It’s no question that ministry is challenging. The daily demands can take a toll on any leader. So how can we help meet these challenges with fresh resources? Enter… 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 to retool 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. Jeff Mueller – NOW/CNH District
Length and dates of sabbaticals: Three months – 2002 and 2016
What led you to take a sabbatical?
In my 30 years as an ordained pastor, I have taken two distinct three-month sabbaticals 14 years apart. I attempted to take a third sabbatical in the seventh year between those two, but it didn’t work out. The simple answer for my first sabbatical is I was quickly approaching a physical, emotional, and spiritual burnout due to working too many hours and dealing with lots of stress as the church of my first call grew a mile wide and an inch deep. The main reason for my second sabbatical 14 years later was I had grown in my wisdom and experience about running the race for Jesus as a steady marathon and not a full-on sprint and knew that another sabbatical would be very healthy and wise for the long run service to my Lord and His church.
How did you decide that it was the right thing for you?
My church elders insisted I take my first sabbatical after seven years of intense ministry as I was quickly burning out. That first sabbatical truly did make all the difference on whether I was going to be a long-time servant of the Word or just another flash in the pan.
What did you do during your time away?
On our first sabbatical, since it was necessary to take it as soon as possible, we mostly spent time with family in other states, camped a lot and stayed a few weeks in resorts. There was little time to plan a thorough program of spiritual renewal. The second sabbatical was the exact opposite. It was planned for months with the partnership of the congregation’s leadership, with clear and dynamic vision for how the sabbatical would not only benefit my wife and me holistically, but also the entire congregation. We received a large sabbatical grant that covered all expenses for our travels and for the three-month guest pastor. It was an incredible spiritual experience for the congregation and us.
How did it help you?
The first sabbatical gave me the time to rest and recover from a very long time of intense ministry work and stress. The second sabbatical fulfilled far more than that. It enriched my understanding of the Great Reformation and our founding servant-leader, Martin Luther, as well as my own family’s rich ministry heritage in Germany and America.
How did you cover your ministry responsibilities during your time away?
For my first sabbatical, we had a large pastor staff to cover all my duties. On my second sabbatical, due to the generous Clergy Renewal Sabbatical Grant from Lily Endowment, Inc., we were able to cover the expenses for a retired pastor to serve every Sunday and often during the week for the entire three-month sabbatical.
What influence did your sabbatical have on your life?
As I shared earlier, the first sabbatical saved me from walking away from the ministry and seeking an alternative career. The second sabbatical filled me with a deep and lasting gratitude to God for the ministry heritage He placed me in and continues to be a source of motivation as I serve Him for years to come.
What do you wish to share with all pastors considering taking a sabbatical?
If you have not had at least a three-month break from active full-time pastoral ministry in the last six or seven years, do it! I am a huge cheerleader for pastoral self-care and am available if you need advice on how to go about the planning, funding, and implementation of a sabbatical. Just shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.