A Sabbatical Guide for Pastors

Soul Shepherding’s Sabbatical Guide has met a huge need. It has been downloaded over 21,000 times from their website. It is the hope of the CCBA that through Soul Shepherding resources will help you find the encouragement and tools you need to receive all that God has for you.

This resource was created to assist in the setting up and engaging of a Sabbatical. If you need help implementing a Sabbatical we’re happy for you to contact us her at the CCBA.

What is a Sabbatical?

Most do not understand the heart of a Sabbatical. Their church members or ministry partners especially don’t understand the spirit of a Biblical Sabbatical.

A Sabbatical is not a long vacation. It’s not a time to read books on leadership or visit successful churches to learn from them. It’s not a time to write a book, do research, or work on some other special project. These are good things to do and it’s not that you can’t do any of them on a Sabbatical, but they work against the spirit of Biblical Sabbath rest.

Also a Sabbatical is not a job search and it’s not an elder imposed leave of absence to discipline a pastor. When these activities are done in the name of “Sabbatical” it breaks down the trust of church members. 


The purpose of a Sabbatical is extended Sabbath rest!

The Biblical precedent and Christian tradition is for pastors to go on Sabbatical once every seven years. Typical Sabbaticals today are from one to six months long, with three being a standard.

A true Sabbatical is a season of Sabbath for prolonged rest. It’s like stringing together a number of Sabbath days. It’s an extended time in which you do no work. You do no pastoring, no leading, no ministering, no visioning the future of the church, no sermon planing. You don’t try to accomplish anything big. You just “do nothing”!

Yes, nothing! Of course, we don’t do nothing as an end in itself — that’d be an empty legalism — our purpose is to worship our Creator and Redeemer (like the Bible teaches in the Sabbath commands of Exodus and Deuteronomy). The key to Sabbath rest is: “Do nothing! Don’t try to make anything happen!” Just be with God.

But most of us in Christian leadership can’t rest and BE that freely. Dallas Willard would say, “First, you need to train in extended solitude and silence with Jesus.” Eventually, after your body stops jittering, after your thoughts stop flitting about, after you start feeling your emotions, after your ideal self that performs and pleases is dismantled, after you experience your nothingness and nakedness before God, after you experience unconditional love, then you can hopefully begin to really rest in your body and soul.

We’re putting the words of Psalm 23 to the test. “The Lord is my shepherd,” we say with David. “I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.”

Ahh! There it is! He restores my soul. This soul restoration comes as we submit to the Lord as our Shepherd, lying down and being still in his presence.

Why Do Pastors Need Sabbaticals?

Possibly the single greatest need of the church today is the restoration of ministers. What is required is a quite different approach to their life and work. It is a matter of leading them into a massive shift of the dynamics of their personality under God, and one that cannot be done by more books and conferences. They need to be taken out of the circulation for a sufficiently long time to re-vision and re-structure their lives in communion with Jesus and his kingdom.

While some pastors and other Christian workers are afraid to step aside from their church or ministry for a Sabbatical, most would like to do this if given the opportunity! But Elder Boards, deacons, personnel committees, and congregation members, don’t understand the need for a Sabbatical. Most of them are coming from the business world where they feel fortunate if they get four weeks of vacation a year. Ironically, many secular companies like Nike and Google offer Sabbaticals for their long-term employees!

Pastoral work is extremely stressful and a lack of spiritual rest is especially hazardous to the effectiveness of pastoral ministry!

It’s very difficult for pastors and leaders to say no to the needs of the people they care for and to the unending opportunities to do God’s work and grow their church or ministry. But if they don’t care for their own souls under God, respecting their personal limits and nurturing their own relationships with God and their family, then their ministry eventually collapses.

Of course, people in other jobs work extremely hard and have great stress too. But if doctors, attorneys, police officers, CPA’s, or teachers get divorced they usually don’t lose their jobs! If their spiritual life grows stale probably no one worries about it. If they struggle with pornography, alcohol abuse, or other emotional problems it’s usually no problem for their work life, or if it gets in the way then once they get help they can go right back to work.

But pastors are called to a higher standard. Rightly so. Their work is sacred. They minister the Word of God to their congregations. They baptize new Christians. They marry the bride and groom. They conduct funerals. They care for hurting marriages and families. They help people who feel far from God get re-connected.

More than any other workers pastors are Christ’s ambassadors to hundreds or thousands of people. We need our pastors to be morally fit and spiritually healthy! Their message needs to match their character or people won’t follow them.

Pastor Stress Statistics Document Their Need for Sabbaticals

Many research studies have shown that pastoral work is acutely stressful, draining, and dangerous for the pastors and their families.

Here are a few of the statistics on pastor stress:

  • 90% work 55 to 75 hours per week
  • 90% feel fatigued and worn out every week
  • 91% have experienced some form of burn out
  • 70% have a lower self-esteem then when they entered the ministry
  • 70% fight depression
  • The average seminary trained pastor lasts five years in professional ministry

When pastors are over-stressed their marriages and families suffer too:

  • 80% feel unappreciated and left out and unappreciated by church members
  • 80% feel pressured to serve in ways that do not fit their gifts
  • Over 50% say that the most destructive event in their marriage and family was the day they entered the ministry
  • 80% wish their spouse would choose another profession

Pastors get so preoccupied caring for others that their own souls suffer:

  • 72% only study the Bible when preparing their sermons for others
  • 70% do not have a close friend
  • 50% do not regularly meet with an accountability partner or group
  • 44% do not regularly take a day off
  • 85% have never taken a Sabbatical!
I’m sure you’re getting the picture!
Unfortunately, most pastors will finally reach the end of their rope.


For pastors not to take a Sabbatical every five – seven years or so is like a person not having health insurance!

Of course, a Sabbatical alone won’t prevent a pastor or leader from burning out or blowing out morally, but it’s an important part of the pastor’s personal care and formation in Christ. It is the hope and prayer of the CCBA for your sabbatical to provide you spiritual rest and renewal and connect you closer to the Lord Jesus!