Give 'Em a Break

How congregations can help their pastors stay focused for the long haul.

Four years ago I walked away from the ministry.

According to statistics, it's a surprise more pastors don't. The Alban Institute estimates that 17 percent of pastors are experiencing burnout. A study of one major denomination concluded that less than one-third of its pastors were happy in their work. Another 30 percent were "deeply ambivalent" about ministry. And 40 percent described themselves as "heading for burnout." When clergy are facing this level of dissatisfaction, the congregations they serve cannot be expected to thrive. Is there an answer?

There is. It's biblical, practical, and beneficial for both pastor and congregation.

In my case, I resumed my position as senior pastor after 90 days. My church had given me a gift—nothing to do for three entire months, a sabbatical. And it made all the difference.

I returned to the same congregation, refreshed in my vision, passionate about my calling, and eager to work smarter, not harder, for my Lord and His Body. To my surprise the church had not only survived, but was doing just fine without me. They had grown spiritually and had a fresh concept of what a pastor actually does.

The codependency that is often created in clergy/laity systems needs to be periodically challenged so that both congregations and pastors can realign their dependence on God. It is my firm belief that, in many church situations, if a sabbatical calendar is not practiced, God will often step in to provide for a "dependency breaker" that can be more painful than the sabbatical itself.

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