How Taking A Sabbatical Saved Me

Nick Ballard
March 20th, 2019

HChurches can be notorious for running their pastors to the ground.

Recently, a large plane manufacturer has been in the headlines, as two of their newer model planes had experienced catastrophic crashes due to some malfunctions. One of the airlines that flew this model and experienced a tragic crash several months ago was once again highlighted for having a dismal safety rating in the airline industry. It was noted that this particular airline was cutting many corners to make the most money. This included lower wages, poor systems checks, and not allowing pilots to get the necessary rest and sleep that is required to operate and fly planes safely. The leadership’s lack of care for their employees resulted in unsafe conditions, and ultimately, loss of life. All to make as much money as possible.

Unfortunately, this is all too common in our churches as well. Everyone wants results, and church leadership is no different. When you’re at the top of an organization or church, it’s easy to focus only on results, rather than the healthiest way to sustain those results. The truth is, when pastors get pushed to the brink, real damage begins to happen, and “results” start to unravel. A healthy leader produces a healthy ministry. An unhealthy leader may produce flash results, but they will fade as the leader does. If churches would understand that it takes health to produce health, I believe we would be seeing much less burnout from pastors, as well as many marriages and families saved.

To stick with the whole airline metaphor, it’s very much like the oxygen masks. When they are deployed, everyone knows that you have to put yours on first, before helping others. When you have oxygen flowing in you, you can help others get the same. Unfortunately, so many pastors are pastoring without oxygen masks. Resulting in leaders trying to pour an empty cup into another’s cup .

I have been in ministry for 14 years now, at 2 different churches. When I got to my current church, I was informed that every pastor on staff gets a full one-month sabbatical for every 5 years they are employed at the church. This is fully paid, and it is on top of your normal vacation time. So, on my 6th year, I got my first sabbatical. I was excited, yet nervous as to what I was going to do for a month. I was reminded what the point of a sabbatical was:  FILL UP. Fill up spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and maybe not so much physically. I knew I needed to fill my cup. So, here’s what I thought was beneficial for my sabbatical:

1.     Fill Up w/Family. Yep, I put this one first. Family. The people in your life who support you the most while also getting shafted the most. The trips, the nights away, the random events, the weekends. They sacrifice so much, so this was a priority for my sabbatical. Yes, this meant family vacation. But more importantly, it meant multiple consecutive days where I’m just at home. I was off work and they had my full attention. We would still attend church on Sundays, just not our church. I would get as many date nights in with my wife as we possibly could.

2.     Fill Up w/Jesus. Now, I’m not saying that my family is more important to me that my relationship with Jesus, but I am saying they need me to be with them more than Jesus needs me to be with him. Still, filling up with Jesus was still a priority for my sabbatical. I took this a few ways. One, there were days that I simply went to the library where I read and journaled. Two, there were a few days where I road-tripped to visit mentors of mine. I took a one, full-day road trip through 2 states, stopping at multiple places to visit, eat with, and even hear preach, mentors or pastors that have helped shape me. This was life-giving, for sure! And three, one thing I knew I wanted to do, was read more Scripture, read more books, and pray more than I normally do. I wanted to be challenged, and I wanted to simply be with Jesus. And lastly, I realized that it’s important to have a plan when doing this. So, I made a reading list, as well as planned a spiritual retreat for just myself.

3.     Fill Up w/Yourself. One thing we may take for granted is our need to re-charge by doing things we love to do. It could be hiking, working out, playing video games, traveling, whatever! I wanted to try and make sure that I found a little bit of time to enjoy myself as well, while being careful to not sacrifice too much family time to do so.

I believe that if you’re able to spend some intentional time doing these things on a regular basis, our safety record as pastors will become more impeccable, and our ministries and families will produce stronger and lasting results. If you do not currently take or have a sabbatical, I would recommend coming up with a plan or a case to your leadership, as to why sabbaticals are necessary. They don’t always have to be a month. Our staff also gets one Renewal Day a month to get out of the office and spend with Jesus. Even that could be a good start!

Once I returned from my sabbatical, I was ready for another 5 years! I also truly believe that these sabbaticals and renewal days have given me more longevity in youth ministry as well!

A healthy leader produces a healthy ministry, which leads to a healthier church or organization!

Have you taken a sabbatical? If so, what did yours look like?

Nick Ballard

Nick is the Next Gen Pastor at Harvester Christian Church in St. Charles, MO, which is outside of St. Louis. Nick has been in full-time student ministry since 2005. He's been married since 2004, and been a father since 2011. Nick loves student ministry, the local church, and believe that God has big plans for this generation of teenagers. Follow Nick at Twitter @nicksville or check out www.studentministrylife.com

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.