‘I Didn’t Realize I Was Burning Out’

It’s no question that ministry is challenging. The daily demands can take its toll on any leader. So how can we help meet these challenges with fresh resources? Consider… Off-Ramp to Sabbatical. This toolkit was developed and curated by the staff of all three of our West Coast districts last year (CNH, NOW, PSD). It features real case studies from real LCMS pastors, like the one below, that demonstrate the value of sabbaticals as intentional periods of rest and revitalization.

A sabbatical is an investment a ministry makes in its leaders. It’s not a vacation or time off. It is a purposeful effort in retooling the skills and perspectives a leader needs to be the best they can be. It is vital that lay leaders, congregations, and schools support workers who pursue this wellness option.

Rev. Dan Wehrspann – NOW District
Length and date of sabbatical: 13 weeks – June to August 2006

How did you come to the decision that it was the right thing for you?
Prayer and conversation with my wife (who was to join me) and information from NOW District.

What did you do during your time away?
Served in Southern India – as chaplain at Bethesda Hospital (11 weeks), and at the Seminary (in Nagercoil) teaching ESL classes to prospective students (1 week).

How did it help you?
Academically – not a great growth area for me but great teaching opportunity for my daughter, who agreed to join me at a later date (more on the circumstances in a later paragraph).
Experientially – fantastic growth! Learning to deal with the Dalits; learning to preach on a moment’s notice; being welcomed as the “white angel” on the hospital wards; leading daily chapel services for staff and patients; being part of the medical care team; being a voice to patients and staff who at times struggled with their activities; bonding with my 26-year-old daughter.

How did you cover your ministry responsibilities during the time away?
Congregation contracted a pastor for regular care and special emergencies; purchased cell phone in India and communicated a weekly ‘letter’ to the congregation for prayers of strength, healing, specific situations I would be encountering each week. The “podcast” (before they existed) was played at the Sunday service each week. Had printed daily devotions for the time we were apart, and ‘worshiped with the congregation’ on a daily basis, for those who chose to do so – and there were many who did. To my surprise the congregation also sent along an envelope that said “do not open until India,” which included Scriptures, thoughts, prayers, encouragement, etc.

What influence did your sabbatical have on your life?
Greatly enhanced my understanding of myself in terms being a minority (white) – and vaguely (I’m sure) still learning what race conflicts can mean; thoroughly immersed myself in the ministry;
got to know a whole new “people group” with whom I could share my “back-home” ministry;
intended to share the time with my wife, Lin, but she became unable to join me due to a bout with breast cancer (she died in November the same year), so I was joined by my daughter, Kristi – a Lutheran schoolteacher who did education pieces throughout our time together; was led to provide a challenge to my Oregon congregations (past and present) to provide a new laundry for Bethesda and after Lin died, all financial gifts were forwarded to the laundry project. And a wonderful opportunity to bond with my daughter.

What do you wish to share with all pastors considering taking a sabbatical?
Do it! I realized after the fact that my passion for ministry was diminishing. I served a parish in Southern Oregon for 16 years, and realized most of the goals we had set were pretty well completed (e.g., worship alternatives, developing a school) and I just needed some time to be renewed. Had my first congregation provided for sabbaticals, I might not have taken the call to Portland. The sad news – I didn’t realize I was burning out.

Rev. Dan Wehrspann is willing to be a resource for leaders who may have questions about sabbaticals. Email him here: dannerw@frontier.com. Also see the complete list of leaders to contact in Appendix 1 of the Off-Ramp to Sabbatical toolkit.

Rev. Dan Wehrspann

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