Ligon Duncan on Sabbaticals for Pastors

Ligon Duncan provides answers on common questions about sabbaticals for pastors.

For more reading on the topic of endurance in pastoral ministry, see the book Faithful Endurance: The Joy of Shepherding People for a Lifetime edited by Collin Hansen and Jeff Robinson.

Below is a lightly edited transcript of the video above. Before quoting, please check the video to ensure accuracy.

I’m thankful that I live in a time when more churches are giving pastors sabbaticals. I think that’s a relatively new thing. I think it’s also something that is part and parcel of the breakneck speed and the constant unrelief that pastors experience in this particular culture. I can’t say for sure how often that ought to happen, but it ought to happen.

And let me just give this testimony. I served 13 years in my congregation before I had a sabbatical, and my first sabbatical, it was a life-changing experience for me. I had all these designs of books that I was going to write and things that I was going to do, and really what the Lord did is he dealt with my sin on that sabbatical. He put sin before my eyes that I was working on denying really hard and justifying really hard, and he made me deal with it, confess it, repent of it. And it had a profound effect on my life and ministry. My congregation said to me, when I came back from that sabbatical, “You’re different,” and I said, “Yes, I am because the Lord has been dealing with my heart on that sabbatical.”

I spent time with my family. I had plans for all sorts of things that I was going to read and do. I did a lot of reading, but the most important thing that happened on that sabbatical is God just dealing with me. And sometimes the pace of pastoral life keeps pastors from appropriately focusing on our own hearts because we’re focused on so many other things. We’re thinking about other people. We’re invested in the structures and the ministries of the church, and we’re not realizing how long we’ve gone without really fellowshipping with God, how dry we have become.

The pastoral ministry is a hard thing. You get your heart broken over and over in the pastoral ministry, and if there aren’t seasons of time where we come aside as pastors and God deals with our own hearts, we’re on the road to self-destruction. And so I do think sabbaticals in our own times are one of the ways that the church can help pastors stay fresh and stay in a healthy relationship with God as they continue in a healthy relationship with the leadership of the church, the membership of the church, and the mission of the church.