A ministry sabbatical experience is not beyond reach for a congregation due to membership size, ministry context or somewhat limited resources.

Creative and shared planning with lay leaders who are committed to the concept of sabbatical and to the effort necessary to design an experience that is beneficial for both staff and congregation will make it happen.

A ministry sabbatical can bless both the ministry leader and congregation. The program is designed to be, in as many ways as possible, a shared experience. The membership expects that they, both as a congregation and as individual members, will receive specific, tangible benefits from a ministry leader’s sabbatical.

What is a Ministry Sabbatical?

A ministry sabbatical is a period of time, usually three months, when ministry leaders and congregations set aside the leader’s normal responsibilities for the purpose of rest and renewal toward sustained excellence in ministry. It is not an extended vacation nor is it an academic sabbatical that normally involves extensive study, rather a ministry sabbatical is a release from the routine of the call for the physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual well-being of the church worker.

The word sabbatical is drawn from Sabbath. The Hebrew word for Sabbath means to “close or rest” and is connected with the last day of creation when God rested (Genesis 2:3). God both models and commands Sabbath rest for His people. “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8-11). Jesus affirmed the importance of rest saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28). The Biblical example of Jesus’ own frequent withdrawal to a quiet place to meditate, pray and be renewed is a model. In His ministry, the constant demands of people led Jesus to step away on a regular basis. See also: Genesis 1 and 2; Exodus 20:8-11, 23:10-12; Leviticus 25:1-7 (Sabbatical Year), 24:8-25 (Year of Jubilee); Psalm 23; and Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.

Roy M. Oswald, a senior consultant with the Alban Institute, suggests that the rapid change and complexity of congregational life and ministry raises the need for three months of sabbatical rest and renewal every four to seven years. He believes that 20-30% of ministry leaders he speaks to are in a state of severe burnout. Another 20% of the same audience is on their way to severe burnout.

Richard Bullock and Richard Bruesehoff in Clergy Renewal: The Alban Guide to Sabbatical Planning, suggest the following motivations for considering a ministry sabbatical:

  • Continual spiritual growth facilitated by periods of rest and renewal is vital toward being an effective minister.
  • Pastoral responsibilities are not contained within normal office hours and regularly involve weekends.
  • Rapid changes in parish ministry can increase the likelihood of burnout without periods of rest and renewal.
  • Burnout makes ministry and the minister dull, hollow and uninteresting.
  • It provides the opportunity for congregations to examine their dependency on the ministry leader and consider expanding the roles of lay leaders.

Sabbatical Coaching Services

Greg Walton and Tim Fangmeier are available to assist ministry leaders and churches in the formation of sabbatical guidelines, plans, and funding issues. Connect with Greg at greg.walton@lcef.org and Tim at tim@giftedpeople.org.

Meet the Coaches

Greg joined LCEF’s Grace Place Wellness in Fall of 2022. He now oversees all aspects of Grace Place Wellness Ministries, which is a part of Ministry Solutions at LCEF.

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Since 2002, Tim has maintained ministry through the LCEF as a consultant to congregations and pastors.

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Download our free guide

We’ve curated a guide full of resources to help LCMS ministry leaders plan a sabbatical, including topics such as exploring funding, creating policies, working with the congregation and more. Click here to download the PDF.

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