The concept of a sabbatical finds its roots in sacred Scripture:
“You are also to count off seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years, so that you have the time of the seven sabbaths of years, namely, forty-nine years. ‘You shall then sound a ram’s horn abroad on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the day of atonement, you shall sound a horn all through your land. ‘You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants It shall be a jubilee for you, and each of you shall return to his own property, and each of you shall return to his family.’You shall have the fiftieth year as a jubilee; you shall not sow, nor reap its aftergrowth, nor gather in from its untrimmed vines. ‘For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you. You shall eat its crops out of the field.” -Lev.25:8-12
Even before the time of Christ, the Old Testament already supported the idea of taking a sabbatical. Pastors engage in this practice as their God-given time to rest and reflect on what will contribute to their spiritual development.
The Trustees of Columbia University gave a statement on the year 1907 regarding the practice of sabbaticals:
“The practice is now prevalent in Colleges and Universities of this country where granted periodic leaves of absence of their professors were established, not in the interests of the professors themselves but for the good of university education. University teaching must be progressive; it requires on the part of the teaching body, as it were, a periodic refurbishing of its equipment. It is not merely national, it is international; contact with other institutions, with specialists of other countries, with methods of acquiring and imparting knowledge in vogue elsewhere, which cannot be obtained during summer vacation, as is this period of rest practically everywhere, is for the real University teacher an intellectual and practical necessity.”
This statement is true for church pastors as well.
According to the Old Testament, a sabbatical is considered a sacred practice that was implemented by God himself so that His people could take time to reflect on positive things and empower themselves with greater wisdom and a closer relationship with Him.
Sabbaticals are indeed essential for pastors to discover new ministries, reflect about life, and improve their spirituality.
What Is A Sabbatical?
In terms of sabbatical leave for pastors, the practice focuses more on the aspects of intellectual and spiritual improvement rather than simply the taking of a break for the purpose of rest or vacation.
There are many activities a pastor may engage in while on Sabbatical leave; however, there are also some activities that may contradict the spirit of a biblical Sabbatical. Reading books, doing research on church-related topics, and working on some ministry projects work against the essence of biblical Sabbath rest.
The following verses from the Old Testament show how God himself told his people to observe a sabbath day:
“Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. ‘Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it, you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you, so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. ‘You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day.” -Deuteronomy 5:12-15
Why Do Pastors Need A Sabbatical?
Pastors always rely on Scripture as the source of all they will preach in their vocational ministry. The Bible is also their basis of how they should live their everyday lives and how they should manage their actions.
Since the early days, the Bible has always been the primary guide of not only pastors and preachers but also all of God’s people throughout the world. Therefore, following what sacred Scripture implies, it is essential for pastors to take a Sabbatical rest as members of the Church of Christ.
During the duration of a pastor’s sabbatical leave, they should not engage in any work-related activities but focus on reflecting on life itself and develop a deeper relationship with God.
Statistics On Pastor Stress
Recent studies indicate that pastoral work is actually quite stressful, tiring, and may lead to more severe risks for both the pastor and his family.
Here are some gathered statistics on pastoral stress:
- 90% of pastors have to work 55 to 75 hours per week.
- 90% of pastors always feel fatigued and tired at the end of every week.
- 91% of pastors often experience some form of burn out.
- 70% of pastors are often low in self-esteem during their first days in the ministry.
- 70% of pastors have to deal with depression
- Average pastors who were formed inside a seminary usually last for only five years of ministry service.
Here are some statistics that pertain to the negative impacts of over-worked and over-stressed pastors to their families:
- 80% usually feel that they don’t belong or feel left out by other members of their ministry.
- 80% are coerced to serve and engage in some church-related activities that aren’t within the reach of their capabilities.
- 50% say that entering the ministry as a pastor can be the most destructive aspect that can ruin his marriage.
- 80% of pastors’ wives wish that their partners would consider switching to other professions.
Here are some gathered statistics of over-tasked pastors who forget about the real essence of their sacred work:
- 72% of pastors only study the Bible because they are pressured to possess some biblical wisdom to deliver their sermons.
- 70% of pastors do not have friends outside the ministry.
- 50% of pastors lack the time to hang-out with other communities as they are deeply embedded in their ministries.
- 44% of pastors don’t have regular days-off.
- 85% of pastors don’t practice a genuine spiritual sabbatical break.
As you have seen from these statistics, there is a higher number of pastors who are suffering from being overly stressed, lack of devotion, and fragile relationships with their spouses. This is a very strong indication that a sabbatical leave is indeed an essential practice that all pastors from different ministries should consider.
What Activities Can A Pastor Do On A Sabbatical?
There are plenty of activities a pastor can engage in during Sabbatical leaves. However, some contradict the spirit of a biblical sabbatical that pastors need to avoid in order to be able to practice the real essence of a biblical Sabbath.
Here some activities pastors can engage in during their sabbatical rest:
Involvement in other ministries and charities
Being involved in other ministries and charities is a good use of a pastor’s sabbatical. It is ideal for a pastor to be surrounded by other communities that will significantly improve his interaction skills with people. A pastor must give himself time to interact with other individuals from different communities through ministry gatherings and opportunities.
Setting and accomplishing a short-term mission
It is ideal for pastors on sabbatical breaks to travel and go to other places to discover more about other people’s ethics and widen the reach of their sacred work: spreading the Good News of God.
Visiting other ministries or churches
Another great activity for a pastor on a sabbatical leave is to search for churches he can visit for learning purposes and sharing of wisdom to other church members that will result in a deeper bond of different church ministries.
Participating in a spiritual retreat
A spiritual retreat is a vital aspect of nurturing vocations and forming a closer relationship with God. Spiritual retreats are often practiced by seminarians, religious organizations, or any member of the church. This practice aims to help church members reflect on their God-given lives and to address any personal sins hindering their walk with God.
Engaging in in-depth theological research
Studying theological topics are ideal activities for pastors on sabbatical leave. There is always more to learn, especially when it comes to Theology. This will significantly contribute to the pastor’s future preaching and teaching ministry.
Volunteering at crisis centers
Many individuals throughout the world suffer in severe conditions such as famines, wars, plagues, or being underprivileged. Taking the time to care for those less fortunate is an opportunity to develop a true pastor’s heart.
Volunteering at a crisis center is an opportunity for a pastor to practice what he preaches by extending a helping hand to those who are less fortunate and to those who are suffering from different kinds of world conflicts.
Involvement in a prison ministry
Since the church believes in a forgiving God, pastors, or other members of the church have the exciting opportunity to preach the Good News that offers both forgiveness and transformation for all those who put their faith in Christ.
Prison ministry is a powerful way to for a pastor to have a deeper encounter with God’s forgiveness and redemption.
Often times pastors find themselves with very fragile marriages. Or struggling with poor emotional health or spiritual discouragement.
It is ideal for pastors to make time during their sabbatical breaks for marriage or personal counseling.
Good, biblical counseling can help a pastor return to his ministry more whole and better able to minister to the needs of others.
The idea of a biblical sabbatical leave for pastors is and always will be necessary for their well-being, mentally, spiritually, relationally, and physically. As the bearer of God’s Good News, pastors should consistently look to and reflect the wisdom of Scripture so that they can better serve their congregations as true shepherds.
Have you been helped by a sabbatical at any point in your life or ministry? Share your experience in the comments section below.