Pastor and Christian Leadership Resources

What Is a Sabbatical, and How Can It Help Energize Leaders?

What Is a Sabbatical, and How Can It Help Energize Leaders?

Every leader has incredible responsibilities, no matter where they are employed. In addition to practicing Sabbath, a leader may need additional time away to achieve total relaxation and rest. A sabbatical is defined as an extended break from work while still employed by the company. The person taking the sabbatical still receives a paycheck from their place of employment, even though they are not working during that time. Anyone can take a sabbatical, but it’s most often linked with clergy or spiritual leaders due to the taxing nature of the job.

What Is a Sabbatical?

Some argue the concept of sabbatical is based on the Biblical practice of Shmita, which is related to agriculture. According to Leviticus 25, Jews in the Land of Israel must take a year-long break from working the fields every seven years. While not strictly enforced, taking an extended time away from work every ten years or so is vital to every aspect of a leader’s health.

Elijah the prophet is a great example of a leader in need of extended time away. In 1 Kings 19:4-6 it says, “He sat down under a broom tree and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, LORD,’ he said. ‘Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.’ Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’ And he looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank and lay down again.”

An article on Focus on the Family says, “rest prepares one to do the work of life, of his calling. Unless there is rest for individuals, work becomes tedious and reluctant. Rest was intended to bring about a respite from the common, regular and relentless routines of living. The concept of sabbaticals gives extended space to create extended quiet times and reflective moments along with new passion and vision for new life in Christ.”

Although a sabbatical is most often associated with a leader experiencing burnout or other mental health issue, sabbaticals can be beneficial to one’s spiritual life as they practice the spiritual discipline of rest. This can prevent burnout and help a leader to practice restoration of their mind, body, and spirit so they can be fresh to tackle whatever God might throw their way.

Here are five reasons why every leader needs a sabbatical:

1. It Allows Them to Experience True Rest

Leading is hard work. It can tax a leader physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. When a leader takes a sabbatical, it gives them extended time to experience true rest.

Rest is more than just sleeping in every day or taking a week’s vacation. In Saundra Dalton Smith’s book Sacred Rest, she describes seven types of rest: physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, sensory, social, or creative rest. When leaders experience all seven types of rest, they can be ready to tackle the church’s problems and see their job through a new lens.

2. It Allows Them to Travel and See the World

Besides retirement, when will a leader ever have the chance to see parts of the world they've never seen before? A sabbatical allows them to take time for themselves, enjoying God's creation and experiencing the world. Many church members can utilize this luxury at any time, but it may be harder for a pastor or leader.

A sabbatical allows them time to be able to take an extended vacation if their budget permits, and allow them to travel to foreign countries and experience the world like never before. Additionally, it allows them to take a mission’s trip to a foreign country and serve and experience cultures different than theirs. This will help them expand their minds, relate to other cultures, and return more grateful for all God has afforded them.

3. It Helps Them Reset Their Brains

Romans 12:2 tells us to, “be transformed by the renewing of our minds…” But how can a leader do that when he's constantly focused on another task or going back to work after the weekend ends? A sabbatical allows the leader to reflect on what he's done in the past, the difference he's made in other's lives, and see the people whom God has entrusted him with. A sabbatical allows a leader to take an extended retreat to focus on God, hear his voice and receive direction for the next chapter in his life. This benefits his congregation and people under his leadership because he will have fresh vision, not only for himself but also for the people he is called to lead.

4. It Allows Them to Make a Difference in Their Community

While many people donate a small amount of their time to helping out in their local community, a leader often cannot do that because he is focused on getting ready for the following week’s work. He often does not have time to give back to his community because he is constantly preparing for the next task or, if it is a pastor, visiting the people in his care or praying for those who are sick.

A sabbatical will help him contribute to a cause that is near and dear to his heart. If the sabbatical is planned properly, a pastor can donate as much time as he would like to a local business or organization in his community. He can expand his efforts beyond stocking food at a food pantry or dishing out food at a homeless shelter. He can lend his financial expertise to a struggling local business, counsel those who cannot get into a counseling center, or he can pray for those stuck in addiction. Without the added hindrance of having to go back to work the following week, he can concentrate his efforts on true mission work. This will free him to give up his talents freely and with no strings attached.

5. It Allows Him to Seek God’s Vision and Direction

The leader can take a sabbatical for many reasons, but one reason may be that the leader is experiencing burnout. Burnout can be detrimental to the organization that he leads. Without vision or direction, it is difficult for him to fully give himself to his work, and because of this, he may be doing his work half- heartedly and not giving fully of his talents.

A sabbatical allows him the opportunity to seek God's vision and direction. In addition to taking a spiritual retreat, he may be able to devote a full week in solitude, or practice other spiritual disciplines he does not have time to do during a busy work week.

A sabbatical is especially helpful in this area, because by not focusing on his daily to-do, list he can concentrate fully on the vision and direction both for himself and for the organization with which he leads.

A sabbatical is vital for any leader who has been at their work for a length of time. A sabbatical helps a leader rejuvenate and maintain every aspect of his health. An unhealthy leader produces unhealthy followers. But a leader who cares enough about his health to take a sabbatical will reap the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual benefits only a sabbatical can afford him.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Serge Randall

Writer Michelle LazurekMichelle S. Lazurek is a multi-genre award-winning author, speaker, pastor's wife, and mother. She is a literary agent for Wordwise Media Services and a certified writing coach. Her new children’s book Who God Wants Me to Be encourages girls to discover God’s plan for their careers. When not working, she enjoys sipping a Starbucks latte, collecting 80s memorabilia, and spending time with her family and her crazy dog. For more info, please visit her website