Top 9 Myths About Sabbaticals

Wheat Ridge Ministries (now We Raise Foundation), with the help of ministry consultant and coach, Rev. Tim Fangmeier, thoroughly researched what makes a ministry sabbatical an effective and powerful experience of renewal. 

In the course of this research, they found common misconceptions about sabbaticals. Here Tim dispels a few of these sabbaticals myths with helpful insight from his experience and research.  

Myth #1: I don’t need a sabbatical, I feel healthy! 

Truth: Sabbaticals are intended for healthy pastors! When a pastor is burned out, we suggest a leave of absence and proper medical care, not a sabbatical. Sabbaticals are intended to help pastors remain healthy and full of energy to meet the challenges of parish ministry today. 

Myth #2: My congregation can’t afford a sabbatical. 

Truth: On average, effective sabbaticals only cost $12,000-$14,000. A congregation planning ahead can easily manage this amount. Also, with the availability and convenience of crowdfunding, additional financial support for the sabbatical can come from networks beyond the congregation.  

Myth #3: My congregation couldn’t survive without me for three months! 

Truth: Part of a sabbatical plan includes pastoral coverage for the duration of the sabbatical. With adequate planning, this time can be a sabbatical for the congregation as well! The congregation’s health and renewal can be fostered. If a congregation is concerned they’ll be “unable to survive without a pastor” then this experience is exactly what they need.  

Myth #4: “I only need one month for my sabbatical.” 

Truth: Wheat Ridge’s research has shown pastors need three months off to experience true renewal and refreshment. 

Myth #5: I don’t need to go anywhere for my sabbatical, I’ll be able to focus and refresh here at home. 

Truth: While it’s true you do not need to go anywhere to have a good sabbatical, you do need a good plan. While travel may be a part of that plan, a sabbatical is not so much about going somewhere as it is about not going to the places you normally go (the church, the office, the hospital, etc) and not doing the things you normally do. This becomes the sabbatical break that will bless you.   

Myth #6: It is best to take a sabbatical every seven years of ministry.  

Truth: Given the pace of change and pressures of ministry, it is now commonly understood that taking a sabbatical every four years is even more effective. 

Myth #7: I can take my sabbatical one month a year over the course of three years.  

Truth: Although some try this, it is not really a sabbatical, just a good vacation! A sabbatical requires three months away. It takes at least two weeks to wind down from the work of parish ministry and then two weeks at the end to readjust to your work. These principles have been tested over and over for many years.  

Myth #8: I must get a large financial grant to take a sabbatical. 

Truth: While sabbatical grants are still available (and very competitive), they are not the only route to a sabbatical. In fact, we believe this myth is one of the reasons why more pastors do not take sabbaticals! We have found that with good planning, even with limited finances, a pastor can have an excellent sabbatical experience.  

Myth #9: If I am away from my congregation for three months, progress will be negatively impacted. 

Truth: If the sabbatical is seen and planned for as a sabbatical for the congregation (not just the pastor), the opposite will happen. Lay leaders will be empowered and there will be a readiness for new ministries that was not previously present.