Pastors Need to Take a Sabbatical

Jay Fowler | , ,

Pastors Need to Take a Sabbatical

It is tough being a pastor! It’s tough being in full-time ministry! We think its hard now, but it has always been a challenge. Look at what Paul said about his ministry,

2 Corinthians 11:23-29 (NIV)
23  … I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24  Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26  I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27  I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28  Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29  Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

Stats on being a pastor

  • A recent study of pastors by Duke Divinity School found that pastors deal with anxiety and depression at a significantly higher rate than the rest of our culture. ~ The Journal of Primary Prevention, December 2013, Volume 34, Issue 6, pp 439-453, Date: 22 Aug 2013,
  • A study being conducted at the University of Notre Dame says that one third of clergy report moderate to high levels of burnout.  50% of pastors report moderate to high levels of exhaustion. ~ The Flourishing in Ministry Project Mendoza College of Business University of Notre Dame, 2013., pp19-20

Resilient Ministry, by Bob Burns, is a book written based on seven years of research of pastors and wives. The following quotes from pastors reveal the challenging nature of ministry.

“I don’t have anybody that I open up to about my life, my family or my ministry. I feel like a guy who is driving over the speed limit on a narrow mountain road without barriers. It’s the grace of God I haven’t driven off.” P.11

“The relentless nature of ministry means that fatigue is a constant companion of leaders in the church. While laypeople joke about ministers only working on Sundays, the truth lies on the other side of the continuum. A pastor’s work is overwhelming because it wears upon the body and soul.”  P.16

“I feel like Frodo. In the Fellowship of the Ring, he’s talking to Gandalf and says, “I feel like butter spread over too much bread.”  I just feel like I’m tired and running on fumes.”  P. 22

There are many things the Lord calls us to do as pastors, which will help us stay healthy and spiritually connected to Him. One of those things is to take a sabbatical at least once every seven years.


The concept of sabbatical is rooted in the biblical concept of “Sabbath” which God modeled (Genesis 2:1-4a) and commanded (Exodus 20:8-11).   In Leviticus 25:1-7, the Lord says that after the sixth year the people were not supposed to sow the fields or harvest a crop.  The land was allowed to rest, and therefore, so were the people.

Sabbaticals have often been used in church and academia to provide a time of rest, recovery, renewal and re-education for the individual staff member.  Many businesses are now providing paid sabbaticals for employees. (See Appendix for articles)  It is important for clergy and pastoral staff to model God’s design for Sabbath rest.  A time of sabbatical is important both in the sharpening and renewal of the pastor and for the health and strength of the Church.


The primary purpose of the sabbatical is for the physical, emotional, spiritual and relational renewal of the pastor.  For this to occur the Pastor needs time away from the people and needs of the congregation he or she serves.  It is a time to draw near to God in an undistracted and prolonged way. We see examples of this in the lives of Moses, Elijah and Jesus. All these godly men had extended time away from people and in the presence of the Lord.

(Ex. 24:18, Ex. 34:28, 1 Kings 19:8, Mark 1:13, Mark 9:2)

Jesus once said to his disciples, “freely you have received, freely give.” (Matt 10:8.)  Most pastors spend extraordinary amounts of time, pouring out their energy, prayers,  ideas, creativity,  and their very selves for those they serve.  The result can be spiritual, emotional, and intellectual and relational burnout.  Sabbatical then, is a time for the pastor to receive.  The by-product of a pastor who’s been refreshed by a sabbatical, is that the church members receive back a pastor has renewed energy to lead and to model healthy Sabbath rest as a follower of Christ.


It’s undeniable that pastoral ministry takes a toll on a person. But God in his love and wisdom, has offered the sabbatical as a way of refreshing those who shepherd his flock. Congregations should encourage their pastor to take sabbaticals at least once every seven.  Pastors should model the importance of taking time away from ministry and drawing near to God. It shows the congregation that the pastor is not the Messiah, and that he/she needs times to receive from the Lord. And that God is good. He loves to refresh and restore all those all. As Jesus said,   “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 (NIV)


Should companies offer sabbaticals? by Fortune Editors,  JANUARY 3, 2011, 6:31 PM ED.

Workplaces for Sabbaticals

Why Paid Sabbaticals Are Good For Employees And EmployersHere’s what the company learned.


Jay Fowler - PastorServe Midwest Region Executive Director

Jay Fowler, Executive Director of the Midwest Region of PastorServe

Since joining the PastorServe staff in September of 2014, Jay has connected with hundreds of pastors in Kansas City and beyond. He grew up in Prairie Village, Kansas, and graduated from the University of Kansas with a Bachelor of Science and Secondary Education in Mathematics.  He received his Master of Divinity from Virginia Theological Seminary, and has been in full time ministry for 34 years. He is an ordained Anglican priest in the Anglican Church of North America.  He has been married to his wife Janine for 30 years and has a son and two daughters.


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