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Sabbatical: Learning to Invest in Yourself

It’s been an intense three years.

I can’t even begin to wrap my heart and mind over everything that’s transpired over the past three years. I’m grateful for God’s provision and faithfulness. But I’m also a bit drained, which is why I’m so thrilled to share that I officially begin my sabbatical today.

Every three years, I take 3 months off from my work as a pastor at my church.

When my wife and I planted Quest nearly 10 years ago, we had one very important request, and that was to take a sabbatical every three years. Typically (for some churches and senior pastors), they take one year off every 7th year. I didn’t want to do that because waiting 7 years would have killed me, and being away from a church community for an entire year would have been difficult in light of so many changes that take place in a young church.

Anyway, I’m so grateful to my staff and Quest Church for being so gracious and enabling me to have this gift. I treasure it.

I’ve been receiving a few questions here and there so I thought I’d answer a few:

Umm, what is a sabbath?

Sabbatical or a sabbatical (from Latin sabbaticus, from Greek sabbatikos, from Hebrew shabbat, i.e., Sabbath, literally a “ceasing”) is a rest from work, or a hiatus, often lasting from two months to a year. The concept of sabbatical has a source in shmita, described several places in the Bible (Leviticus 25, for example, where there is a commandment to desist from working the fields in the seventh year).

The foundational Bible passage for sabbatical concepts is Genesis 2:2-3, in which God rested (literally, “ceased” from his labor) after creating the universe, and it is applied to people (Jew and Gentile, slave and free) and even to beasts of burden in one of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8-11, reaffirmed in Deuteronomy 5:12-15). [Wikipedia]

Why are you taking a sabbath?

  • I want to avoid Death by Ministry. It’s that simple.
  • The best way for me to change the world is to invest in myself.
  • I need to pour into my marriage and children.

Don’t you feel guilty for taking three months off?

I understand what a privilege that is in our society. It’s too bad that most – if not all – folks are not taking some sort of sabbatical. Because no matter what profession, we should…but I fully acknowledge what a privilege it is for me to take this sabbatical.

Having said that, I don’t feel guilty or apologetic. I work diligently, joyfully, and sacrificially, and I hope that no one at my church feels that I don’t deserve it.

What are you planning on doing during the sabbatical?

Well, I want to avoid stuff related to church because that’s what I normally do. I’m so grateful for my church staff and community for allowing me to take this time off.

My agenda for the sabbatical is to pour myself into rest, Minhee, the kids, rest, sleep, fishing, the outdoors, etc. In fact, we’re estimating that we’ll spend about 7000 miles on the road during our sabbatical. I want to especially show the family some of my favorite national parks around the country.

I’m also hoping to actually blog more regularly. Not because I have to but over the past year in the midst of busyness, my blogging has been very infrequent. What folks don’t know is how much blogging is “life-giving” for me…

And yes, I am obligated to say that I’m reading a couple of books. Just kidding. But not kidding about a couple of books I’m looking forward to finishing.

And while I’ll be sabbathing from Quest, I’ll be doing some light engagement with One Day’s Wages.

How do you suggest I convince my church about a sabbatical for me?

Show them this article

If you’re a senior pastor, I would strongly recommend a similar rhythm of 3 months of every 3 years – more or less. If you’re on staff, you require a sabbatical, too. I would encourage a formula for your sabbatical to be a doubling of your normal vacation time (at least). Several of our staff at our church have also received sabbaticals, but I hope to encourage an official rhythm that enables their vacation time to be at least doubled plus an extra week or two every three years.

What do I do when they say no?

(Wisely and Graciously)…Move on.

The race is not to the swift. It’s not a sprint. For many of us younger pastors (and I’m graciously grouping myself with you), ministry grows increasingly complex. We have to think about what a marathon looks like.

I realized some time ago that I could not possibly continue to do ministry at my current pace for another 30 years.  As I continue to ask myself the larger “life giving questions,” I needed to slow down, practice Sabbath if even in creative ways, and honor the rhythm of my sabbatical.  

Eugene Cho is the co-founder (with his wife) and executive director of One Day’s Wages—“a movement of People, Stories, and Actions to alleviate extreme global poverty.” He is also the founding and lead pastor of Quest Church and the founder and executive director of Q Cafe—a non-profit community cafe and music venue in Seattle. Eugene is considered one of the prominent bloggers on issues of justice, faith, ministry and utilizing social media for good. You can follow him via his blog or Twitter.

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