn-out, fatigue, and/or significant crisis in the pastor’s life. While there are times when an impromptu sabbatical is needed, I think the best practice is for the board to approve a 13-week sabbatical every seven years for ministry staff and to incorporate that into the church’s employee handbook.
I often find that the idea of a sabbatical seems a bit strange to church people. Many view it from the perspective of their own job and few (other than educators) are afforded the opportunity to take a sabbatical. So they conclude their pastor shouldn’t have one either.
Ministry is a strange job. Yes, I know it is more than a job. But it certainly has job components. In many ways it is unlike other jobs. The demands of ministry take a spiritual, emotional, and relational toll on a pastor or associate pastor. Without time for renewal, those demands can wear a pastor down and even knock him or her out of ministry. Plus, there aren’t many jobs that the enemy of our souls takes aim at more relentlessly than pastors.
My mother-in-law was extremely involved in local church ministry (youth and then singles) for over 30 years when she joined the paid staff at her church. After about six months she told me that being on paid staff was so different from being a volunteer. People’s expectations and the demands of the work were so much greater than she had previously experienced or imagined. Studies about the mental, spiritual, and emotional health of pastors support that.
Pastors are constantly in a giving mode. Coping with time pressures and people’s expectations are a weekly reality that can erode time with God, cause pastors to have unrealistic expectations for themselves, threaten time for oneself and one’s family, and result in significant energy drain. As soon as the week is over, the next week begins with the same demands and responsibilities. I know every job has demands. I also know that ministry takes it toll on pastors at a much higher level than most jobs, thus the incredibly high drop out rate of pastors. Without periodic time for a sabbatical break, the drain becomes cumulative and there is little to nothing left to give.
A sabbatical is not a vacation. Rather, it is a time for a pastor to . . .
* Relax. Read that as simply doing nothing. Take time to break the normal schedule and slow the pace so you can reconnect with yourself, your spouse, your family, and God. Most pastors I know have great difficulty just relaxing in God’s presence.
* Refresh. This is engaging in activities that refresh your body, soul and spirit in order to recreate you at your deepest level. Usually these are fun things that pastors skip or limit due to time demands.
* Restore. Ministry can zap your passion as you deal with people, problems and people problems. Periodically, pastors need a break so that God can restore the passion, as well as the pastor’s relationship with Him.
* Revision. This can include spending time with a mentor or someone else who speaks into your life and does a little meddling. Journaling about personal discoveries can also be helpful.
* ReEngage. Resist the temptation to simply jump back in at the end of the sabbatical. Have a plan that allows you to ease back into responsibilities over a couple of weeks. If you lack this plan, your freshly recharged battery will drain quickly.
Thank you for your support of Jeff. He has been an incredible asset for Indiana Ministries. The entire staff love working with him and there’s no one I trust more than Jeff. He has played a significant role in the effectiveness of Indiana Ministries over the seven years and two months he’s been on staff. I’m going to miss him like crazy for these next three months. But I am thankful that he has this opportunity.
A last thought. Some of you need to plan and take a sabbatical. I’d be glad to have that conversation with your board if you’d like me to.