The Importance of a Regular Sabbatical

Editors’ note: 

For more reading on long-term faithfulness in ministry with practical wisdom from veteran pastors, see Faithful Endurance: The Joy of Shepherding People for a Lifetime from The Gospel Coalition.

In this video, John Starke explains the when, how, and why of sabbaticals.


The following is a lightly edited transcript provided by a transcription service. Please check video before quoting.

I think that the best way to think about a church analyzing or considering giving their pastor a sabbatical is that it should never merely just be in response to exhaustion. So if you have a pastor who’s been going hard for 10 years without a sustained break and he’s burnt out, you may think at this point that maybe he should take a sabbatical. What’s going to happen is all the monsters and ghosts that he’s squished down during busyness are all going to come to the surface when he rests and sits with his family for the first time.
So when you don’t want a pastor going on sabbatical considering his calling, you don’t want to pastor going on sabbatical considering whether he’s walking with the Lord or “do I need to stay married?”, you need to have a regular rhythm. So I would encourage churches from the very beginning, put it in your constitution and bylaws that a pastor should be taking a sabbatical every five to seven years. Some contexts I think do have a healthy reason why they demand maybe every five years, but at least every seven years they’re getting a break of eight weeks to 16 weeks or however many seems appropriate so it’s a regular rhythm on top of a regular rhythm of Sabbath and rest.
Pastors are going to work hard, and they’re not going to be able to sustain a lazy schedule and keep their ministry. They’re going to work hard, and the weight is going to be heavy. So having a regular weekly rhythm but having an expected requirement that they step away from ministry for a sustained season should just be a regular rhythm not in response to exhaustion. But if it’s too late, if they’re already exhausted, I would dig deep into the budget and allow them financial means to seek some counseling for some soul care and get away on vacation because oftentimes pastors don’t have it in their own personal budget to take a six week vacation with their family or do anything for six weeks. And so allow the church to be generous even if it means just calling for a special offering and allowing the pastor to have that ability is really important. But oftentimes when they go away for a sabbatical it can be a very lonely season, especially maybe for the spouse where they’re having to think about new rhythms with kids oftentimes and new rhythms with a husband around. How do you care for both? This can’t just be a sabbatical for him and a more intense season for her as that won’t be healthy for them.
Think holistically, don’t let it be reactionary. When you do sabbaticals, think about the whole family.