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Why sabbaticals are critical to avoiding burnout

Why sabbaticals are critical to avoiding burnout

Sabbaticals are a critical component to creating healthy rhythms for pastors. Burnout is now more prevalent than ever before in ministry since the onset of COVID-19. According to data we’ve collected from surveying over 1,000 churches across the country, 56% of churches did not have an online presence prior to COVID-19. Not only are pastors adjusting to remote work and leadership for the first time, but they’re also learning to care for people in a global pandemic, facing an economic downturn, and during social and political unrest. Understandably, this heavy load has led to emotional fatigue and burnout for church leaders. Even before COVID-19, we saw an increase in prominent pastors stepping down from ministry due to burnout, depression, and/or moral failure which has been further perpetuated by the church’s stigma of mental illness.

Courtesy of Sutton Turner

Offering a sabbatical plan as part of your benefits policy will help ensure pastors avoid burnout and help them refocus on their personal calling and the church’s mission by taking a step back to gain perspective. In a world where we’re more digitally connected than ever before, pastors need designated time away from the noise to seek the Lord above all else and be a more effective leader.

It’s helpful to remember that a sabbatical is not a vacation. It is an opportunity for pastors to go deeper into personal and spiritual development. It’s a way to refocus and renew their spirit, mind, and body to ensure they are not emotionally and spiritually drained or burned out.

As senior leaders begin to consider offering a sabbatical policy, various questions come to light, such as:

  • How many years should a pastor have to work before they can take the sabbatical?
  • How long should the sabbatical be?
  • How often can the pastor take a sabbatical?

Through our compensation and benefits analysis, we’ve collected data from over 2,400 churches across the country who have shared details about their sabbatical plans. Take a look at these takeaways to see where your plan falls in comparison to similar churches.

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  • Of the 2,416 churches surveyed, 1,746, or 72.29%, of churches do not offer a sabbatical program.
  • Of the churches that offer a sabbatical program, 54.17% require the pastor to wait more than seven years before taking it. 31.44% of churches require a 4 to 6 year waiting period, 9.06% of churches require a 1 to 3 year waiting period, and 5.33% of churches allow annual sabbaticals.
  • Of the churches that do offer a sabbatical program, 36.94% allow 3-4 weeks to be taken for the sabbatical, 29.31% allow > 8 weeks, 15.63% allow 5-6 weeks, 11.9% allow 7-8 weeks and 6.22% allow 1-2 weeks.
  • Of the churches that do offer a sabbatical program, 66.1% offer it every 6-7 years, 20.72% offer it every 4-5 years, 6.38% offer it every year, 4.83% offer it every three years, and 1.97% offer it every two years. 

The majority of churches that we surveyed did not offer a sabbatical (72.27%). However, the ones that did (17.73%), offered it after seven years of service (54.2%) for 3-4 weeks (36.96%) and allowed a sabbatical to be taken every 6 to 7 years (66.21%).

The average tenure of a Senior Pastor is 3-4 years in American churches today. That said, the average tenured pastor is never going to earn the right to take a sabbatical at the churches that have a sabbatical option in their benefits package available after seven years. More so, if a pastor hits burnout before they are ever able to take the sabbatical, then what benefit is the sabbatical?

With the onset of COVID-19, many pastors worked tirelessly to shepherd their congregations in a challenging season and they are entering the fall more tired than ever. If you are a senior leader or board member at your church, prioritize the spiritual and emotional care of your pastor. Take a look at your sabbatical policy and ensure that your pastor has the opportunity to take time to renew their spirit and refocus on their calling on a regular basis.

When considering a sabbatical package, senior church leaders should ensure the policy is caring for and protecting your pastor and your church’s long-term health. If your pastor is burned out, it can inevitably affect the long term health of the church, so considering a sabbatical plan can save you from experiencing the detrimental effects of pastoral burnout.

For more on the benefits of offering sabbaticals, check out these relevant resources:

●      10 Ways to Prevent Burnout in Ministry

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●      8 Tips For Pastors Struggling With Burnout

●      3 Reasons Your Pastor Needs A Sabbatical

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Sutton Turner is the chief operating officer of Vanderbloemen, which serves teams with a greater purpose by aligning their people solutions for growth: hiring, compensation, succession and culture. Through its retained executive search and consulting services, Vanderbloemen serves churches, schools, nonprofits, family offices, and Christian businesses in all parts of the United States and internationally.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vanderbloemen

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/vanderbloemen-search-group/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/VanderbloemenSG

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