A ministry sabbatical is a period of time, usually three months, when ministry leaders and congregation set aside the leader’s normal responsibilities for the purpose of rest and renewal toward sustained excellence in ministry. It is NOT an extended vacation, nor is it an academic sabbatical that normally involves extensive study. A ministry sabbatical is a release from the routine of the call for the physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual well-being of the ministry leader.
The Biblical Perspective
The word sabbatical is drawn from the word Sabbath. The Hebrew word for Sabbath means to ‘close’ or ‘rest’ and is connected with the last day of Creation when God rested. (Genesis 2:3) God both models and commands Sabbath rest for his people.
Jesus affirmed the importance of rest saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28) The Biblical example of Jesus’ own frequent withdrawal to a quiet place to meditate, pray and be renewed is a model for all pastors, the under shepherds chosen by God to lead His church. In Jesus’ ministry, the constant demands of people led him to step away on a regular basis.
Richard Bullock and Richard Bruesehoff suggest the following motivations for considering a ministry sabbatical:
- Continual spiritual growth facilitated by periods of rest and renewal is vital toward being an effective minister.
- Pastoral responsibilities are not contained within normal office hours and regularly involve weekends.
- Rapid changes in parish ministry can increase the likelihood of burnout without periods of rest and renewal.
- Burnout makes ministry and the minister, dull, hollow, and uninteresting.
- The congregation also needs the opportunity to examine their dependency on the ministry leader and consider expanding their own roles in the church as lay leaders.
The above reasons came from a study of Sabbatical from Wheat Ridge Ministries. Broom Tree Ministries would add to this one very important idea. Expectations of the American pastor are enormous and without extended contact with The Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the assignment is hopeless at best. This pastoral role can only be accomplished, regardless of the size of the congregation, with the direction, inspiration, devotion and leading from God.
Prolonged periods of meeting the constant demands of the people without time to re-connect with the Lord forces the pastor to operate with only his skills and out of his own strengths, abandoning the supernatural, Holy Power from Heaven. This may last for a time, but the church that allows that to happen is settling for second best. A pastor leader who has spent time at Jesus’ feet is prepared to lead with enthusiasm.