An Invitation to Sabbatical

At Coastline’s family meeting in March, our elders announced that Neal will be taking a sabbatical starting July 1, 2024. This sabbatical will be for ten weeks. During that time Neal will be away from the ministry of the church. He will be away from email, social media, and his phone. His sabbatical will be broken into three primary parts: rest, refreshment, re-engagement. For those of you who’ve been at Coastline for longer than ten years, you might be able to recall a time when a previous pastor went on a sabbatical. For those of you who have become a part of this church family more recently, this might all be new for you. Understanding both sides of that, we want to take some time to help articulate what a sabbatical is, what it isn’t, and present a Biblical framework for rest. We live in a fast-paced, achievement-focused culture. We think to slow down is to give up. But things are different in the Kingdom of God. God sees rest differently than we see rest. God longs for His people to rest in Him. 


“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30


What is a Sabbatical?

At Coastline, we desire the staff to be spiritually, emotionally, and physically healthy, growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, and on the cutting edge of the best Biblical and strategic thinking in their particular ministry areas. We believe we can only serve Jesus well when we take time for the Holy Spirit to refresh and restore our souls. The best ministry flows from true intimacy with Jesus. We desire for our leaders to thrive in ministry, find periodic refreshment, and avoid burnout. Thus, sabbaticals may be granted to pastoral staff as approved by the Elder Board, every 5-7 years, for a period of 1-3 months. The full details of a sabbatical are found in Coastline’s Employee Handbook. 


“I can state without wavering that the single greatest need of the church today is the restoration of ministers. What is required is a quite different approach to their life and work. It is a matter of leading them into a massive shift of the dynamics of their personality under God, and one that cannot be done by more books and conferences. They need to be taken out of circulation for a sufficiently long time to re-vision and restructure their lives in communion with Jesus and his kingdom.” 


– Dallas Willard


What a Sabbatical Is Not

A Sabbatical is not a long vacation. It’s not a time to read books on leadership or visit successful churches to learn from them. It’s not a time to write a book, do research, or work on some other special project. These are good things to do –  it’s not that you can’t do any of them on a sabbatical, but they work against the spirit of Biblical Sabbath rest. Also, a sabbatical is not a job search, and it’s not an elder-imposed leave of absence to discipline a pastor. When these activities are done in the name of “sabbatical,” it breaks down the trust of the church. 


What a Sabbatical Is

Sabbatical is an extended time away from normal ministry roles and responsibilities for the intentional purposes of prolonged rest, deep renewal, and re-visioning. The sabbatical is based on the Biblical practice of a sabbatical year, a command given to God’s people in Exodus 23:10-13 and Leviticus 25:1-13 to let the land rest after 6 years of work, mirroring God’s intent for weekly rest on the Sabbath. A sabbatical is essentially a series of Sabbath days. This kind of rest was honored by Jesus when he “went apart” from the crowds and His ministry to them (Matthew 14:23; Mark 6:46-47; John 6:15). He understood that time alone facilitated a work of the Spirit that can only be done in solitude. Sabbatical is a time when typical work activity is suspended for the purpose of tending to one’s soul. Jesus says in John 17:3 that eternal life is wrapped up in “knowing God,” so while there might be other outcomes of a sabbatical, the primary goal is increased intimacy with God. 


“Pastoral work is extremely stressful, and a lack of spiritual rest is especially hazardous to the effectiveness of pastoral ministry!… [I]f they don’t care for their own souls under God, respecting their personal limits and nurturing their own relationships with God and their family, then their ministry eventually collapses. Of course, people in other jobs work extremely hard and have great stress too. But if doctors, attorneys, teachers, or other professionals go through a divorce they usually don’t lose their jobs! If their spiritual life grows stale, probably no one worries about it. If they struggle with pornography, alcohol abuse, or other emotional problems, it’s usually no problem for their work life — or if it does get in the way, once they get help they can go right back to work. But pastors and missionaries are called to a higher standard. Rightly so. Their work is sacred. They minister the Word of God to their congregations. They baptize new Christians. They marry the bride and groom. They conduct funerals. They care for hurting marriages and families. They help people who feel far from God get re-connected. More than any other workers, pastors are Christ’s ambassadors to hundreds or thousands of people. We need our pastors to be morally fit and spiritually healthy! Their message needs to match their character or people won’t follow them.”


– Bill Guthrie


Sabbatical Framework

Each sabbatical will be different and reflect the needs and desires of the one on sabbatical, but generally speaking, there are three phases to a well-rounded Sabbatical: rest, refreshment, and re-engagement.



The first component of sabbatical is rest – the intentional unplugging, detoxing, and unwinding from the demands and rhythms of ministry and leadership and deferring communication and contact about ministry-related items. Part of this rest is laying down a large component of the spiritual weight of leadership. Pastors are often unaware of how heavy this weight is until it’s been taken off for a season. Often it is challenging for pastors to “turn off,” so setting up some ground rules around social media and limiting relational connections outside of close friends and family are recommended. A quieter, slower, more deliberate pace of living is necessary for physical, emotional, and spiritual rest. Rest, more often than not, is best accomplished in a different geographic region from where one is engaged in ministry. Geographic separation helps facilitate the experience of retreat. 



The second component of Sabbatical is reset, refreshment, or recalibration. This is an intentional time to lay the foundations for the next season, build mental, emotional, and spiritual health, and make space to grow. It’s a lot of practices like Scripture reading, prayer, journaling, silence and solitude, and reading, but not necessarily for the church, but creating space for God to speak and encourage you as a child of God. Critically, this is also a key moment to invite input and wisdom from mentors, counselors, therapists, and coaches.



This is a dreaming, shaping, and listening moment to go before Jesus and ask for clarity looking forward. The hope is to return with a renewed vision and vigor for the assignment God has given. It’s also a time to return to ministry – rested and recalibrated by the Holy Spirit – with an attentive attitude. It’s a time to ponder questions like: 

  • What was the movement of the church while one was gone? 
  • What responsibilities were covered by others, enabling one to step away? 
  • How does a rested and recalibrated soul do the work of future ministry? 

This will be a challenging phase, as the temptation to return to old patterns, frustration in transition, or grappling with the loss of control can distract from the work God has done. As one re-enters ministry, they re-enter slowly, with patience, reflection, and attentiveness to God, oneself, and others. While it is often the case that when a leader returns from a sabbatical there is a renewed vision, a refreshed heart, etc., there is absolutely no expectation from Coastline, or any of its staff or leaders, that there needs to be increased productivity upon return. We want to allow the pastor to return in a slow pace to set a healthy foundation for years of fruitful ministry.  Sabbatical is an intentional disconnection that produces greater fruit in the long run. 


The Role of the Body (Commission the Congregation)

Much of ministry is done by who we perceive as “the professionals.” We view pastors as professionals. They are the ones who study God’s word and tell us what it means. They are the ones who plan the church calendar. They are the ones who sit in the hospital with the broken and newborns. Pastors are the ones who share the salvation message and lead small group. 


During this time of sabbatical you have the opportunity to be the body of Christ. Peter wrote to the early church and told them they are a royal priesthood (1 Peter 1:9). The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth and told them that they are ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). While a pastor is on sabbatical, this is your chance to fill in the gaps. This is your opportunity to share your faith with your neighbor. This is your time to show up early to serve the church. 


Recommend Reading

Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Ruth Haley Barton 

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer 

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Pete Scazzerro  

Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard 

Practicing His Presence, Brother Lawrence 

What is a Sabbatical, CrossPoint Ministries