By 2020, Chris Turner, pastor of Neill’s Creek Baptist Church, was beginning to feel the burdens of pastoral ministry. Read his story below as he shares how a sabbatical helped him refocus on his work and renew his calling.

In the fall of 2021, Neill’s Creek Baptist Church in Angier afforded me a 12-week sabbatical. This provision was included in the covenant when I was called as senior pastor in February of 2011. I could submit a proposal requesting a sabbatical at any point after my seven-year anniversary as pastor. 

At the seven-year mark, I didn’t feel a sabbatical was needed. However, by the end of 2020, I knew it was absolutely necessary. 

In 2020, our church completed construction of a new family life center and launched a capital fundraising campaign. Our world was rocked by major political and social events. And of course, I had done my best to lead the church through this thing called the COVID pandemic.

God was blessing our church and community with tremendous growth. New vision and renewed passion were needed to help the church minister to our changing community and move forward into the next decade. After 10 years of ministry, there were things about my leadership that needed to be refined. All of this was exhausting – mentally, physically and spiritually. 

By late 2020, I was on the brink of burnout, and the warning signs were there. I found myself growing impatient while shepherding the people and becoming irritated at the smallest need. I began to view ministry as a burden instead of a blessing. I struggled with apathy and coldness toward the growing needs of the church family. I began to isolate as little things annoyed me. 

For the first time in my ministry, there were Sundays that I didn’t look forward to being at church. At the same time, my wife was struggling with whether to leave her job, which was causing tremendous stress for her and adversely affecting our marriage. All of this made it abundantly clear that something had to change. 

In early 2021, I formally requested a three-month sabbatical. As part of this request, I submitted a proposal (including a budget request) for how I would use my time.

First, I needed time with my family. My wife and I needed to reconnect and strengthen our marriage. As a minister, we tend to miss special events and family occasions because of our demanding schedule. I wanted to take some trips with my family and have uninterrupted time with them.

Second, I needed to experience a renewed relationship with God. I wanted a refreshed sense of calling and a closer connection with my heavenly Father. The demands of ministry had caused my spiritual walk to become lifeless and routine. I yearned to worship the Lord again in a way that was authentic.

Third, I wanted to focus on my health. I needed to rest, lose some weight and take better care of myself. A team of leaders also worked with the church to create three goals for them to work through during this period. 

I needed several weeks to fully disconnect and relax. Melissa and I enjoyed the N.C. Baptist Replenish retreat at Caswell which helped our marriage. There were memorable family trips, unique worship experiences and times of sweet communion with the Lord. By November, I felt renewed in my calling, refreshed in my spirit and inspired with new vision for leadership.

If your church doesn’t have a sabbatical policy in place, I urge you to consider that as an investment into the health and longevity of your ministerial staff. Healthy pastors lead healthy churches to fulfill the mission of Jesus and bring glory to God.

EDITOR’S NOTE – This article originally appeared in the October 2023 issue of the Biblical Recorder magazine. Chris Turner serves as senior pastor of Neill’s Creek Baptist Church in Angier. Turner appeared on a recent edition of the N.C. Baptist podcast to discuss sabbaticals. Listen to the podcast at ncbaptist.org/podcast.