VALLEY FORGE, PA (12/12/23)—According to a recent survey by the Christian research group Barna, pastors are experiencing burnout at a never-before-seen rate. It reports that “the percentage of pastors who have considered quitting full-time ministry within the past year sits at 42 percent.” The number of pastors reporting that they were considering resigning increased by nine percentage points from January 2021 to November 2021, marking the beginning of this dramatic increase. In this context, a sabbatical – a prolonged, restful Sabbath – is not a luxury for pastors; it’s a necessity. The tradition of clergy taking a sabbatical is founded in recognition that ministry is a vocation that involves unusually high, persistent mental pressure and emotional rollercoasters. The reality of ministry is that it is often exhausting, and it takes a toll.
American Baptist Home Mission Societies recognizes this burning problem among clergy and leads the way in finding solutions. To this end, its Center for Continuous Learning is offering a two-part webinar titled “Why Sabbatical?” led by Rev. Dr. Eugene Downing, pastor of the New Hope Baptist Church in Denver, Colo.
“Sabbatical planning has been an interest of ours for a while,” said Jennifer Sanborn, ABHMS’ national coordinator for learning initiatives. “When I was doing the financial education [training], pastors in that program would often follow up and say, ‘I could really use a break, but my church doesn’t have the means to provide for that.’” ABHMS staff realized Rev. Downing would be an excellent training facilitator and invited him to develop two webinars on this topic after reading his sabbatical grant report.
Setting the parameters of the conversation in the first webinar, available on-demand and free of charge on the CCL website, Rev. Downing specifies that pastoral burnout is characterized by “emotional exhaustion, low sense of personal accomplishment and a high degree of depersonalization.” It often goes unrecognized, and, therefore, unaddressed. The webinar demystifies these symptoms. Real-life stories and conversational style are complemented by useful resources, including Abraham Heschel’s book “The Sabbath” and biblical framing for taking a sabbatical (Exodus 20: 8-11).
Rev. Downing also talks about the importance of discerning one’s vision for the sabbatical; such a vision may involve a focus on personal identity, pastoral identity, or a “space to dream”; he reflected that sometimes, the pastoral identity can overshadow the personal one: individual preferences, pursuits, or engagements. Similarly, routine tasks of ministry may eclipse the need for strategic thinking about one’s ministry and simply dreaming of what God has in store for us. Sabbaticals offer people time that is free from restrictions of the everyday and space to think big. The results? Pastors return healed, reinvigorated, and full of ideas.
Building on the first webinar, the second one will guide the participants through the practical process of sabbatical planning. “We’re going to be taking intentional time to work with pastors to develop some tools for planning a sabbatical,” says Rev. Downing. The practical advice, based on Rev. Downing’s own experience, will include ways to finance a sabbatical, including a list of available grants and fellowships, sabbatical budgeting for pastors and congregations, as well as planning for unexpected events for churches to be put into place during a pastor’s sabbatical. Finally, the webinar will cover the process of returning from sabbatical. These tools equip both the pastors and the congregations. Rev. Downing also stresses the importance of setting and sustaining boundaries, which are “necessary to return in a healthy way.”
The second interactive webinar, titled “Why Sabbatical? A Planning Workshop” will take place on January 5, 2024. The cost is $65. Register for it here.
American Baptist Home Mission Societies partners with American Baptists to promote Christian faith, cultivate Christ-centered leaders and disciples, and bring healing and transformation to communities across the United States and Puerto Rico.
American Baptist Churches USA is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with approximately 5,000 congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.