Pastors, Here’s How to Avoid Burnout

Do You Need a Break?

Pastors need time to reflect on their sense of call and refresh their professional skills after serving for a number of years in the ministry. In many cases, the pastor is on-call, serving his congregation’s needs 24 hours a day.

Over time, this can add to a growing sense of burnout. To avoid this, many churches offer sabbatical leave for ministers who have served for a number of years.

What’s a Sabbatical?

The origin comes from the Biblical Sabbath where the seventh day is set aside as a day of rest. In modern times it refers to a rest from work, or a break, often lasting from two months to a year. defines it as: “any extended period of leave from one’s customary work, especially for rest, to acquire new skills or training, etc.”

A Sabbatical is not an extended vacation, nor is it limited to advanced studies. A carefully planned sabbatical allows a pastor the chance to rest and reflect on her faith. The time away from regular duties may allow the pastor to travel, or she may choose to spend his sabbatical in her study in her own home. Church congregations can expect their pastor to return from sabbatical with a fresh outlook on her faith and with renewed energy to perform her job.

How Long?

Each church and denomination sets different requirements to be eligible for a sabbatical, and the length of time the pastor is allowed away from his job. The pastor does need to present, in writing, a request for sabbatical leave several months in advance of the actual start of the leave. This allows the congregation time to plan for his absence. Since the church continues to pay the pastor’s salary and benefits during his sabbatical, this advanced notice allows the church to budget extra money to pay for visiting ministers, and to pay for any travel the pastor might incur during the sabbatical.

It’s the pastor’s responsibility to present a detailed plan of the activities they plan to do during the sabbatical. The plan should list goals the pastor hopes to meet, as well as their expected outcome. It should also include a list of benefits for both the pastor and the congregation. If the pastor’s plans include travel or classes, the plan might also include possible ways to fund the extra expense, such a grants. A pastor’s plan should also include assurances plans to continue service with that church for at least one year at the conclusion of the sabbatical. The congregation is entitled to a full report of the pastor’s activities at the conclusion of the sabbatical.

Who Fills in?

While the pastor is on sabbatical, leaders of the church fill in some of his duties. Some members might be responsible for finding fill-in ministers to provide sermons, or might deliver sermons themselves. Other church members should perform the other tasks performed by the pastor, such as visiting sick people in the hospital and with grieving families. If the pastor remains at home during the sabbatical, it’s the congregation’s responsibility to treat the pastor as another church member and not to call on him to perform his pastoral duties. As church members perform some of the pastor’s duties, they gain a new insight into all the work he does for the congregation.

This is Important for your Pastor as well as your Church!

If you don’t already have a process or policy for allowing your pastor to take a sabbatical, your church should make it a huge priority to do so. If not, there’s a big chance your leaders will get burnout and your staff and congregation will suffer the consequences.

At, we are all involved in our local churches and understand the needs of pastors and congregations. Our desire is to see healthy churches. If we can help you and your church in any way, reach out at

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