The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Sabbaticals score big

Survey finds leaders' minds, bodies and spirits improve

As the technology age puts ever-increasing pressure on ministers from congregants who expect constant access, immediate feedback and wide-ranging emotional empathy, a survey shows that well-planned rest and renewal are a necessary balm.

Two surveys, one of congregational leaders and a second answered by 48 of 52 Lutheran ministers who received matching grants from Wheat Ridge Ministries for sabbaticals, produced a ringing endorsement of the practice.

"It's a tough environment to be a pastor, with our society more narcissistic, financially driven and constantly pressured than ever before," said Brian Becker, vice president for ministry programs for Wheat Ridge, an Itasca, Ill.-based, Lutheran nonprofit that supports health and human care initiatives. "And people tend to connect with the pastor only in the extremes of really bad and really good times, such as upon a death, a divorce, a cancer diagnosis or the birth of a baby. That can really be draining."

mark Hirsch
Barbara J. Rapp, pastor of Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church in Scales Mound, Ill., said she quite possibly would have left the ministry if not for her sabbatical.

The ideal relationship between pastors and their congregations is one of mutual understanding and appreciation for their distinct roles, the Wheat Ridge study stated.

"They see ministry as a partnership; pastoral leadership supported and affirmed by lay leaders actively engaged in the work," according to the study. "Inspired ideas are cultivated into new ministries — ministries that are pursued with an expansive sense of stewardship and trust in God's provision."

Besides, experts have recommended for decades that pastors take better care of themselves, and Jesus spoke of the need to be alone, to fast, to pray and to get away from the crowds, Becker noted.

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