Dear pastor and Church Leader,
Next week be sure to check our David’s last article in this series, Part 7 – Your Spirit
The Pastor’s Personal Life Part 6
By David Wentz
In American churches, people often joke that the pastor only works one hour a week – the length of many Sunday morning services. The reality, of course, is that one of the biggest problems for pastors is that they never stop working. We addressed this a little bit in the section on managing Your Time, but I’d like to look at it again from another perspective.
Jesus said, The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people (Mark 2:27). In context, his point was that we are not to be legalistic about keeping the Sabbath. If you are like me, that’s not the main problem. Right now, what I want you to see from these words is that God gave us the Sabbath for our benefit. If we don’t keep a regular Sabbath time, we hurt ourselves, physically and emotionally as well as spiritually.
Technically, the Sabbath is from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. That’s the Jewish definition, and the Sabbath is a Jewish institution. In the early church, Christians started meeting on the first day of the week, which we call Sunday. They chose that day because it was the day of Jesus’ resurrection. Most of the early Christians were Jews, and they continued to honor the Sabbath on Saturday. Then they met together on Sunday to celebrate “the Lord’s Day.” For most, this meeting was after work, since Sunday was just another working day in the early centuries of the church.
Many Christians of today think Sunday is the Sabbath, and if they try to follow the Sabbath rules at all, they apply them to Sunday. There is nothing wrong with resting and focusing on God on Sunday. It probably works very well for many people. But for most pastors, Sunday is not a Sabbath of rest; it’s a work day.
Many pastors and church people haven’t thought this through. If you consider Sunday your day of rest, that means you consider the other six days work days. If Sunday is actually a work day also, that means you don’t have a day of rest. You are breaking the Fourth Commandment.
As New Testament Christians, we are no longer subject to the Old Testament law. That means we are not responsible for legalistically following Sabbath rules (Romans 14:5). But we still follow the Ten Commandments as basic principles, and Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments. To my way of thinking, that means it is very important to God that you regularly set aside one day every week for rest and reflection and special time with God. Note that “rest and reflection” doesn’t mean “catching up on all the other things you didn’t get to through the week.”
God’s whole creation operates on rhythms. There’s a warm season and cold season, rainy season and dry season, day and night. Light and other forms of energy vibrate in a rhythm we call “frequências.” Even the rocks are made up of atoms whose parts oscillate and vibrate in rhythms.
You are no different. You require a rhythm of work and rest. You can’t rest all the time, but neither can you work all the time. You need both.
In the modern world, work is not necessarily physical activity. Many people work hard with their minds while barely moving their bodies. In the same way, rest is not necessarily lack of movement.
You rest your body every night by sleeping, but you also need a day every week to rest your body by doing something different with it. If your job requires a lot of physical work, rest may be sitting in a chair. But if your job requires hours of sitting in a chair, rest may mean doing something physical.
For me, Fridays are my “day off.” That’s when I spend time with my family, do things around the house, and so on. Years ago, after I learned that Sunday doesn’t work as a Sabbath for a pastor, I considered Friday my Sabbath as well as my day off. But I found that Fridays quickly became filled up with family activities or chores around the house. These things are important, and you have to schedule time for them, but they are not Sabbath activities. So now I try to take Wednesday as my Sabbath day every week. For my church people, just to avoid confusion, I call it a retreat day or a prayer and study day. I try not to schedule any meetings on Wednesdays. If an obligation arises that I can’t avoid, such as a funeral, I try to make up for it by taking Tuesday or Thursday for a Sabbath. I stay away from the office, and often I find it helpful to get away from home as well. A change of scenery can be very refreshing.
There is no one right way to take a Sabbath. Find the way that works best for you. Just be sure that one way or another, you take a day every week for rest and reflection and special time with God.
Be sure you take a full day. I have known some pastors who tried to take an hour this day to rest, and an hour another day to read, and half an hour on a third day to play a game, and tried to add all that up and call it a Sabbath. I don’t believe that is what God has in mind. It doesn’t provide the rest you need for your body or your soul. You need a full, continuous day.
You might object, “But what if someone needs me that day? What if a non-believer comes by the church to talk about Jesus, and I’m not there? I don’t want anyone to go to hell because I wasn’t on the job!”
Part of that objection is valid. If possible, try to be available when people are most likely to need you, and take your Sabbath when they are least likely – for instance, when most people are at work. Of course, if you also work a regular job with normal hours, this may be difficult, but pray about it and God will guide you.
The other part of that objection is exactly the reason God instituted the Sabbath in the way he did: it requires you to trust God for something that doesn’t make sense to our human way of thinking. One of the most visible ways Israel was set apart from the surrounding nations was that they refused to work on Saturdays, even if the olives needed picking, or the grapes needed to be pressed, or the hay was going to get rained on. They trusted that if they obeyed God about the Sabbath, God would take care of them and their families – even when they felt that, as good farmers, they really should be out in the fields. In the same way, as pastors we need to trust that if we obey God about keeping a Sabbath, God will take care of our churches and potential new believers, even when we feel that, as good pastors, we really should be in our office or by our phone. Of course, if an emergency comes up, you respond (Matthew 12:11-12). But everything related to the church is not an emergency.
One more quick note: in addition to a weekly rest day, it is important to take regular vacations or holidays as well. In the Old Testament, God commanded his people to take several weeks every year for celebrations or “feasts.” They were to do no work, but relax and enjoy themselves.
An occupational hazard of pastors is that we often come to feel that we are indispensable. Psychologists say it takes two weeks away to fully achieve the necessary mental and emotional benefits of a vacation. Many pastors fear that the church will fall apart if they go away for two weeks. Actually, the opposite is true. One of the best ways for your people to learn and grow is to be left on their own for a short time.
Once I was away from my church for three months. I arranged with nearby pastors to be available in case of an emergency, such as the need to conduct a funeral. Otherwise, the members of the church were responsible for everything, including conducting church services. They were very nervous when I announced the plan, but when I came back, several of them remarked, “The greatest thing that ever happened for my spiritual growth was when the pastor went away.”
Take your Sabbaths. Your church will survive.
Thirty-eight years as a pastor honed David’s passion for helping people connect with God and make a difference. Add a varied church background, a first career in engineering, and graduate degrees from three seminaries (mainstream, Wesleyan-evangelical and charismatic), and you can see why he expresses God’s truth in ways everyone can appreciate.
David earned a B.S. in Systems Engineering from the University of Virginia; two Masters of Divinity, from Melodyland School of Theology and Wesley Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Ministry in Christian Leadership from Asbury Theological Seminary. He enjoys the outdoors, writing worship songs with his guitar, and playing sax and flute in jazz and blues jams. His heroes are John Wesley, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
David married his college sweetheart, Paula, in 1974. Their five children are actively serving God in the US and around the world.
Check out the rest of Pastoring: The Nuts And Bolts