This year has been hard on everyone, especially pastors. Whether because tithing is low and so needing to let go of staff, people not showing up and having to re-strategize evangelism and discipleship, or the religiosity-political arguments dividing congregations, many pastors are stressed and leaving ministry due to being burnt out.
The graph below from Barna shows how strained church attendance is, even with digital services. “Data show that, as of September 2020, about one in five of those who would normally be defined as churchgoers (22% churched adults, 19% practicing Christians) says they have “never” attended a service during the pandemic, either in person or digitally.” Further, Outreach Research shared that “Up to 1 in 5 churches could close their doors permanently as a result of shutdowns from COVID-19 closure orders.”
One option for pastors is to take a pastoral sabbatical. 30 years ago, Eugene Peterson described it as follows:
If we are going to take sabbaticals, let them be real sabbaticals: a willed passivity in order to be restored to alert receptivity to spirit-prayer, silence, solitude, worship… The original intent of sabbath is a time to be silent and listen to God, not attend lectures; a time to be in solitude and be with God, not “interact” with fatigued peers. If help is to be given to the pastor in midcourse, it is not going to come by infusion of intellect but by renewal of spirit.Christianity Today. 1988.
What Do Counselors Suggest?
There are a lot of guides out there from great organizations like Focus on the Family or SoulShepherding, so if you want a ministry version of taking a sabbatical, go look at them.
Instead, I asked Christian counselors, “If you had the ability to speak into your pastor’s life when they felt burnt out and they decided they were going to take a 6 month or year long Sabbatical, what would you encourage them to do during that time? What would you tell them to avoid or go seek out?” Here were some of there answers that you should consider.
A therapy + spiritual direction combo. Silent retreat. Checking in + being fed by people who don’t “look up to them.S. W.
Eat. Sleep. Have fun. Go to counselling.Laura Howe
If you’re looking for book recommendations I love David G. Benner’s little trilogy: Surrender to Love, The Gift of Being Yourself, Discovering God’s Will. They’re only about 100 pages each but so transformational!Lauren Krause
Get out in nature. Join a group where they can be safely vulnerable and accountable for good self care and personal boundaries.E. T.
I’d love to hear in the comments, what do you think is a must on a sabbatical? If you took one yourself, what did you do that worked specifically for you?
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