7 Ways I Protect My Sabbath

This is a hard word for some pastors, but after a recent post I was asked about how I protect my Sabbath. That’s a great question, because many pastors struggle in this area. In fact, many pastors I know who would teach their church to observe the Sabbath, seldom do so personally. This fact alone is one of the leading causes of pastoral burnout, in my opinion.

Protecting my Sabbath has proven to be crucial in protecting my ministry.

I observe my Sabbath day on Saturday most weeks. It’s my day with Cheryl. It’s not a day where I do nothing. That’s not how I rest. It’s a day where I do what I want to do. On my Sabbath, I don’t work. I play. I rest. I recharge. I clear my head and prepare for the week ahead.

Here are 7 ways I protect my Sabbath:

Recognize the value – I have to realize there is a reason to observe a Sabbath. It’s almost like God knew what He was doing. :) If I value it enough, I’ll make it a priority. The value of a Sabbath is not only for myself, but it aligns me with God’s design for mankind. “On the 7th day He rested”. Have you read that somewhere? We were created with a need for the Sabbath. That makes it valuable.

Make it a priority – Not only do I value the importance, but I make it a priority in my week. As important as any other day, my Sabbath is a must do part of my week. A Sabbath is good for the pastor, the pastor’s family and the church. That’s worth prioritizing.

Place it on the calendar – The Sabbath needs to be planned in advance. If you think it’s going to happen when you “catch up”, you’ll never take a Sabbath. Depending on the size of your staff or the demands of your church, your day may not be the same as mine, but you choose a day that works best and calendar it regularly.

Trust others – One of the leading reasons I hear for pastors not taking a day off is that they don’t have anyone who can handle their responsibilities. This is especially true in churches where the pastor is the only staff member. Regardless of staff size, pastors need to surround themselves with some healthy people and take a risk on them. I delegate well so that when I’m gone I know things will continue to operate efficiently. Ultimately, however, when I honor my Sabbath I’m demonstrating that I trust God. After all, the plan was His idea.

Discipline myself – I just do it. I make myself take a day off. (You should consider this discipline!) Now, here’s the hard part of that. In addition to saying “Yes” to yourself, you have to discipline yourself to say “No” to others. Without a doubt, if you try to protect a day there will be multiple invitations, seemingly good opportunities, and non-emergency interruptions. It will happen. You’ll have to continually help others (and yourself) understand the value in this discipline. It’s part of being a healthy pastor. And, I assume, most churches want that. Frankly some will never understand the value in your Sabbath (even if they see the value for themselves), but they will also be the first one to complain if you aren’t performing at your best in other areas of your ministry.

Prepare for it – I have to work hard prior to a Sabbath so I can comfortably take it without reservation. That means I handle any details I can in advance. Whether a pastor works five or six days a week, (I personally work 6) it is important to work hard and smart enough where there is no guilt in taking your deserved and commanded sabbath. Not trying to be cruel here, but if you are not finding time to take a Sabbath, it could be a planning and organizational problem as much as it is a demand of your time problem.

Learn to enjoy -Some pastors, like me, are not wired for a Sabbath. I realize some people have no problem taking a day off, but I honestly would work seven days straight if no one stopped me. There’s always plenty to do. I’ve learned, however, that I function better the other 6 days if I have one day that I’m not working. It’s been a challenge to maintain it, but I now truly look forward to the rest. It’s proven to be as important for my wife as it is for me and when she’s happy, I’m happy.

Now, please understand, there are no perfect plans. This works most of the time for me, but not all of the time. There are, of course, exceptions, interruptions, and Kingdom opportunities, which cause me to not be able to protect every Sabbath day. (Jesus had those too.) As much as is possible, however, I stick with this plan, and when it is interrupted, especially if it happens several weeks in a row, I will make up the time with some extra time away. I try to get my downtime back at some point. It’s that important to me now.

Pastor, are you protecting your Sabbath? Be honest.

The strength and success of your ministry may depend on it.

Pastor, what tips do you have for helping some of my burned out pastor friends maintain a weekly Sabbath?

Bonus question: Pastor, do you have a plan for extended time a way…a Sabbatical of some form? Could you share what you do in this area to help the rest of us?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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24 thoughts on “7 Ways I Protect My Sabbath

  1. Great blog! I'm a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, and so keeping the bibical Sabbath (Saturday) holy by resting from secular labor on this day is a part of my religious convictions and culture. When Friday sunset rolls around I am SO GRATEFUL for God commanding us to set aside this 24hr period to rest. He defintiely knows what He's doing.

    However, because Saturday is by far the busiest day of my week (preaching, greeting members, engaging visitors, etc…) I often find myself burnt out and in need of an additional Sabbath rest. When my day ends on Satuday and the sun is setting, I often find myself needing time to just unplug and… rest.

    I have not set aside another day to serve as a type of Sabbath for me personally, but after reading this blog, I feel this may be something I need to consider. A day where I can unplug from this world and just connect with my family and with my Father… A Sabbath!

  2. It is interesting that people are willing to accept the Sabbath as a time of rest from their labors but not accept the day that God planned to honor — the seventh-day of the week, Saturday. "For I am the Lord, I do not change." Malachi 3:6 Old Testament or for those who only believe in the New Testament Matthew 24:35 "The Lord Jesus said, Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away." (NKJV)

  3. Ron! In order to protect our Sabbath, I feel we need to follow 2 simple steps: (1) Be intentional about protecting the sabbath and (2) Go forward and implement the same.

    When the plan and practice protecting the Sabbath consistently, I think we will make it a habit in the long run.

  4. I'm reminded of Matthew 12:5-8 http://vref.me/kjv/mt12.5-8. Not wanting to make a "7th day" statement but do want to encourage you to keep that Saturday sabbath for you and your family. Shabbat is ultimately about resting from our labors as God rested from his own. When I've deep dived this concept in study and prayer I've come back with a few insights.

    First, resting from our labors doesn't mean not doing anything, nor does it generally mean doing what we want to. Instead, it means to intentionally stop working on the desires of our soul (mind, will and emotion) and focusing attention on the intentions of our spirit (as joined to the Father through Christ and the deposit of the Holy Spirit in the life).

    If we look at it in this way we will find the true meaning of "rest" in the biblical context. God stopped creating, doing, making on His sabbath. Those were His activities, the expression of Himself as creator. When He rested he He rested from these "doings" and instead focused on simply "being." Now, in the context of the Father, He of course never stops doing on our behalf and of course, simultaneously all is already done and is simply waiting for time to "catch up" to His will.

    But, for us, we live in time so we have seasons of doing and not doing. In the macro we have the seasons of life, but in the micro we have seedtime and harvest, sowing and reaping, doing and rest (sabbath). So, when your Saturday time comes around look at the time with wisdom and look at what your soul (mind, will, emotions) would have you do. The activities are usually about doing, making, creating, gathering and such. And contrast that with your best connection with your spirit. These intentions of the spirit are generally around being, knowing, attending (being in a moment) and intending (being concentrated an outcome for self or others).

    When we shabbat with God we can find that rest, but it takes some time and practice for the "soul" to calm down and the "spirit" to speak up. So, God has designed a weekly practice time for each of us :-) For us, sabbath isn't about not lighting fires, and not doing "work" (meaning gainful labor) but instead it's about resting from the desires of soul and attending to the intention of our spirits as joined to God.

    Begin to notice this. Approach the time with wisdom, what our Jewish friends would call the "queen of shabbos." By attending to the time with an eye towards diminishing the labors of the soul, we find rest. For many of us, this is a fitful time, until we learn the discipline. You can find this sabbath rest sitting home reading your Bible or eating ice cream with your kids, or anything in-between. As with most things in the kingdom of God it's not about the outward appearance or legalistic bondage to human custom, it's about heart attitude and the "inclusion" of God, even in the seemingly mundane. That is sabbath rest. The day matters to some, and to others the day is a primary issue, but I feel that God honors the intent of the heart more than the outward perfection.

    Just a few thoughts,

    Joshua

  5. I think your thoughts on preparing for the sabbath are dead on. For me, the secret to keeping a regular sabbath isn't the day of rest – it's what I do on the other six. I have to trust God to make me supernaturally productive so that I can fit 7 days of work into 6 days. It increases my faith, and it allows me to really rest on that seventh day.

  6. Thanks Ron, this truth is so vital! If pastors protected their Sabbaths at all costs, they'd be blown away by the results. As you know I'm not a full-time pastor, but between my business and Manna Cafe, I always work a solid six days a week. I've discovered that if I'm not finding time to take a Sabbath, it's because I'm not taking a Sabbath. What I mean is that this is something I have to do first, pretty much on faith and in spite of all the responsibilities that are trying to pull me away; only then does my time start opening up: I become more efficient during the coming week… or if I've got too much on my schedule, an event will be cancelled… or I'll be extra-creative so that a project comes together in 3 hours when I know it should have taken 8… or my energy level will be out the roof so that I can handle things without becoming overwhelmed. I suppose God is using the Sabbath issue to stretch my faith: "Do this first, and then see what happens when you trust Me."

  7. Thanks for this post. I feel it is something that I have gotten much better at, after some struggle. I was taught early in Bible College that you don't count Sunday services as "work" because you expect everyone else to be there on their own free time. Therefore, he seemed to work almost 7 days a week. The pastor I took over for had family/grown children issues. So, as the years have passed, I have made it not only my personal priority, but I have done a better job in letting those in my church know that when it is my day off – I am off. If it is an emergency (death in the church, etc.) then of course call me. Otherwise, you are capable of handling it. I know there are always silent grumblings from some of the "long-timers," but you can't please all the people all the time.

    The reason why this interested me is because I have 4 girls under the age of nine. They aren't in to the sports activities, so there is not practice and games all week. So, on my day off, they always want to spend the day going out. They, and my wife, feel a little couped-up and want out of the house. So many times, I am more tired after my day off than not. So, I have been toying with the idea of working 4 days at 10-11 hours a day, then having two days off – one where we run around town and have fun, and a second where it is more relaxing at home. Just not sure how it would work. But again, thanks for the post and another opportunity to think this through.

    • I like the idea of 4 days. I think you have to be extremely intentional when kids are the age of yours. One side to that though, as the parent of grown children, you'll be surprised how much your children are recognizing that you work hard, yet strive to make them your greater priority. Keep at it!

  8. The point that hits me the most is that we don’t value the Sabbath! Ouch! Ouch! So True! The Sabbath has taken a hit from this culture. I know for me it has been culturalized and I have to re-establish, settle it in my heart that the Sabbath has true “soul value”! Replenish! Deculturalize the Sabbath… I need to do this; I need to settle it that I need a regular Sabbath. I am called to online ministry in this season of my life and to keep the course of my call steady in Christ, I have to be called to Him 1st. Over the past few years, God has been speaking to me about re-establishing the Sabbath in my life, but today I feel it needs to take on consistency, because constancy proves value. I don’t value the Sabbath enough. Thanks for speaking to my heart today! The heart of the gospel is change… I need to change this in my heart.
    Twitter: kmac4him