Tim Fangmeier has been a champion of sabbaticals for pastors and staff longer than I’ve realized that I’m not invincible! Tim and his team have an incredible resource at Ministry Sabbatical Resources and regularly coach pastors, staff and congregation leaders on the how and why of something pretty foreign to most of us. Tim and I sat down together last month and I think you’ll be blessed by what I learned!
Tim, how did you become a fan of ministry sabbaticals?
I took one! Funny story… I was forced to take one. I was on the staff of a regional judicatory and it was the policy! They valued the wellness of their workers. Sadly, I don’t see much that supports sabbaticals and wellness for pastors or ministry staff today.
Barna has been sounding the alarm with their Resilient Pastor research. Very few people in a congregation really understand the unique demands on a pastor.
It’s different from most other vocations. Weekends are big focus times…when the family is free. The pastor is not. It’s an emotional drain. The Covid experience has taken an extended toll.
1. Normal ministry, normal contact, was disrupted.
2. Last week’s decisions were being reevaluated and changed…every week
3. Conflict! Decisions felt controversial and resulted in conflict. Most pastors I know are conflict avoiders. It’s a crisis.
Tim. Why do you call it a crisis?
In my own denomination we had only 87 graduates from our seminaries entering ministry. It’s a fraction of the number retiring, leaving ministry or simply leaving earlier than planned due to the pandemic.
My own congregation had a policy of a 3 month sabbatical every seven years. I had a couple of elders that became champions and helped develop a policy that I could not have advocated for myself.
We recommend a sabbatical every four or five years. The pressures, the rate of change… You can’t expect a leader to stay on their game and be sharp otherwise.
I remember the skeptics thought, “We never got a sabbatical in my job. Why do they?”
It’s not in most of our experience. It’s foreign. Keep in mind, we’re focusing on wellness. Keeping our workers and their families well. PLI does that. Right? It’s a good thing. Usually we wait to focus on when we have a problem and we need to intervene in a problem. Rather than wellness, it starts with a phone call to the person’s regional overseer, “Help, we have a problem!”
Tell me about sabbatical.
It’s an aspect of spiritual life. Right? Sabbath rest is the foundation of it.
Tim, I regularly point PLI pastors to Ministry Sabbatical Resources and to have a conversation with you or one of your coaches. Most of us have no clue how to structure a sabbatical.
We recommend three months! It takes a leader two weeks to uncouple from their ministry. And, they start winding back up the last two weeks. So they have two good months. We recommend totally disconnecting from the ministry and the relationships in the ministry. It sounds impossible, but we can do it. Churches can do it.
We recommend 3 aspects:
1. Personal renewal and reconnecting with your spouse and family. Be sure to do something together if you’re married and/or have a family.
2. Improve your ministry effectiveness. Learn something that will benefit your congregation.
3. Do something just for yourself. Take up a hobby. Do something fun for yourself.
I wrote a dissertation on one of my sabbaticals!
Yeah. You should have talked to us first. It’s a mistake to come back more tired from a sabbatical than when you started.
Tim, you frequently talk to congregations about the value of giving a sabbatical to their pastor or ministry staff.
Keep in mind. This is foreign to almost everyone. It’s not in our collective memories. We want our pastors and ministry leaders healthy but we keep putting band aids on it. It really only takes a couple of leaders in a congregation to help the rest of us catch on.
Ministry Sabbatical Resources provides a lot a valuable ideas and resources.
I’ll pick up more of this conversation next week with Tim. Tim will help us understand the benefits and some next steps. Could I suggest you circulate this around to a few of your leaders? Point them to Tim’s website. And set a time for this conversation soon.