Written by: Bill Riedel
Bill Riedel is the founding and lead pastor of Redemption Hill Church in Washington, D.C. He was formally trained at Trinity International University (BA) and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (MDiv) and has served in ministry since 1998. He is also on the board of the EFCA. You can follow him on Twitter.
This following content was originally published on Acts 29’s website, linked here: www.acts29.com/pastor-take-a-sabbatical/
“I’ll have plenty of time to rest when I’m in heaven. I plan to die in that pulpit.” That was the response of an older pastor when I told him I was in the midst of a three-month sabbatical. I don’t mean to pick on the man. I’m certain I’ve thought similar things even if I haven’t said them out loud. We church planters tend to have a sense that we are the exception to every rule.
The past few years have been brutal. It’s unique that the whole globe has been touched by the challenges of a pandemic and division over responding to it. Barna Research cited that 42% of pastors have considered quitting in the past year. I’m losing count of how many friends I’ve watched step out of ministry altogether, have emotional breakdowns, or leave their churches amid conflict. Add to that the number of pastors and ministry leaders who continue to fall, disqualified from ministry.
If you read all of that and think about how you are the exception, you’re in a dangerous place. You aren’t a robot. Others don’t just need to suck it up and buckle down. The areas we are most proud of in our own lives and ministries often indicate our blind spots rather than our strengths. Even Paul said that he despaired of life itself (2 Cor. 1:8) and that it was in his weakness that Christ’s power moved most powerfully (2 Cor. 12:9–10). Can we at least admit that he is worth listening to and that we aren’t above him?
Maybe you hear that 42% statistic and can’t believe it’s not higher, because you know you’re in it. It’s not the kind of thing that’s easy to talk about in the church you lead, though. People’s expectations don’t leave room for that kind of weakness or uncertainty in the one called “pastor.” Maybe you’ve become numb, and you’re finding it hard to enjoy even the good things in your life. You’re not alone. We’re told to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. When we’re worn down and worn out, it can feel impossible to engage any or all of those parts of ourselves. There is a reason God gave us the Sabbath.CLICK TO TWEET
When Elijah was in despair after a massive victory over the prophets of Baal, God met him and told him to eat and get some sleep. Jesus often withdrew to escape the crowds and find solitude and rest in his Father’s presence. We can rest, too. We’re told to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. When we’re worn down and worn out, it can feel impossible to engage any or all of those parts of ourselves. There is a reason God gave us the Sabbath.
I encourage you to take a sabbatical; here are five reasons out of many.
1. Your heart needs it.
I’ve heard counselors talk about emotional elasticity. When we’re rested, it’s easier to bounce back from normal emotions—anger, embarrassment, fear, anxiety, sadness, hurt, and many more. We can feel emotions without being overwhelmed by them. The more our heart is stretched, the more it will lose its ability to bounce back. Pastoral ministry done rightly is a constant engagement and action from our hearts. The sabbatical break gave my heart a rest so I could regain some of its ability to bounce back.
2. Your soul needs it.
It’s easy to expend ourselves so deeply and constantly in our longing for others’ souls that our own is too weary to see God’s presence and goodness. It’s true that our feeling of being in a dry desert in our souls doesn’t mean anything about God’s actual presence, kindness, care, or nearness to us. Still, every pastor has had stretches of deep soul weariness. It’s not sinful, it’s human. A sabbatical gives you enough time to relearn how to slow down, notice God’s presence, and drape yourself into the arms of a good Father.
3. Your mind needs it.
Pastoral ministry takes constant mental engagement. We ought to read good books, saturating ourselves in theology. It’s necessary to keep up with the times and understand what is happening around us so we can help the people God has entrusted to us see how the gospel speaks into all of life. A sabbatical gives the space for your mind to rest, whether that means engaging in material you don’t normally have time for, or not engaging in any serious material at all. I’ve had a greater sense of perspective, sharpness, and clarity since the sabbatical break.
4. Your family needs it.
Our three kids are all teenagers. Suddenly the clock is ticking on how much time we have left with them under one roof. Through the sabbatical, I realized how deeply they felt my distractedness, uniquely since early 2020. Good and important things took attention away from the most important people in my life. My family needs my full, undivided presence and attention, and the sabbatical helped us hit a reset that we’re working to carry forward as we reshape rhythms through the coming months. My family needs my full, undivided presence and attention, and the sabbatical helped us hit a reset that we’re working to carry forward as we reshape rhythms through the coming months.CLICK TO TWEET
5. Your church needs it.
That’s right. I’ll cover more of this in a follow-up article. As pastors, we need to hear the constant reminder that this is Christ’s church. You can’t transform anyone’s heart or call the dead to life, but the Spirit can and does. You may feel a paternal love for the people in the church, but they have a good Father who cares for them, too. The church will benefit from the sabbatical break itself, and from a refreshed pastor on the other side.
I had never had a break like the three months I was given this summer. I knew I needed some time. I had no idea how much I needed it, though. My family needed an undistracted husband and dad more than I realized, too. All of this is my gentle encouragement to you, pastor. Take a break. Rest. If you have been grinding for a while and your church will allow you a sabbatical, take it. Don’t feel any guilt. Go get some rest.