27 November 2008

Sabbath Rest for Pastor and People

This little piece will come out in my congregation's December newsletter.

Sabbath Rest for Pastor and People

By the time you read this I will be starting a six-month sabbatical leave from pastoral duties at Hope. This time is intended to be a time of rest and rejuvenation. Yes, I will still remain your pastor, and yes, I will return after May 31, 2009. The purpose of this sabbatical leave is for me to return rejuvenated for longer service to Hope.

After Divine Services on November 9 the Board of Elders read a statement outlining my need for this sabbatical leave, and then that statement was sent to Hope member households. We are also including the statement in this issue of the Hope Lutheran, just in case you haven’t seen it yet.
In this column I want to focus on what a sabbatical leave is and what benefits we—pastor and congregation together—stand to receive. When I began learning in earnest about sabbatical leaves and their purpose, I came across a very helpful document from the Southeastern District of the LCMS. That document is called “Sabbatical Guidelines And Resources For Professional Church Workers.”

These “Sabbatical Guidelines” explain the purpose and rationale of a sabbatical leave in this prologue:
The word “sabbatical” is derived from “Sabbath.” Sabbath time is based on Genesis 2:1-4a in which God modeled and later required (Exodus 17:8-11) the setting aside of 1/7th of our time for re”creation” and restoration. For ancient Israel, Sabbath-keeping was a spiritual discipline that was designed to develop the Israelites’ ability to trust God. A person who kept the Sabbath exercised trust in God by abstaining from those activities that provided material resources. For one day each week, the Israelites would entrust themselves to God’s care rather than to their own ability to work. In short, Sabbath-keeping is a discipline of abstinence from those activities that make us more self-sufficient than God-sufficient.

Historically, in church and academia, the professionals were given a sabbatical every seventh year. The observation was that academic professors and clergy were so worn out after seven years of teaching and leading that they needed a time of rest, recovery, renewal, and reeducation in their field of endeavor. The assumptions were that it paid off for the professional person (avoiding breakdown) and that it paid off for the institution (re-energized and updated leadership). Professional church workers (i.e. Pastor, Deaconess, Director of Christian Education, School Administrator, etc.) need to recreate and restore what has been worn down by day-to-day encounters with stresses and strains of everyday life and ministry.

Nourishing one’s soul and regaining perspective requires a change of pace and place—a pilgrimage. Jesus provides us a good example to follow. He was always moving toward his Father—in prayer, in his teaching, in his travel and then toward the people in care and concern. And the apostles who walked with him were renewed day by day. That’s what sabbatical is about—a pilgrimage with Jesus toward our Heavenly Father. Journeying with Jesus we come to know that there is more to life than suffering or hopelessness. We are moving toward the climax and glory of what is to come. Like the early apostles, we can be recharged by walking with Jesus during an extended time of reflection, spiritual encounter, and community.

Sabbatical typically includes time for travel, rest, prayer, and experiencing different cultures. The best sabbaticals usually are more open-ended than rigid, allowing for the surprises, and possible new direction, that may come. Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness marked a turning point in his ministry. Moses’ time spent tending sheep helped change his perspective on his calling and life. David tended sheep and learned valuable lessons about God’s care and provision. Paul, struck down on the road to Damascus, disappeared into the desert of Arabia for three years, and emerged with a new vision. Therefore, sabbatical is a time to receive, to be nurtured, to reflect on your relationship with God and your own story, so that you can be renewed, refreshed, and revitalized for a life of service to others.
Shortly after this prologue, the “Sabbatical Guidelines” outline the benefits of a sabbatical leave. I was very encouraged to see how a sabbatical leave benefits not only the pastor who takes a sabbatical, but also the congregation. According to the “Guidelines,” here are the benefits for a congregation that grants a sabbatical to its pastor:
A. For the local congregation/school
1) An experienced professional church worker who returns from sabbatical with renewed energy and rediscovered zeal for ministry
2) An opportunity to develop congregational leadership and to come to a greater understanding of the congregation’s ministry by assuming some of the pastoral duties during the interim
3) An occasion for the congregation to reflect and assess their partnership with the professional church worker and ways to strengthen and improve ministry
4) An opportunity to show support and care for a beloved professional church worker and his/her family
5) A time for congregational members to reconsider their commitment and to assess their relationship to the life and witness of the congregation/school
6) Cost effective. When an experienced church worker takes a call and leaves, the congregation loses finances due to loss of momentum, expenses of interim church workers, potential loss of members during an interim period, cost of moving expenses of a new work, lost efficiency while new relationships develop, etc.
We want to be careful with #2, particularly the part about congregational leaders “assuming some of the pastoral duties.” According to Holy Scripture, pastoral duties are given to the pastors, while other tasks in the congregation’s work and life are given to others in the congregation. See Acts 6:1-6.

The “Guidelines” then outline these benefits for the pastor:
B. For the professional church worker
1) A needed break from long hours, high pressure, personal sacrifice, and the 24/7 nature of ministry
2) A time for prayer, rest, study, decision making [sic] and travel
3) A change of scenery and place which can help prevent burnout
4) An opportunity for the worker to discover the importance of doing what they do because of who they ARE rather than because of what they DO
5) The opportunity to develop greater self-awareness and spiritual depth
6) A time with family and friends, to renew and strengthen those relationships
These sound like great benefits for both congregation and pastor, and I look forward to all of us realizing such benefits.

Some have been asking, “Where will Pastor go to church?” Thank you for that concern for my being fed on the Gospel and Sacraments! I will not attend church here at Hope, but I will attend at some of our sister congregations in the area (I think there are a few of them ☺).

So for these next six months I will take “time to receive, to be nurtured, to reflect on [my] relationship with God and [my] own story, so that [I] can be renewed, refreshed, and revitalized for a life of service to others.” I covet your prayers during this time, and I promise that you will be continually in my prayers. I know that you are in good hands with Pastor Rosebrock and the others who will fill in for me. I also know that our Savior, the Lord of the Church, will continue to sustain us during this time of separation, and I am confident that He will use this time to strengthen our faith in Him and improve our life together in His Church.

God bless you, and the Lord be with you, dear brothers and sisters!


  1. So what are you doing on your sabbatical? Do you have a particular area of study or interest you are pursuing?

  2. Hi, Todd,

    Yes, I do have something I want to pursue: immersing myself in reading some of the early Church fathers--such as Ambrose, Augustine, Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, etc.

    I'll also sit in on a class with Dr. Weinrich in January, and it will be in the same area: "Patristic Commentaries on John."

    We're also planning on spending Christmas on Christmas with our families out in Oregon.

    Beyond that, I'll enroll in the Doxology program and get away on some private retreats (as funds and family schedule allow).

    And, yes, I do plan on doing a good deal of resting.

    Thanks for asking.

  3. I expect to see you at Peace for at least one Sunday. NO pressure.
    Jeanne and I would love to have you visit. It would do you good to see how the other south siders live. That and we would love to see you. I'll even tell Pastor that you are ok for communion!

    John and Jeanne Hooss

  4. Hi, John, good to hear from you.

    I'm sure I can arrange at least one Sunday at Peace, after all, six months brings a lot of Sundays to fill now.

    As for a visit with you and your family, I would love it. Just email me with some suggestions (and believe me, I'll understand if it has to wait until after the New Year).

    Thanks for vouching for me with Pastor Kastens that I'm "ok for communion." I know that must be a tough job! :-)

  5. May God especially and richly bless you and your family in all. Thank you for all you have done and will yet do in the years ahead.

    God's speed to you,

  6. Randy,

    The Lord bless your time of rest. And kudo's for taking such a step - so many pastors let a misplaced sense of obligation lead them to burn out rather than take a step back to rest. As a fairly new pastor I appreciate the example you set.
    I am a bit envious of your Christmas plans. You might recall that we (Rhonda and I) are from Oregon. In fact I believe that Rhonda's folks are members at your parents' parish. So please greet everyone at Shepherd of the Valley for us.
    We are hosting Christmas out here this year - but I will miss being in Oregon. Hope you have a safe and enjoyable trip.