I definitely will have more reasons to write about when I talk to the leaders and members of our church community about the impact my sabbatical had on our organization, but in the meantime, here are the most compelling reasons, I have come to understand through going on my sabbatical, why I believe every lead pastor should take an extended sabbatical (at least 3 months) away from ministry every 5-7 years.
1. A SABBATICAL WILL FORCE YOU TO BECOME AN EMPOWERING LEADER.
One of the reasons you may be hesitant (or refuse) to take an extended sabbatical is that because you know the organization couldn’t function without your efforts present. If this is the case, as a leader, this is not something to be proud of. The goal of leadership in general and church leadership in particular is to get things done through other people.
With that in mind, one of the beauties of committing to a future extended sabbatical is that it will force you to start getting more things done through other people. An extended sabbatical will force you to prepare the organization to exist without you. An extended sabbatical will make you a better trainer, teacher, mentor, and developer of people. A sabbatical will loosen your grip on something that was never meant to be held so tightly—who does things and the way they are done.
The funny thing is, you should be doing this anyway because there will be a day when the organization will exist without you! (Unless you want it to die when you do.) So why not start preparing now?
2. A SABBATICAL WILL SUFFOCATE YOUR PRIDE.
The truth is, for many pastors, we think we are more important to the Kingdom of God than we actually are. We think our preaching matters that much. We think our leadership matters that much. We think our ideas and our strategies matter that much. We think our way of doing things is the best. We think if we’re gone, the church will lack something. I know this about you because this is what I thought about me!
Here’s what my sabbatical showed me in the clearest of ways: I truly, truly, truly am not necessary for the church of Jesus Christ to advance. Jesus promised he would build his church long before I was alive, and Jesus will continue to fulfill that promise long after I’m gone. Though I am thankful and overwhelmed that God would actually partner with me to build his Church, I am convinced like never before that HE is the one doing ALL of the heavy lifting.
In my absence, giving increased. In my absence, leaders thrived. In my absence, the gospel was proclaimed. In my absence volunteers were recruited. In my absence, disciples were made. One of the greatest cures for an unhealthy view of how integral you think you are to the advancement of the Kingdom of God, is an extended time away. A sabbatical is the sweetest tasting humble pie you will ever indulge in!
3. A SABBATICAL WILL BLESS YOUR SPOUSE AND CHILDREN LIKE NOTHING ELSE CAN.
If you have been in full-time ministry., as a lead pastor, for over five years, you may be able to keep working at the pace you currently are, but your spouse and children, very likely, want you to take a break. (If you don’t believe me, I dare you to ask them!)
During a sabbatical you can give your spouse and children a gift (that they absolutely crave) that is very difficult to give during the day in day out grind of pastoral leadership—your emotional energy. Emotional energy to be present. Emotional energy to listen. Emotional energy to thoughtfully respond. Emotional energy to serve. Emotional energy to hear from the Lord how you can love your family better. Emotional energy be bothered!
Though you don’t need a sabbatical to give this type of emotional energy to your family in smaller doses, if you desire to love your family with your presence in a way that is extraordinary, an extended sabbatical is necessary. My wife articulated it this way:
One of the best parts of your sabbatical was being able to have “the whole you.”
In the end, when you decide to take an extended sabbatical, you declare and more importantly show to your spouse and children, with crystal-clear clarity—you matter more. And unfortunately, the opposite is also true. If you don’t commit to extended seasons of rest you communicate maybe more subtly—you matter less.
4. A SABBATICAL WILL SHOW YOU THAT JESUS IS MORE GLORIOUS THAN A SABBATICAL.
Only when you get to thoroughly experience what you believe is best, will you discover that Jesus is better!
Getting 3 months away from work, paid. Going on a 25-day vacation to Italy. Eating the finest foods in the world. Playing video games for as long as I want. Purchasing our first home. These are the blessings I experienced during my sabbatical. Many would consider these things, if they were to experience them, “the best.” And don't get me wrong, they were wonderful.
BUT, and I’m not just saying this because I’m a pastor, during my sabbatical, my moments praising God and contemplating and resting in his love for me were infinitely more satisfying than the “stuff.” His love. His grace. His patience. His character. His worthiness. His power. His presence. These were all things I came to realize were way more precious to me than “the best” that a sabbatical could offer.
“Better is one day in your courts, than a thousand elsewhere.” My sabbatical showed me in this clearest of ways how deeply true King David’s words actually are. Jesus. Is. BETTER.
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN.
If you are a lead pastor, or anyone else who has ever taken an extended sabbatical away from work, why would you say a sabbatical is absolutely necessary? Please share in the comments below!