Why Regular Sabbaticals Are a Healthy Practice
When I became senior pastor of Mariners Church, a four-week study break for the senior pastor was the existing practice of the church. And I am so thankful. I recently returned from my third study break and have learned that taking an extended break each year is fruitful for me, for my team, for the church, and for the future. Whether leading in a ministry or marketplace environment, time away is healthy for you and for the team.
1. The leader
Leading is sometimes thrilling and sometimes painful, but it is always tiring. Continuing to push through the grind of leadership results in exhaustion and diminished health—physically, emotionally and spiritually. Exhausted leaders make poor decisions and tend to get frustrated more quickly. Time away to read, rest, think, and play can rejuvenate the leader. On my study break, I spend lots of time with Jesus in His Word, take more walks and bike rides, and enjoy extra time with my wife and daughters. I return from study break in a better place and this is good for the people I serve. They get a better me.
2. The team
Over-reliance on the leader hampers the growth of the team. When the leader takes an extended break, others on the team are placed in positions where they must make decisions, respond, and plan and execute without the leader’s involvement. This is good for the team. It increases their capability, their capacity and their confidence.
3. The ministry/organization
When a leader takes an extended break, inevitably the leader is able to think more creatively and strategically. For example, in his book No Rules Rules, Reed Hastings of Netflix shares how some of the team’s best thinking happens during long breaks. I find this true for me. On study break, I am able to prayerfully map out the teaching for the next year. By doing so, the church benefits from teaching series that are coordinated with our team over months with the church’s spiritual development in mind.
4. The future
The leader won’t lead in the ministry or organization forever and extended breaks help both the leader and the organization learn this. Kenton Beshore, my predecessor, shared with me that it was through his annual study breaks that he learned to let go of leading—a discipline he needed to develop before he could navigate succession conversations. The leader stepping away from the role for a break also helps the organization learn to live and move without the leader.
Some leaders fear that if they take an extended break that the people will learn “they don’t need me.” If they learn that, this is really good news! It means you have led in such a way that not everything depends on you. It means the ministry or organization is bigger than you. Well done. Fight that fear by taking a break. You, the team, and the whole ministry/organization will benefit.