Jun 15, 2023
How Rest & Sabbath Can Strengthen Pastoral Well-Being
When compared to statistics from 2015, current Barna data shows that pastors’ well-being—spiritually, mentally and emotionally—has decreased significantly. For pastors who are feeling worn down, what can help restore them?
This article highlights findings on pastoral well-being and satisfaction that were presented during the webinar, interspersed with insights and application from the Resilient Pastor faculty and guests.
How Rest Can Support Greater Well-Being
Data from the Resilient Pastor research shows that between 2015 and 2022, all aspects of pastors’ well-being—spiritual, mental and emotional—experienced a significant decrease. Overall quality of life, having true friends and even the respect pastors say they receive by those in their community have all dipped lower.
What can help pastors—and church staff in general—strengthen their overall well-being and pursue resilience in their role as faith leaders? The data presented during the webinar show that pastors who prioritize rest and Sabbath are more likely to fare better in their mental, emotional and spiritual well-being than their peers who don’t prioritize this.
During The Summer Sabbatical webinar, pastor and Resilient Pastor faculty member Sharon Hodde Miller shares on the importance of Sabbath.
“Sabbaticals are not about vacation,” she notes, “but about counter-formation and all the ways that our culture is malforming us in a way that undermines the image of God and Christ in us. Practicing Sabbath, taking sabbaticals, is one way that we push back against that malformation.”
In an episode for the Resilient Pastor podcast, Ruth Haley Barton also shares on the importance of Sabbath in a pastors’ life and how the practice of Sabbath is different than the practice of solitude.
“The Sabbath in my opinion, is really the kingpin of a life well-lived in God,” Barton notes. “Sabbath is unplugging for 24 hours, and doing that at regular intervals. [It’s] for more than just hearing the voice of God. Sabbath is for pleasure, delight and deep replenishment. Sabbath is not solitude because Sabbath, biblically and rightly practiced, takes place within the community of close ones that God has given you.”
For pastors who may not know where to start when practicing solitude and eventually observing a Sabbath, Danielle Strickland offers some helpful next steps.
“Sabbath is by far the practice I struggle with the most,” she explains. “I learned [to practice] 10 minutes of silence [from Villodas’ book], as I was developing practices to rest in God. I had to start at three minutes, just for the record, because I couldn’t do 10 minutes. Now I’ve worked myself up to 15 minutes of silence.”
Strickland encourages, “The tiniest practices of Sabbath are these micro-Sabbaths that you can begin to practice. These [practices] will begin to reveal those things that God actually wants to get to [in your life].”
How Rest Can Counter Loneliness & Exhaustion
When it comes to feeling energized by their work, motivated to become a better leader and well supported by those around them, pastors share that they’re doing worse now than in 2015. Meanwhile, their loneliness and isolation, mental and emotional exhaustion and feelings of inadequacy in their role are trending higher.
Barna data shared in The Summer Sabbatical webinar shows that pastors who rank as “very strong” or “strong” on a spectrum of pastoral self-care* not only rank better in their mental and emotional well-being, they also have the energy and support needed to prioritize building other leaders, influence the vision for their church and prioritize a succession plan when it’s time for them to transition out of ministry.
Rest and sabbatical are elements of pastoral self-care and are deeply important for pastors’ continued well-being. During the webinar, Glenn Packiam and Rich Villodas explain how to introduce sabbaticals to your church and staff and how to prepare your congregation for a staff member’s time away.
“I think one of the best things you can do if you’re introducing [sabbatical] to your church is to make it really clear who gets a sabbatical, how frequently and for how long,” notes Packiam. “[In the past at my church,] sabbatical was either a prelude to someone’s exit or a punishment for something that a person had done. And it’s not meant to be any of that. This is preventative healthcare, if you will.”
Villodas follows up with some of his own perspective from a past sabbatical in 2019, stating, “I think building in a team that can prepare for this, whether it’s a preaching team or something along those lines so that people are not shocked when you’re not there, is good for the community. … I preached a sermon the Sunday before I went on sabbatical, and it was Jesus’ words, ‘It is better for you that I leave.’ I’m not Jesus, but it’s better for [my congregation] that I go.”
He continues, “There was a clarity of goals [for my sabbatical] that I submitted to our board … Having clarity of goals and clear expectations was really important for preparation’s sake. And then in terms of how I frame [sabbatical], it’s framed around four words: prayer, rest, relationships and study.”
The Summer Sabbatical is the first of three webinars and a host of other resources to be released by Barna during the second year of the Resilient Pastor initiative. Check out the resources currently available as part of the initiative here and stay tuned for more reporting and resources releasing in the coming months.
*Learn more about the spectrum of pastoral self-care in The Summer Sabbatical replay, available to stream for free in Barna Access.
Further reading and resources from Barna Group and our Resilient Pastor partners:
- Read this article to review data on pastors’ increased risk of burnout in 2021.
- Pastors offer the reasons why they’ve considered leaving full-time ministry in this article from 2022.
- Barna data in this article shows that, for pastors who want to quit ministry, self-care and soul-care are slipping.
- The Resilient Pastor series—part of the broader Resilient Pastor initiative—is available exclusively on Barna Access Plus. Upgrade to Barna Access Plus to explore data and trends on pastors’ self-leadership, church leadership and culture leadership.
- For pastors interest in reaching the next generation, Barna Group, Alpha and World Vision have an on-demand webcast you can tune into. Click here to access “Engaging Gen Z: Why There’s Hope for the Next Generation and the Church.”
- From leadership development studies to safe content for kids, RightNow Media wants to help you disciple and equip the people of your church anytime, anywhere, on any device. Learn more by visiting rightnowmedia.org.
- Brotherhood Mutual, a leading national provider of ministry-focused insurance and services, has a heart for serving the Church and keeping ministries thriving. For more information, visit BrotherhoodMutual.com.
- FullStrength understands that pastors and ministry leaders are often so focused on helping others that they don’t take care of themselves. That’s why FullStrength has created a wellbeing membership specifically for ministry leaders, providing access to coaching and counseling experts, well-being resources and a community focused on living healthy lives. Learn more or join now at www.fullstrength.org.
About the Research
2015 data: Barna conducted 901 interviews with Protestant senior pastors in the U.S. between April and December 2015. The interviews were conducted through a mix of online and phone. Quotas were set to ensure representation by denomination, church size and region. Minimal statistical weighting was applied to maximize representation and the margin of error is +/- 3.1% at the 95% confidence level.
2022 data: Barna conducted 585 online interviews with Protestant senior pastors in the U.S. from September 6–16, 2022. Quotas were set to ensure representation by denomination, church size and region and oversampling was conducted to reach female senior pastors. Minimal statistical weighting was applied to maximize representation and the sample error is +/- 3.8% at the 95% confidence level.
© Barna Group, 2023.
Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.
Excerpt: A Rapid Decline in Pastoral Security
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