Why Do Pastors Need a Sabbatical?
by Becky Dietz
The very basis of the word “sabbatical“ is from the Hebrew word “shabbath“ which means intermission or sabbath rest. God set up the sabbath for the purpose of rest—and we were to keep it holy or set apart. Every seven days we were to rest.
A sabbatical is for the same purpose—to rest and to be renewed. Many universities give tenured professors a paid sabbatical after they’ve been there seven years. The sabbatical is usually for a year—but could be anywhere from a month up to two years. The idea is that the professor will travel, study, and rest and then come back renewed and energized to continue teaching the students. Many companies are now seeing the value in giving their leading employees a sabbatical for personal enrichment and professional development.
Why don’t more churches give their pastors a paid sabbatical? I believe most churches don’t realize the need or value it would bring. And, more realistically, they probably don’t think they can afford it. Not only would they be supporting their pastor during that break, but they’d also need to fill the pulpit while he’s gone. And then there’s the philosophy that if the layman doesn’t get that kind of privilege, the pastor doesn’t deserve it either.
Why DOES a pastor need a sabbatical? Very few professions minister to body, soul, and spirit. A pastor does. He or she spends time each week studying to prepare a sermon (or three), visiting and praying over the sick, doing weddings and funerals, doing civic and community outreach, ministering to people—even those who are not members of his church, counseling, helping, teaching, evangelizing, dealing with the finances or governing of a church, and doing many mundane physical jobs. The pressure a pastor feels is heavy. The smaller the church, the more he may be required to do. The larger the church, the more intense issues may be. In short...a pastor gives and gives and seldom receives ministry. He gets very little real rest. His mind is constantly planning and thinking of others and their needs. His vacations are almost always interrupted by the needs of his church. In fact, many times a pastor has to return home early from a vacation for that reason. He seldom is able to give attention to his family that they need.
A 2015 LifeWay Research survey of 1,500 pastors of evangelical churches revealed 84 percent said they are “on call” 24 hours a day. The survey showed 54 percent found the pastor’s role frequently overwhelming, and 48 percent said they often felt the demands of their job to be more than they could handle. And only 29 percent of churches have even considered having a sabbatical plan in place. My guess is even fewer implement a plan.
If a pastor is loved, (and by pastor, I’m referring to all pastors—youth, children’s, music, evangelism, missions, etc.) the best way you can show your appreciation for a job well-done is to give him an extended, continual time of paid leave. A time other than vacation. You have no idea how a pastor needs to lay down his responsibilities for a time so he can rest and be renewed. He needs to be in a position of receiving ministry. Genesis tells us that God worked six days and rested on the seventh. He set the example for us.
If I could offer every church one piece of advice concerning their pastor, it would be this: If your pastor has been in your church for seven years, give them a sabbatical and insist they take it! Most pastors are selfless and will work until they drop—it’s just hard for them to turn everything off. You may have to insist they get away. I can promise most pastors would have more longevity in their churches, a more positive outlook, and more energy and focus if they were being sent on sabbaticals every seven years.