Why ministers need a sabbatical

“We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
–Mother Theresa

The work of a minister is unparalleled in any other profession. A minister is, before he or she is anything else, a disciple (or apprentice) of Jesus Christ–an under-shepherd whose work is under the charge of Jesus, the master shepherd.

The very heart of pastoral work is helping people to see how God is present and working in their lives, their circumstances, their experiences, even their hurts. Ministers do this one-on-one in conversation, they do it through preaching the Scriptures and administering the Sacraments in public worship, they do it as they lead sessions and other church teams into the future that God has for their congregation.

In reality, many people (especially Christians) actually fail to associate the work of ministers this essential work. They (we) often divorce what pastors do from its vital connection with the presence and ministry of God.

in a way, this is natural since no other profession in the secular west claims to have piety (or a connection with God) as its core or essential job responsibility. In a secular society, one enamored by business, pastors are more easily viewed as non-profit leaders or managers than saints, holy people. Speaking this way tries to make pastoral work comprehensible to everyone, but in the end does so by fitting a square peg into a round hole

No one else gets a sabbatical, so why clergy?

There are at least five reasons that clergy need to have a sabbatical every seven years:

1. Ministry is work unlike any other. No other professional is asked, in essence, to speak on God’s behalf. The pastor is, as David Hansen put it in The Art of Pastoring “a parable of Jesus.” That is, a representation of the way of Christ. Being Christ to the world is difficult work; being holy takes time.
2. Ministry is emotionally intense. Ministers are often paid less than comparably educated folk. They work for organizations that are (especially recently) often in financial stress. They deal with people who are experiencing distress. Ministry is a pressure cooker–it’s critical that clergy have time to decompress.
3. Ministry is hard on families. Ministers have to guard their time. It’s very easy to have a breakfast meeting every day (with parishioners unable to do lunches), a lunch meeting, and a committee meeting in the evening. Think about that–countless opportunities to eat unhealthily, numberless evenings at the church,…you get the picture. Add the stress of financial strain and dealing with people who may unrealistic expectations and this becomes a recipe for a really unhealthy workaholism and also for morbid obesity.
4. Ministers need time for focused study. In a given day it can be difficult for clergy to make time for sustained study. As much as ministry comes from the heart, it also has to come through the head. It is absolutely essential for clergy to be able to step back and drink richly of the streams of water that are the church’s reflections on the pastoral vocation over the ages. Otherwise, your pastor may become a slave to some recent innovation in conceiving of the minister and, with a good heart, lead the church astray.
5. Ministers need time for rest. This ought to be obvious: ministers just need time to rest. They need time to not be the “go to” person.

I know executives who take sabbaticals not by having them as part of their compensation, but by leaving their jobs and living off their wealth until they transition into other work. This is a luxury afforded by wealth. Most would look at a business leader like that with admiration. He is taking time to know himself more deeply, to think about the purpose of his life and his sense of calling to business–where he needs to grow, what he needs to start doing, what he needs to stop doing. The church and Christian ministry can only be enriched by more clergy taking sabbatical leave and thereby being restored, refueled, and re-launched into vital ministry.

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