INFORMATION ABOUT PASTOR MIKE’S SABBATICAL
A LETTER FROM A LONG-TIME PASTOR EXPLAINING THE NEED FOR PASTORAL SABBATICALS:
For the first 30 years of my life as a Christian and church member, I scoffed at the idea of pastoral burnout. It seemed to me that a pastor’s life was one of ease. After all, he only worked one day a week and that was only for a half-day. How difficult could it be? Then God called me to pastoral work and I realized how totally wrong I had been. I have since developed a much greater appreciation for the overall workload and stresses placed on a pastor’s life and the life of his family. As you read this letter, there might be some skeptical looks and raised eyebrows. One of the primary goals of the Maranatha Conference is to promote church health. Generally, healthy churches are led by healthy pastors. Our pastors are not a disposable asset. Several churches in the conference are declining and others are struggling just to maintain what they have. Relatively few are growing and healthy. Not coincidentally, there are several pastors who are either burnt out or rapidly getting there. Let me share some statistics concerning North American Churches.
The American Church:
- Churchgoers expect their pastors to juggle an average of 16 major tasks
- Pastors who work fewer than 50 hours per week are 35% more likely to be terminated
- 87% of Protestant churches have full-time pastors
- 76% of all congregations in the US are either plateauing or declining
- The typical pastor reaches a level of greatest impact on a church after five years
- The average pastor lasts less than five years
- 1,500 pastors leave ministry every month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout or contention in their churches; of those who leave for moral failure, follow up indicates they were exhibiting signs of spiritual burnout long before the moral failure
- 50% of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce
- 80% of pastors and 87% of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their roles
- 50% of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave ministry if they could, but because of their specific training and calling, they have no other means to make a living
- 80% of Seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years
- 70% of pastors constantly fight depression
- 70% say the only time they spend studying the Word of God is when they are preparing a sermon
- 80% do not have a close friend or confidant, nor do they time to develop one
- 80% feel their spouse is overworked
- 80% wish their spouse would change to another profession
- Over half say the most destructive event to occur in their marriage and family was the day they entered the ministry
- 80% of pastors’ wives do not have one woman that they would consider as a close friend in the church their husband pastors
As you can see from the statistics above, many of our pastors and their wives feel isolated and ineffective. What solutions are available to encourage and support our pastors?
“And on the seventh day God finished His work that He had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done.” (Genesis 2: 2)
“For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and when they leave the beast of the field may eat. You shall do likewise with your vineyard and with your olive orchard. Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest; and the son of your servant woman and the alien may be refreshed.” (Exodus 23: 10-12)
“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11: 28)
“For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12: 8)
“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from His.” (Hebrews 4: 9-10)
When and where do our pastors find their Sabbath rest?
The expectations placed on them by congregations and the expectations they place on themselves place great demands on their time and energy.
Most pastors are on call 24/ 7 for whatever emergencies may arise. They are expected to have the correct answer in all of life’s situations and to serve as mediators to all types of disputes. They are expected to provide council and support to all those in need but to never need it themselves. I spoke with a pastor who lost two children when they were swept off a bridge during a torrential downpour. At the time, his wife was giving birth to another child. The whole church gathered to offer her comfort and support. The expectations were that he would find his comfort in God and would, in fact, comfort the congregation. He was, after all, the pastor and should be able to handle this better than anyone. It wasn’t until a group of elderly women, prayer warriors all, came to his home and offered him comfort and prayer that he was free to become a grieving father.
It is important that we remember how very human our pastors are— that we allow them space to rest in God and be spiritually, physically and emotionally restored.
This is a level of refreshment and restoration that is not attainable in a family vacation. It is only attainable by a Sabbath rest.
Your pastor is not likely to ask you for it, but allowing your pastor to become trapped in a cycle that continually drains their resources until they literally have nothing left does not benefit them or your church. The reaction of many churches when they see their pastors at this point is to replace them. Both the pastor and the church they serve would benefit from a time of sabbatical rest.
Q: I’ve never heard of a sabbatical before. Why is it important to the LBA to offer a sabbatical to Pastor Mike
A: Here are five reasons:
- It aligns with Wesleyan Denomination’s recommendation (paragraph 724 of The Discipline of The Wesleyan Church)
- It is a significant learning and enriching experience that will greatly enhance our collective understanding of scripture and how to apply it in our lives.
- Pastoral ministry carries another dimension of weight to it, and providing this opportunity is a special way to appreciate and value the Lead Pastor role. A sabbatical is a period of paid leave, granted to a pastor, usually after seven consecutive years of service. The leave is designed to accomplish a purpose and specific intent. During a sabbatical (or a spiritual renewal leave), Pastors engage in activities and experiences that offer rest, education, and vision-enhancement, as they seek to hear clearly from the Lord, and bring an even better version of themselves back to serve their congregation.
- Pastor Mike celebrates 26 full-time consecutive years of pastoral service in The Wesleyan Church and 30 years of total ministry service.
- This is an increasingly common benefit offered to pastors as a result of the wording found in The Discipline.
Q: What Does Spiritual Renewal Look Like for Your Pastor?
A: A sabbatical rest will be a time to disengage gears from 26 years of pastoral ministry to cease from the usual routine of sermon preparation and preaching, meetings, counseling, giving advice, weddings and funerals, the administration of day to day church affairs and the daily shepherding of people.
It is a time for:
- A complete break from ministry at New Hope
- Rest, reflection, evaluation and some travel
- Quality time with family
- Attention to unfinished personal projects
- Getting recharged by quality time in God’s Word and other inspirational reading
- Renewed focus and vision for New Hope
- Dreaming dreams and receiving visions
It is NOT considered to be a time of…
- Extended vacation
- Sick leave
- Focusing on negative aspects of ministry
- Doing things that distract from the central purpose of rest and renewal
Q: Is the sabbatical policy new?
A: The Wesleyan Denomination adopted a sabbatical provision policy in 2004. While the policy has been in place at the denominational level, New Hope had not specifically aligned its policies with this until now. The LBA performed extensive research on this practice and formulated the Lead Pastor Sabbatical Policy.
Q: How long will Pastor Mike be gone?
A: Pastor Mike will be taking a summer sabbatical beginning June 5th, 2017 and returning the end of August.
Q: Who will cover for Lead Pastor while he is away?
A: Consistent with normal practice, The Lead Team and staff will continue to manage day- to-day operations. Specifically, the Lead Team (with LBA governance as needed) will address issues that would normally be handled by the Lead Pastor. If needed, there is a process in place for emergency matters that may require contacting the Lead Pastor.
Q: How will we know the sabbatical was effective in meeting its stated purpose?
A: 1) The LBA carefully reviewed and approved the Lead Pastor’s itinerary and plan, through the criteria of Rest, Education, and Vision.
2) The Lead Pastor will share key learnings from this experience during a time of telling, with the entire congregation.
Q: Are pastors, who are not Lead Pastors, eligible for sabbaticals?
A: The LBA feels strongly that aligning New Hope’s policy with the Wesleyan Denomination’s encouragement to provide sabbatical for pastors is important. For this reason, a pastoral staff sabbatical policy is now in place for staff pastors who are eligible.
Q: Who is going to be speaking while the Lead Pastor is away?
A: The worship arts ministry, in conjunction with the lead team (with approval from the LBA), have planned an incredible lineup of guest pastors and speakers this summer. Pastor Mike will be teaching once a month via video as well. Plan for an amazing summer filled with sermons.
Q: How is the sabbatical funded?
A: New Hope has provided some resources for key sabbatical expenses, which have been pre- approved by the LBA. The expenses are included as part of the operating budget. As stated in paragraph 724 of The Discipline of The Wesleyan Church (2012), each church is encouraged to provide a sabbatical leave for its pastor(s) at least every seven years of service. After surveying several like-sized churches, and seeking counsel of the Wesleyan Department of Education and the Ministry, the LBA has determined moving forward to include this as a budgeted line item.