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Church Worker Sabbaticals

A Time for Renewal: How a Pastor’s Sabbatical Reinvigorated His Ministry


Many would agree that if a man has been a pastor for 30 or more years, he’s likely to have significant wisdom to share. While that is certainly true for Rev. Jeffrey Marquardt, who has been a pastor since 1994, his wisdom is also proven by his capacity to know when it’s time to take a break. 

Rev. Jeff Marquardt

In 2016, while serving at a Lutheran church in North Carolina, Marquardt took a three-month sabbatical – a leave of absence designed to refresh and restore. 

“I was in my third call in about 2014 when a friend of mine mentioned and then coached me toward a sabbatical,” said Marquardt. “This was 22 years after I’d started in the ministry, so it was a good time to be exploring the possibility.” 

It was a wise exploration after many busy years. 

Marquardt had first served as a missionary in Japan before heading to the seminary, then spent the next three decades in parishes in Virginia, Florida and North Carolina. 

Now as the pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in La Plata, Md., Marquardt has been refreshed to lead the parish since 2021, carrying them through the aftermath of the pandemic. 

“It was like hitting the reset button for all of us,” said Marquardt. “I came and was the new guy, which meant that I could ask the question, ‘When was the last time you did that?’ In many cases, it had been years since something was done a certain way, so we could change course.” 

Without having had a break, however, perhaps Marquardt may not have been quite up to the challenge. 

Meticulous planning
“My sabbatical was successful because it was planned pretty well,” shared Marquardt. “We’d planned for two years and even had a group at the church that served as the sabbatical planning team.” 

Part of their careful planning was due to their application for a sabbatical grant through the Eli Lilly Foundation. 

“Once the idea was formed and we started working on the supplication for the grant, everyone was for it,” recalled Marquardt. “It was a good exercise, even if it had not produced anything. We had to figure out the why, how and how long. We did end up getting a grant, so my sabbatical wouldn’t cost the congregation a dime.” 

With a solid plan and funding now in place, Marquardt was set to take his sabbatical. “Everyone was so glad that I could do this, and they were willing to help make it possible,” he explained. “Plus, the congregation knew what to expect, and we had a good plan for coverage while I was gone as well as for my return.” 

A renewed sense of calling
Those first days and weeks of his sabbatical, Marquardt spent part of the time “just decompressing.” 

He had known other pastors who’d written books during their hiatus, spent the time studying or traveling overseas, but every sabbatical is different. 

“I did some reading, went to some other churches for worship and even learned to make stained glass,” shared Marquardt. “That’s been a hobby ever since.” 

Marquardt also prioritized traveling, including a trip with just his wife, and by the end of his summer sabbatical, he had traveled more than 30,000 miles. The time was also spent learning more about discipleship, a topic that had long interested him. 

Another benefit was time with his family as he was able to attend a family reunion in Oregon, a wedding in Nebraska and, thankfully, spend precious time with his mother, who would go to be with the Lord at the end of Marquardt’s sabbatical.  

The whole experience was a needed time of refreshment for him. 

“It really renewed my sense of calling and my sense of who I am and why I’m doing this,” said Marquardt. “I remembered that I do like helping people, and I’m good at helping them through grief and trouble in life and bringing them the comfort of God.” 

The congregation, meanwhile, was served by a newly retired pastor who was willing to step in for the summer, and the church itself took on a couple of projects in their pastor’s absence. 

Ministry is a marathon
While it’s relatively rare for a congregation to have a sabbatical policy in place, many Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) districts make recommendations for sabbaticals to help contribute to pastoral well-being. 

“I think of ministry in terms of a marathon,” explained Marquardt. “At that point in my ministry life, I needed a break. I needed a pause to review and then look ahead. So much in ministry feels like you’re sprinting the whole time, so the sabbatical has helped me to think about patterns in my own daily and weekly ministry life in a better way and gain a better perspective on those kinds of schedules and routines.” 

Marquardt felt that other pastors should consider a sabbatical, especially if they are edging toward burnout in the ministry, and they should talk with their district president about it as soon as possible. A sabbatical, he said, is a way to increase longevity in the parish. 

Congregations, too, should consider offering a sabbatical. 

“More places should be talking about it and making it possible if they want clergy to stay doing what they do,” said Marquardt. “After my sabbatical, the congregation in the next budget year started putting a little aside into a sabbatical fund, so there would be some kind of funding for the congregation to cover it. It doesn’t take much. Just $1,000 or $2,000 per year for seven years, and a congregation can easily handle it.” 

Now back to running at a healthy pace as he serves his people, Marquardt can enjoy the ministry again and is more prepared to meet the inevitable challenges that are part of the vocation. 

“I often tell people that my sabbatical gave me my smile back,” said Marquardt. “It helped refocus me toward what I wanted to do in the future. At that point, I was 52 years old and wanted to look ahead to what God had in store for me.” 

And as any wise pastor of 30 years knows, there is always more blessings in store.