Plus, order Alan’s booklet, How to Beat Burnout with a Sabbatical, on our website: https://walkandtalk.org/product/how-to-beat-burnout-with-a-sabbatical-book/
Pauly [00:00:07] Welcome to walking our talk with Alan and Pauly Heller, join our conversation as we discuss practical ways to apply spiritual principles to your everyday life and help you walk your talk one step at a time.
Alan [00:00:28] When the elders of Living Stream Church in Phenix, Arizona, suggested that the founding pastor, Mark Buckley, take a sabbatical after 28 years of ministry, Mark said no thanks. I wasn’t sure how practical it would be for me to be away from my church for three months, he says. I didn’t want living streams to lose people or momentum. I was basically too insecure to take our elders up on their gracious offer.
Alan [00:00:59] A year later, an infection got into my heart, destroyed my mitral valve and almost killed me. I had to take a couple of months off to recuperate. Our church did fine in my absence. Other pastors and leaders stepped up and covered my ministry responsibilities. As time went on, the church’s elders continued to encourage Mark to take a sabbatical. And then he says, I got a serious eye infection and it grew worse in spite of prayer and the best medical attention I could find after my eye was lanced and then medicated for a couple of weeks, it started to heal. Once it healed, I was ready to take a sabbatical.
Alan [00:01:50] This is Alan Heller and this is Walking Our Talk. And today we’re highlighting my booklet, How to Beat Burnout with a Sabbatical. And I’m reading from the opening paragraphs and what Mark Buckley and Christina, his wife, learned after a long time in ministry, the need to take a sabbatical marking his wife, Christina took a summer off. First, they cared for their grandchildren while their son and his wife vacation. And then they visited Mark’s elderly mother. He and Christina next spent two weeks trout fishing, biking, kayaking and swimming. They also visited several churches in Arizona and California. And at the smallest one, Mark felt God’s presence in the clouds of glory. During personal worship and prayer under an oak tree, Mark says the Lord gave me clarity for my ministry for this next season of life.
Alan [00:02:53] He also started working on his memoirs that he’s been meaning to write for years. And really at the moment, Pauly has helped a little bit and he’s had two or three people work on it and it’ll be published very soon. I don’t know how the Lord will use this book of stories, Mark says, but it’s been a relief for me to finally get them down on paper. I no longer feel the burden because of running away from the Lord’s assignment. And isn’t that true of so many of us, especially those who are leaders? We run away from the assignment just like Moses didn’t want and he didn’t want. He said, I’m no good at speaking, I can’t read, I can’t do this. And God just said basically, he said, shut up, Moses, I will give Aaron to help you and her. And I will be there. And you just say to the people I am that I am sent you.
Alan [00:03:50] So there are sabbaticals that are forced and there are those that are taken, you know, for a church to remain alive and healthy, its pastors must get away and recharge. Upon returning to ministry, you can know that the congregation will have a new pastor. Really, without such times of refreshment and replenishment, pastors are likely to burn out. The cost and time, money and the membership lost during a pastoral search are incalculable. And it’s a hard word to say incalculable. Congregational leaders are wise to take care of their pastors and to give their families a rest before they burn out. I just think this is a proactive way of dealing with your congregation and with leaders.
Alan [00:04:45] And because Mark loved ministry so much, he actually used up all the energy he had every day, every week, every year, to the point where he finally had to be forced to take a sabbatical. Some sabbaticals are forced and some are well planned and taken. I hope that before you go to the point of exhaustion and have to take a sabbatical, that you’ll plan one and that you might use this little booklet to help you.
Alan [00:05:16] So what is a sabbatical? Leviticus 25:4 says in the seventh year the land is to have a Sabbath rest and Sabbath to the Lord. God gave this command to Israel so that the promised lands fields would intermittently lie fallow, replenishing the soil’s nutrients. Similarly, his ministers need to take time to rejuvenate the soul of their lives. You know, I just spoke with a friend of mine who runs a nonprofit ministry, and he took two and a half days away alone in a hotel next to a beautiful park. And he got to sleep, he read, he planned, he thought, he didn’t do anything else but read the word and catch up on sleep. And he came back after two days and just said, I’m ready to go. So that’s one kind of mini-sabbatical. But many people, after working seven years, should get at least two to three months off and if they can, maybe even longer.
Alan [00:06:23] God gave the command to Israel and the promised lands fields so they intermittently would lie fallow and replenish the soil’s nutrients. And that’s what pastors need to do. When was the last time you replenished yourself? And if you want to get this booklet called How to Beat Burnout with a Sabbatical, please just write to me: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, just go on our website: walkandtalk.org. If you have any questions, feel free to give me a call at 602-499-2711 or if you want to email me, just email me or text me.
Alan [00:07:06] So the question is why take a sabbatical? In his book, support your local pastor, Russell Roberts quotes from a revealing survey of pastors conducted by the Fuller Institute of Church Growth and the survey quoted by Archibald Hart Fuller Seminary at Caregivers Forum in November. This was 1991. If you really want to get statistics that are much newer and unfortunately not much better, go to Barna Research. Barna has just done a very comprehensive study on pastors, but it says 90 percent work more than 46 hours a week and often more than 60, 80 percent believe their pastoral ministry is affecting their family in a negative way. And this is a sad thing that the pastors don’t take even a day off sometimes because, you know, the needs are there 24 hours a day. But we need to rest and recoup. 75 percent have reported a significant crisis due to stress at least once every five years in their ministry. Doesn’t that tell us that they need a break? And how much cost is it to the church and to their family when they are on a forced sabbatical rather than a planned one?
Alan [00:08:32] After my son died in 2010 of colorectal cancer, we had to take time off from ministry and then at some point I was depressed. I couldn’t even think or work. And God worked it out for me to take a sabbatical. But this was the hardest sabbatical I ever took because it was forced and I couldn’t even think I couldn’t enjoy it. And most of my years in forty-seven years of ministry, I have enjoyed my time of ministry because I would take regular times away, take vacations each week, once a week, take a day off. It’s helped me navigate through the years.
Alan [00:09:17] So now the navigator’s organization has prepared a thorough, insightful manual called Sabbatical Guidelines, a season of renewal for their staff members and in ministry. The messenger is the message. The messenger must embody the message when that is no longer true. It could be time to consider sabbatical. And I would say before it gets you get that far, we encourage you to evaluate how well you are doing personally and by letting the message take a sabbatical before you no longer are God’s message. And I just think that’s a very true statement. And again, it would be much better to plan it than to have to take it and to do it regularly.
Alan [00:10:07] One of the sabbaticals we took, we were thinking about joining a ministry in Franklin, North Carolina. It’s called the Christian Training Center. And we spent three months out there and for me, it was a sabbatical. I don’t think it was a sabbatical from Pauly, but she’s not here. So I’ll just tell you my experience. It was just great to be in North Carolina, the Smoky Mountains, to work doing physical work, which mostly I do ministry and fixing people, not things. And we just worked in the community. We ate meals together. We had time in the word. We had time for exercise. It was a refreshing time. And I came back from that really refreshed.
Alan [00:10:49] The navigator’s guidelines says when we use the word sabbatical, we’re not talking about a vacation, but a guided process where we deliberately trust God for the unfinished as we disengage from the normal ministry and leadership involvement to allow for serious evaluation of our life and ministry. Eugene Peterson in the message captures this thought. Are you tired, worn out, burned out on religion? Come to me, get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me, work with me, watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t let anything heavy or ill fitted on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
Alan [00:11:50] So why take a sabbatical? Wes Roberts says this. Why do you ask? Is this true? Roberts answers with following bit of musing, the lawyer can refuse to take a client. The pastor may feel like refusing to see someone come into the congregation, but that is not his privilege. The doctor can refer out to another doctor when it is best for the patient or him. The pastor is not often prone to send people to another church, though he may be thinking that in tough times he might do so. Though it may seem obvious to pay attention to what Dale Will says in his book that sabbaticals for ministers, the benefits of the pastors and congregations, he says, a time for renewal and development of relationships with God and others. A sabbatical allows God to refresh you through extended, unhurried times of prayer, meditation and quiet. I think the unhurriedness of a day off or a sabbatical for a couple of months or three months is some of the greatest treasures you can get if you’re a leader. It recharges you. It gives you a new look at life. Usually, you plan some kind of educational or experience that you haven’t done. One pastor in Phoenix, who basically has been in ministry for over thirty five years, went on a big mountain hike where it was like a month. He was away climbing some of the peaks that he is always wanted to climb in California.
Alan [00:13:36] Well, when is the best time to take a sabbatical? You may never feel like it. When’s the best time to have a child? When’s the when are you going to have enough money to have a child? I mean, a sabbatical is like that. There is a good time to take a sabbatical when I feel like it, but I may never feel like it. But in order to preserve yourself for the future, you have to do it. So a successful model that I saw as I was researching for this book, that was for twenty one years, Jean Binder up in Boulder, Colorado, at Cornerstone Church. He says being a pastor is a uniquely demanding job that exacts a huge spiritual, emotional and physical toll over time. In reality, pasturing is very similar to stress of a soldier that he might experience in the battlefield. The apostle Paul knew firsthand about this stress when he described the pressures of ministry in Second Corinthians 11: 23-29. You can see that in the appendix of the booklet. The burnout and failure rate of pastors is alarming, and one of the ways we can improve longevity is to provide regularly planned sabbaticals.
Alan [00:14:56] The word sabbatical means a cease from working. We give all our full time pastors at Cornerstone two months of every seven years. We not only continue to pay their salary during this time, we also provide additional financial resources for them and their family to disappear to the location of their choice. We choose every seven years because God says to let the land rest every seven years. How much more should we do that and let our pastors do it? I have been at Cornerstone Church in Boulder for 21 years. Actually, this was written like three or four years ago. I just got back from my third sabbatical and he went to Israel and he learned Hebrew. And for him, that was exciting. I owe some of my longevity to this sabbatical practice. And I’m sure he thinks his congregation and his elders for letting him do that. And they thank him because he comes back refreshed, revived and ready to go.
Alan [00:16:01] Here are some benefits of a sabbatical that Gene Binder tells us we have no full time pastoral turnover in years. No one wants to leave part of the reason for longevity in the sabbatical. However, we also ask our pastors to ensure their families don’t become resentful of how much time and energy they put into ministry. Family comes first and we check with the spouses regularly to see if this is happening. We also create a very healthy and safe environment for our staff relationship. All this intentionally makes Cornerstone a place where pastors and their families, they don’t want to leave. How much value can you place on this? How much do churches spend searching for new pastors, moving them from church and church and losing revenue from all the people who are so unhappy about the loss of the pastor? This is what I would say. You can pay for it now or you can pay for it later. Words from Gene Binder, Cornerstone Church up in Colorado Springs.
Alan [00:17:09] And he’s just so right. If you give your leaders and this is true for leaders in work as well as ministry, but I think most people who have been in business and go into ministry afterward find that ministry is a different kind of pressure. You’re working with volunteers. You usually have to raise support of some kind, whether it’s dinners or whether it’s golf tournaments or whether it’s personal support. And the pressures of ministry happen not only in the in the spiritual realm. And we are fighting a spiritual battle. And I think most people in business don’t understand what a spiritual battle we are going through when we’re ministering to people every day, dealing with their crises, whether it’s a divorce or a death, and the repetitive nature of a congregation, whether 300 or three thousand puts a tremendous burden on whether it’s a multi staff or definitely it’s even harder, I think, for the Church of 100, which has to find leaders and people to be able to do things. And most of the time, the pastor is preaching as well as cleaning the toilets.
Alan [00:18:24] So a sabbatical taking time away for two to three months. Some people have been in ministry even a longer period of time, 30 years or so might take six months. And again, it’s worth it. So if you’re a leader, if you’re a pastor, if you are in ministry, when was the last time you took a sabbatical and took time to replenish the resources and to hone the tools that God has given you, the gifts, the talents, the abilities, and to refresh your soul and refresh your family as well and come back even stronger, ready to do battle in ministry and lead your congregation and lead your people to a time of refreshing and you’ll be more refreshed and they’ll be more refreshed.
Alan [00:19:23] This is Alan Heller with Walk and Talk. We’re walking your talk talking about how to beat burnout with a sabbatical. To order it, just go to walkandtalk.org and you can write any questions or thoughts that you have or order the book that we’d love to talk to you. And if you’re interested in doing ministry for the long haul, this is the way you’ll do it for now. See you next time as you walk your talk.
Pauly [00:19:56] This has been walking our talk with Alan and Pauly Heller, where we put into action those principles, we know from God’s word one step at a time, you can find more help at our website: walkandtalk.org.