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Should you take a Sabbatical?

I confess that, in my younger years, dedicating a few months to personal and spiritual renewal sounded like a fancy excuse for throwing the towel and abandoning the ministry’s trenches.

CULTURE MAKING AUTOR 144/Rene_Breuel 21 DE ABRIL DE 2024 11:00 h
Photo: [link]Megan Holmes[/link], Unsplash, CC0.

This question has picked up my interest recently. I confess that, in my younger years, dedicating a few months to personal and spiritual renewal sounded like a fancy excuse for throwing the towel and abandoning the ministry’s trenches.

I used to resonate with quotes like this one, from Theodore Roosevelt: “No man is worth his salt who is not ready at all times to risk his well-being, to risk his body, to risk his life, in a great cause.”

Or take this other rousing declaration from Roosevelt: “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure... than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

Exciting, right? But after being in full-time ministry for 15 years, a sabbatical sounds not only appealing but also wise. I regularly observe the weekly Sabbath with my family and take yearly vacations, but I’ve also come to see the sense of respecting our creatureliness and of thinking long-term.

[destacate] Jonathan Sacks: “Without institutionalised rest, civilisations, like individuals, eventually suffer from burnout”[/destacate]Life isn’t a continuous stretch. Like nature, we function in cycles and seasons. It encourages me to see Christian leaders of my generation like John Mark Comer explain why he took a sabbatical. I don’t have the details figured out yet, but I might do the same sometime in the near future.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes that “Without institutionalised rest, civilisations, like individuals, eventually suffer from burnout.” He notices that the Sabbath renews social capital, introduces into a culture the idea of limits, and “creates for a day a week a world in which values are not determined by money or its equivalent.”

So, to return to our question, should you take a sabbatical? In A Sabbatical Primer for Pastors, David Alvers suggests the following diagnostic criteria for assessing our need for one:

  • Has “the vision” died?

  • Are you unable to get going like you used to?

  • Are you showing signs of “compassion fatigue,” brownout, or burnout–smoke, but no live coals?

  • Are you irritable at all?

  • Is escapist behavior increasing at all?

  • Do you feel like you’re under a heavy, dark cloud?

  • Are you “hiding out” more than usual?

  • Are you making believe that everything is okay, so that the important people around you don’t worry?

  • Are you upset with God?

Even if you’re not quite there, it is prudent to consider recharging someday, so you won’t get to that point. Already the fact of knowing that a sabbatical is an option helps us know there are resources to keep us healthy for the long haul.

Taking a sabbatical may not be realistic or necessary for you at the moment, but keep it in the back of your head, so one day it might help you experience in a sustained way what Isaiah, David, and Hosea envisioned for God’s people.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:

   ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation,

       in quietness and trust is your strength,

       but you would have none of it.’” Isaiah 30:15

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

     He makes me lie down in green pastures,

he leads me beside quiet waters,

     he refreshes my soul.” Psalm 23:1-3

“Therefore I am now going to allure her;

    I will lead her into the wilderness

    and speak tenderly to her.” Hosea 2:14


René Breuel, author of The Paradox of Happiness and the founding pastor of Hopera, a church in Rome. He has a Master of Divinity (Regent College, Vancouver) and a Master of Studies in Creative Writing (Oxford University). More about his work at


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