This past Sunday, I gave a short update on my plans to take a sabbatical this summer from June-August. I’d like to share some answers to some commonly asked questions about sabbaticals for pastors and for me in particular.
What is a sabbatical?
The GBC personnel handbook states it very well. It says:
“Pastors need periodic times of focused rest and renewal in order to be the most effective for their long term-ministries, as well as to maintain freshness in their individual walks. Grace Baptist Church offers paid sabbatical leaves to all full-time Pastors after certain anniversaries of service. The sabbatical leave is not considered vacation time, but rather planned time away from GBC for the specific purpose of renewal, reflection, rest, and study.”
Sabbaticals are different from a vacation in that they seek to relieve everyday responsibilities of a pastor (i.e., preaching, teaching, pastoral care, administration) and providing space to take up activities that aim to produce life in the congregation upon his return. Unlike a vacation, which encourages time completely away from regular work and focuses on time with one’s family, a sabbatical is not a “workless” time. A sabbatical is specifically aimed at reinvigorating and renewing the mind and heart of the pastor and his family through rest, purposeful travel, writing, reflecting, and the space to meaningfully drink deep of the riches found in Christ.
I am profoundly grateful to our church for the generosity and grace offered to our pastors. Your willingness to allow pastors to take sabbaticals communicates great love and support. I believe it will allow for greater longevity and health for pastors and their families. And this will in turn be a great blessing to the church.
Are Sabbaticals Biblically Mandated?
The short answer is, no.
However, throughout Scripture we see the precedent that work is good; it is to be done with all our might, and yet it will be marked by difficulty and grief (cf. Gen. 2:15, Ecc. 9:10, Gen. 3:17-19). We also see that God in his good plan has designed and instructed us to rest (cf. Gen. 1:31; Lev. 25). The need for rest was intended to give God’s people regular and repeated experiences of receiving from him refreshment and provision so that they would not trust in their own labors for survival or security.
Consequently, while a pastoral sabbatical is not biblically mandated, it seems wise for a congregation to exercise sabbatical rest for their pastors. This practice releases pastors of regular tasks in order to take up a prolonged time of beholding the greatness of God and His redemptive work, which will lead to fruitful endurance for the church as a whole.
While I am the first pastor in Grace’s history to take a sabbatical, I have encouraged and will continue to encourage each of the other pastors to take one when the time is right for them.
If sabbaticals are not biblically mandated, and other professions don’t regularly offer such benefits, then why should pastors be afforded the opportunity?
While everyone faces vocational pressures, a pastor’s life does seem to have unique stressors. First, having the church as the pastor’s “job” doesn’t allow any time that is truly away from that work. Leading and preaching on Sundays, teaching a Sunday morning class, members’ meetings, funerals, hospital visits, church activities, and various other counseling and discipleship activities are rightly expected for pastors not just to regularly attend but also lead. Therefore, there is little to no work-life separation for a pastor.
Second, not only is there limited separation, the basic ingredient of a pastor’s work regularly deals with the weightiest realities in all the world—sin, suffering, sanctification, death, eternity. We understand Scripture to teach that pastors will give an account for how they shepherd souls under their care (cf. Heb. 13:17). This truth adds an undeniable weightiness to the pastor’s preaching, counseling, and decision-making. As a result, the weight of a pastor’s work brings consistent heaviness upon his soul that can’t be “turned off” or minimized.
The apostle Paul says it best when he tells the church at Corinth after spelling out all his troubles: “And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11.28). To be clear, it is not being suggested that a pastor is better or more deserving than anyone else. The uniqueness comes not in the nature of the person but in the nature of the work God and his local church has called the pastor to do.
Why am I taking a sabbatical now?
I have had the privilege of serving Grace Baptist Church for the last eleven years. It has been one of the greatest joys of my life to fulfill God’s calling on my life to proclaim the excellencies of Jesus Christ.
In those eleven years, I have been asked to step into roles that were incredibly difficult and often overwhelming, including painful pastoral transitions, confronting unrepentant sin, and walking with many families in their suffering and loss.
In particular, shepherding families through the loss of a loved one has been one of the greatest honors of my role as a pastor. In God’s providence, he has allowed me to come alongside dozens of families in their time of grief to bear the burden with them and point them to the hope of Jesus Christ. Many in our church know I have done a lot of funerals over the years. I did not realize how many funerals until recently when I counted and discovered I have conducted about seventy funerals in the last five years.
This kind of pastoral work has meant numerous hours in hospitals and homes, at all hours of the night. I truly believe this has been one of the most precious ways God has used me in my service to our church family and I would not trade it for the world. However, this has been a weighty responsibility that has taken an emotional toll on me and my family.
What will I do during my sabbatical?
In short, I will spend my time “doing” three things: resting, reading, refreshing.
· I plan on spending as much quality time with my wife and children as I can.
· Being intentional about investing quality time with each of my children individually.
· Taking a trip with my wife to help strengthen and renew our marriage.
· Taking 1-2 personal retreats where I can spend prolonged time studying God’s Word, communing with God in prayer, and reflecting on God’s goodness. I look forward to ways God will speak to my heart during this season of rest.
· Choosing several books from topics of interest and need that will help me grow as a Christian, pastor, and preacher.
· In particular, I am focusing on the topic of death and the hope of heaven. I have chosen a dozen or more books on this topic and hope to read many or all of them.
· Lingering in God’s Word, praying without hurry, and growing in my practice of the spiritual disciplines (i.e., silence, solitude, fasting, journaling, etc.).
· We have planned to spend most of the time out of the area. We look forward to taking adventures, traveling to new places, and discovering more about God and ourselves.
· I hope to meet with one or more spiritual mentors to help me learn how to become more faithful as a follower of Jesus and as a pastor.
· We will attend other faithful, gospel-proclaiming churches to sit under God’s Word and learn from other ministries.
· I will be thinking and praying about what it looks like to be a faithful and fruitful pastor at Grace Baptist Church for many years to come.
I plan to send out another email in a few weeks sharing how you can pray for our family. Thank you so much church.