Sabbatical: ‘One Way To Prolong a Pastor In Ministry’

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 earlier this 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. James Markus – NOW District
Length and date of sabbatical: Three months (but added an additional month of vacation time) – 2020

Why did you take a sabbatical?
This is what I wrote in my request to the congregation:
After serving (what will be) 11 years at Mt. Olive and 14 years in ministry it seems like a good time to step out of ministry for an extended period of time for the following reasons:
• Long term pastorates can be a great blessing to the church, continuity, stability etc., but they can also be a problem if we get into a rut. One way to prolong a pastor in ministry is by way of a sabbatical.
• Last Lent I asked for and received help. That was a sign that:
• I find myself spiritually dry much of the time.
• Ministry feels too heavy at times.
• Doing the work of God (of full-time ministry) may be hindering the work of God in me.
• In addition, the congregation may be experiencing a comfortable rut.

What did you do during your time away?
This is from my report to the congregation following the sabbatical:
Renewal of Relationships: Visited friends and family in the Midwest, Seattle, and Oregon
Residing of Home: I experienced a different type of work as we re-sided our home.
Relaxation: Visit to Mt. St. Helens, 3 days at the ocean, 3-week trip to France, golf (Thanks again for the golf lessons. They did help!), camping
Renewal: 3 days on a personal retreat reading through the gospel, a weekend at the Taize Religious Community in France
Education: 3-day Leadership Conference, 3-day Circuit Counselors Training, 3-day Pastors’ Conference, 2 books read, talks with four different pastors about ministry challenges

How did it help you?
• I learned that the problem I have with the pace of life is not the fault of ministry, but of my own approach to lifestyle management.
• I had the opportunity to rethink my priorities and re-evaluate what I can and cannot accomplish.
• I am full of new sermon and ministry ideas.
• I have a sense of refreshment as I return.
• You benefited through the opportunity of hearing God’s Word from five different pastors.
• Some of you grew in new ways as you served in new ways.
• The long-term benefits remain to be seen.

How did you cover your ministry responsibilities during the time away?
This was the real blessing. There were three retired pastors who each covered full pastoral duties for a month. One of our members and a wonderful “mother-in-law” apartment where they could stay. The congregation stepped up to cover the extra salaries for that time. The congregation understood that I would not be covering any pastoral emergencies or funerals.

What do you wish to share with all pastors considering taking a sabbatical?
It is not selfish to make such a request. Other professions have sabbatical policies. It benefits you and the congregation. It would be helpful if the congregation established a sabbatical policy and would have sabbatical costs as part of the annual budget put into a designated fund.

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

Rev. James Markus

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