A Pastor’s Sabbath: What to Do When Sabbath is Sporadic

2018-06-02T14:18:40+00:00Blog, Pastors|

“You need to take some time off soon,” Donna said. She runs our HR department at the church.

“I know. I am not good at taking time off. I have never been,” I retorted.

Taking time off is not something that I despise. I love downtime. I don’t look for work just to stay busy, avoid homelife, or to “escape” reality by feeling accomplishment. In fact, I have often said, I am not a workaholic — I just have a job that demands me to work all the time. And while the role of pastor never seems to end, it can be controlled and doesn’t have to take over our every-waking-moment. Being a pastor is what we do but it doesn’t also have to be who we are.

We have a family.
We have hobbies.
We like to read things that are not commentaries.
We like to hang out and laugh.
We need sleep.
We like really good food.
Pastors are real people too.

Maybe you have been where I often find myself — the email never stops, the requests for meetings could take you months to fulfill, there is always a sermon to write, a counseling session to prep and a person to call (among other things). In this role, there are always many people asking for our time and they are unaware of the other many people that are also asking for our time. So how are we to find rest in a world of demands that never seems to end?

3 Ways to Find Rest in a Busy World

First off, we have to remember the command is to “Watch over ourselves first” — and THEN the flock of God of which we have been given responsibility (Acts 20:28). If we are not healthy physically, spiritually and emotionally, then we will not be able to help people gain health either. God was clear through Paul — take care of yourself first. I can be terrible at caring for myself first because I would gladly give over and over, denying my own physical, spiritual or emotional needs, just to serve others. I don’t do this to get a prize or the accolades of men. I just love and live for people. But I have been reminded that if I am not caring for myself first, I will have nothing good to give to anyone else. Tim Keller said it well — “Leadership is stewardship.” That starts with stewarding ourselves and then stewarding the calling to serve others.

Second, taking time to care for ourselves helps us regain perspective on the work of God in us and through us. The reason that rest and the Sabbath was originally created was to enjoy results of our work. Exodus 20:9-10 says, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.” As Pastors, we miss the power of what is said here. There is one day when we sit back and regain perspective of who God is and who we are. Working non-stop may cause our hearts to believe that we are God and He is not. We do our work for God, but we do the work with and by God’s gracious power in our life.

Third, be realistic about what is needed for you to get rest and regain perspective. I believe that we all have different “Responsibility to Rest” ratios. Some people are 1 for 1 — they need equal amounts of work and downtime to feel healthy. Others are 1 to 2 or 1 to 10. You can look around your life and see, we all are made different with various capacity levels. That does not mean that a person is better because their capacity for responsibility or work is greater than the others. Nor is a person who has a higher working capacity to be judged for not resting enough. We are all different. So whatever your work capacity is, you need to be realistic about it and strive to rest at a level that will keep you healthy. I would even say that you should pray and ask the Lord to reveal to you what the right “responsibility to rest ratio” is for you. I would guess this won’t take a lot of thinking to figure out.

4 Questions to Consider

Once you know what kind of rest you need, I encourage you to consider the following:

  1. When will you rest on a weekly basis?
  2. What are some rhythms of rest you would like to maintain monthly and quarterly?
  3. Is your rest more about contemplation, relaxation or aesthetics? Do you need to sit in a coffee shop or be hiking a mountain?
  4. What part of your “Rest” is with family and/or friends and what part is alone?

Resting for me doesn’t always come on the same day each week. For the most part, I take Saturday off as my “rest” day. But the truth is, it is very full of family stuff, house stuff and usually an hour or two of sermon rehearsing. Therefore, I take about a day a month to just “unplug” in addition to that Saturday. This is a day that I lay in the grass at the park while the kids play; work in my basement; or go write, walk and pray. Then about once every two or three months I take an entire week to say at a cabin across town and write. I still go home in the evenings, but I don’t go to the office for a week just to break the norm. This is still a “work week” for me (I usually get the most work done that week) but it is extremely restful and refueling for my soul.

Balancing Rest and Responsibility

If you are a pastor, you know, our “sabbaths” are not like everyone else. On the weekends when others are getting refilled, we are getting poured out. So we must plan a specific time each week, month and quarter to get refueled. I’ve also learned that I have to let go of the pressure I feel from everyone wanting something from me all the time. I am always disappointing people and I’ve had to learn that comes with the job. I strive to love them endlessly, but that doesn’t mean I can please them continuously.

Finally, when it comes to balancing rest and responsibility, I have accepted that I live only to please God. He knows when I work, how hard I work, how long I work, and how intentional I work. I work only to please Him. On the flip side, He also knows if I am stopping to ‘give Him my rest’ as Exodus points out, so I live to please Him in the moments I can do nothing.

Failing to rest is failing to lead myself well and this will result in failing the people God’s entrusted to me. I am in this calling for the long-haul. I will strive to keep my priorities, peace, and control while pouring my life out for the Lord and the joy of His people.

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