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Take a sabbatical? I’d love to but I just can’t.

Any chance you are feeling less than vibrant, stale, out of gas, tired, weary, and needing to recharge and renew? Any chance you’ve been experiencing a pandemic, political polarization, or a country contending with racial injustice? Or do you have a ministry area you really want to grow in but don’t have the time to pursue? Or perhaps some articles just waiting to be written or a degree to be finished?

It sounds like you might be ready for a sabbatical.

These can take many forms, shapes, sizes, and lengths. But many of us just don’t think this is possible or realistic. We buy into one of many myths about sabbaticals – I don’t really need one, my congregation can’t afford to give me one, they won’t survive without me for three months, our church is too small and there aren’t enough resources to cover bases while I would be away, progress and projects will have to be put on hold…those are likely just myths and the barriers you would face are not insurmountable.

Preaching or leading concerns?

There are retired pastors looking for opportunities to fill in. Members of your faith community have many gifts that can rise to the surface. Funding? This could become a part of the church budget or come from a special fund/offering/project. Organizations such as the Lilly Foundation and the Louisville Institute offer sabbatical grants. Perhaps your denomination has resources available for this purpose. I would be glad to brainstorm with you.

The fact is, loving others begins with loving and taking good care of ourselves.

You are not just a means to ministry ends. You are an end in and of yourself. We all need to consider ministry for the long term – not merely what is in the near view. Of course, you could limp along and make things happen for chunks of time. Yet is that really setting you up for ministry for the long haul? You could continue to drain yourself – “for the sake of others.” Yet is that really best for the congregation you serve?

I strongly suggest pastors have at least a three-month sabbatical every seven years, or sooner (utilizing a coach/mentor to walk with you along the way). This turns into a win-win scenario. This can be a shared journey for you and your community. You are healthier. You have more to bring to the table. You bring new perspectives. The congregation has a chance to trust. People have a chance to step up and serve in new ways. The congregation receives you back with renewed life. Talk with your denomination to find out the resources and requirements for your sabbatical.

True, it may be difficult to make this happen.

But this is a difficulty well worth taking on. I would encourage you to set aside the myths, lean into the challenges, and find a way to take advantage of a life-giving opportunity. My prayer is for your good and well-being – that all may flourish.


Rich Henderson

Rich has a deep history of providing leadership and training for churches and other non-profit ministries. Feel free to contact him if you’d like help considering a sabbatical by email at or visit his website at

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