Whenever a church explores the idea of giving their pastor a sabbatical, people will object.
- What if giving goes down?
- We can’t afford it!
- People will leave the church!
- Who will do the pastor’s job while he is gone?
- What if the pastor decides to leave the church?
In the article Why Your Pastor Needs a Sabbatical, Eric Geiger shares some similar objections: “One man boldly proclaimed, ‘The devil does not take a day off; if we want to make a difference in this community – how can our pastor take weeks off at a time.’ Another said, ‘It must be nice. I have worked my whole life and have never had one of those sabbaticals.’”
Jealousy or Resentment
“We don’t get a sabbatical, why should you?” Robert Saler says the issue shouldn’t be on how the pastor has a harder job but on how sabbatical renewal would be good for everyone. However, we must be careful here. There are unique challenges to pastoral ministry that make rest even more important.
A pastor can’t leave their work at the job site. They are caregivers and teachers by nature – their work flows from who they are. Like doctors, therapists, and emergency personnel, the type of work that they do can cause deep grief and pain. Pastoral ministry work comes from the soul rather than the hands or the mind. Resting the hands or the mind is easy: just take a vacation. Resting the soul requires complete disconnection, especially if their work involves grief, trauma, or conflict.
Many pastors, especially solo pastors, have much more stressful schedules because there is no routine. In his book Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture, David Murray writes, “Employees with the most flexible hours are also the most stressed, as their ‘always-on’ culture makes it hard for them to switch off and keeps stress hormones persistently high.” A pastor never knows when he will have to drop everything to attend to an emergency. This adds an element of stress to every night’s sleep, every day off, and every holiday. Some pastors even get called back from vacation to attend to their congregations. This shouldn’t happen but it does, and that makes all of life more stressful. For many pastors there is never an “off time.”
These objections usually start with the phrase “what if” followed by some dire prediction. What if people stop giving to the church? What if the pastor decides to leave? What if Jesus returns while the pastor is away? In many cases, these objections are so unlikely that they can be dismissed out of hand. Some present real concerns that may be possible, like a drop in attendance or giving. However, these are usually temporary concerns that will return to normal once the pastor returns.
The big issue with worry is that people don’t like change. They want to maintain the status quo because it is easier and more comfortable for them. Show these people how a sabbatical is good for the health of the pastor and how a healthier pastor will be better for the church. Help them understand the risks of not giving a pastor a sabbatical – burnout, compassion fatigue, etc. Without a necessary period of extended rest, you may end up with a bitter, angry, or uncompassionate pastor.
Whenever change happens, people will respond in fear. This usually comes through as a doom-and-gloom statement. “People will leave the church!” Or “I heard of a sabbatical that went bad for another church.” Such statements may have some basis in reality, but a healthy church need not fear them.
Sometimes it’s the pastor who experiences fear because of stories of bad sabbatical experiences. I know of one church that sent their associate pastor on a sabbatical. While he was gone the controlling members of the church decided they could do the job without him. So when he returned the pastor was let go. This is a sign of
Occasionally, a pastoral sabbatical will reveal bad things about the church, but the sabbatical is not the cause of those things. Going to the dentist doesn’t cause cavities, neither does taking a sabbatical cause problems – it only reveals them. Problems that are revealed are problems that can be solved. So while life for the church may get harder for a while, it’s most likely that they will grow to become healthier through giving their pastor a sabbatical.
Who will do the pastor’s job while he is gone? While this question has an element of fear, it is really a practical issue. Anxiety often comes from those who are already doing too much. They know better than most how much work it takes to keep a church running smoothly. A church that plans ahead can overcome this fear by enlisting the help of an interim pastor. This pastor can be booked in advance and he can work with the pastor and elders to develop a congregational renewal plan that could enhance the ministry of the whole church. Applying for a grant or budgeting in advance would make this possible.
Some pastors experience anxiety prior to a sabbatical because they are worried that the church will move on without them. The desire to be needed is common to us all, but it can be an unhealthy or prideful impulse – a sign that sabbatical is necessary to rediscover health and humility.
It’s impossible to guarantee that a sabbatical will go smoothly for both pastor and church. Like the rest of life, there will be
Let’s review what we’ve covered in this series of articles:
Sending your pastor on a sabbatical is good for your church.
A sabbatical is good for your pastor and church if planned well.
Any church can afford to send their pastor on sabbatical if they plan ahead.
What objections do you have about sending a pastor on sabbatical? How can these objections be turned into opportunities for growth? Please leave a comment below.
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© Sean Nemecek, 2018. All rights reserved. Request permission.
Sean Nemecek, (M.Div. Grand Rapids Theological Seminary) is the director of The Pastor’s Soul, and pastor at First Baptist Church in Tustin, Michigan since 2001. A third-generation pastor, he grew up listening to pastors and their families talk about the realities of ministry. Now he wants to use this knowledge to bless the church. Sean is married to Amy, a poet and freelance book editor. Together, they have a 17-year-old son.