Sabbatical for Pastors (Part 2): 7 Reasons

In Part 1 of my blog post on Sabbatical for Pastors I shared my findings on how widely (or rather, uncommonly) this is practised among churches in Malaysia. In this follow-up post I’ll give you my reasons for rooting for Sabbatical for Pastors.

The main contention against Sabbaticals is that, well, the rest of the people in the church don’t get one where they work (unless they are professors in an university). So, why should pastors get one?

What most don’t realise is that a pastor’s work is one of the most emotionally, mentally and spiritually taxing jobs in the world. For that, they need a Sabbatical to revitalise them, that a short vacation cannot do. They need an extended time away from an environment that drains them; and to spend that time in a different environment that can provide them with renewal in their body, soul and spirit. (By the way, I think that others like social workers and psychiatrists should also get sabbatical leave.)

Many cannot appreciate that the pastoral ministry is that demanding. They contend that someone who is responsible for hundreds of employees and accountable to shareholders and Boards for the bottom line has an equally (if not, more) stressful job. It is not my intention to get into a debate over this. However, I am yet to hear anyone who had moved from his or her “secular” job to become a full-time pastor say that the latter is less stressful than the former. In fact, the reverse is more accurate. Some have even secretly entertained the thought, “Why did I give up my job to work in the church?” (I know I did! And probably more times than I want to admit.)

Someone wrote to me after reading my previous post: “Israel didn’t give the land sabbatical rest for 490 years as God had commanded. This resulted in 70 years of exile; one year for every seven years.” Now, that’s a thought for us to think on.

Here are my reasons churches need to give their pastors sabbatical leave:

  1. The pastor’s job often takes a toll on him* emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. The Sabbatical is to give time to the pastor for personal renewal in all departments of his life. (*This also applies to female pastors, and the following statements should be read accordingly.)
  2. The pastor’s job not only takes a toll on him but also on his whole family in the same three areas mentioned above. It is not unusual for the wife and the children to be affected even more than the pastor. The Sabbatical in part is to give time for the pastor to have more quality time with his family.
  3. A properly utilised Sabbatical will empower the pastor for future ministry. A well-rested person (in body, mind and emotions) is obviously better able to handle the challenges of the pastoral ministry than one who is running on empty (or even, half-empty).
  4. A spiritually renewed pastor afforded through a Sabbatical will be able to provide better spiritual nurture and leadership to his church when he returns.
  5. The study and training acquired during the Sabbatical will further equip the pastor to serve his church.
  6. The pastor and his family will feel loved and affirmed when the church understands their pastor’s and family’s needs. Giving their pastor a Sabbatical shows in a tangible way that they do.
  7. It provides an opportunity for the leaders of the church to rise up to fill the gap during the pastor’s absence. In a larger church where there are multiple pastoral staff, it provides an opportunity for the second-man to step up. A step, perhaps, towards succession planning.

My four months Sabbatical in 2000 when I serving at Georgetown Baptist Church was possibly the best I’ve ever had. I started my Sabbatical browned-out from ministry and running-on-empty (or rather, running-on-reserves). I returned refreshed, changed and better equipped for ministry. Even my preaching style changed! The Sabbatical led to the best and most fruitful seven years of ministry ever at GBC!

Read the next blog post on what to include in a Sabbatical Policy. The need for this is to prevent misunderstanding and to give clarity on what a pastor’s sabbatical leave entails.

Leadership Succession From Within

This blog posting is a follow-up to the previous one I wrote, and I am calling it: Leadership Succession from Within. I wrote this article some 10 years ago for Georgetown Baptist Church’s 50th Anniversary magazine (2006). I have made some minor edits to make it more appropriate for the blog. I believe it is worth a read and  careful thought.

Succession Planning

Many churches start well, but when the pioneers or the pastors move on—the church starts to falter. This may last for years, until it is able to engage another capable pastor. The momentum, however, that had been built up during the previous pastor’s tenure is all but lost, and the new pastor has to practically start from ground zero.

To their credit, the leaders of Georgetown Baptist Church did well to keep the church going when the previous pastor left for Petaling Jaya: ably organizing themselves to provide pastoral care for the whole church and then still had the time, energy and vision to plant a new church in another part of the city.

It was not until December 1993, almost four years later, that I became GBC’s next pastor. Imagine how much more the church would have developed if there had not been such a gap—if there had been another pastor who immediately took over. Not just any pastor, but a pastor who had been groomed from within the church. Engaging someone from outside would mean time for the new pastor and the church to get to know and trust each other. Inevitably, I had to start almost from the ground. As a result the church hardly saw any numerical growth in the first four years of my tenure.

Before I left I was determined that this would not happen again; that there would be a pastor groomed up from within GBC and waiting in the wings to take over…. In such a situation there might still be hiccups, but certainly much less. This is because the succeeding pastor already understands the philosophy of ministry and vision of the church, he has worked with the church leadership, the members know him and have “taken to him”. Not that he will simply carry on doing everything that the previous pastor has done. Any good pastor will definitely introduce change, but he will have the advantage of building on the blocks—blocks that he has helped to develop in the first place.

Leaders must never fear raising up other leaders; even if it means that some of them will outshine us! That was what I aimed for. My goal was to pass the church into the hands of better men and women.

Paul was a great apostle—some say, the greatest. But in my mind Barnabas was the greater man. He recruited Paul because he saw Paul’s potential. He mentored Paul and wasn’t afraid that Paul might overtake him. Eventually when Paul did, he wasn’t concerned for his own face. My hope is to be a Barnabas to some Pauls.

Success is not about growing a great church. “Success” is about having a “successor” to take the church even further.