Someone at church once asked me, “When is your day off?” I replied, “Friday.”
“Wow.” He said. “I wish I could have Friday’s off. Must be nice.”
“Well, I don’t get many Sundays off. That must be nice to have a Sunday or a full weekend off.”
The reality for most ministers is that Sundays are a true “work day” — we labor. Leading worship, preaching, greeting, teaching Sunday school, marriage counseling, Bible studies, and church meetings occupy most of my Sundays (as well as my weekdays). And why not? That is what pastors do, right? Sure. It’s what we are supposed to do.
But, it is not always easy.
As the only full-time ordained pastor on staff, it’s hard to get away for a weekend. Most families enjoy graduation weekends, beach or lake weekends, reunions, weekend family celebrations, camping weekends, friends weekends, or even that ultra cheap last-minute fight to Miami for the weekend. I hardly ever do those things. For me, I have to plan weeks and months in advance to take a Sunday off.
Sunday is the Sabbath Day for most Christians but for ministers, we need more true Sabbaths. A weekend with a Sunday of rest from our labor, which is ministry. A weekend where we are not counseling, preaching on Sunday, visiting people in the hospital on Friday, attending a meeting Saturday morning, officiating a wedding or funeral on Saturday afternoon. Sometimes, that Sabbath Day for me is Saturday. Other times it is Monday.
As a pastor, I have a movable Sabbath.
A movable Sabbath is convenient but it is stressful. Having a day insures a type of rest but not knowing when that day will be makes my family life unpredictable. Sometimes, I don’t get a Sabbath let alone a weekend. Daily staffing needs, counseling, trouble shooting urgent demands, congregant frustrations and mediating conflict every day of the week are typical requirements. It’s a constant crescendo of events. It’s exhausting. My labor comes home with me everyday. It never turns off. My wife, children, and even some friends, have a connection to my labor at church.
I covet and miss the freedom to block a weekend for my family and my friends on short notice. Sure, there is the vacation week, but I miss a lot of important family and friend events on weekends because Sunday is a fixed ministry labor day. The stress and demands and fulfilling so many expectations leaves me drained. When I come home for my day off, I have nothing left to give my immediate family.
In posting about this stress on Facebook, a few friends had some responses to Sabbath and stress. My friend and mentor, Charlie Updike posted:
One of the things I’m aware of at the end of the journey is that I wish I had taken a Sabbath approach to the Sunday work and take a Sunday off every seven weeks…that is still preparing and preaching 45 Sundays a year.
Another minister, Liz Lemery Joy posted,
I began taking a hard look at that beginning last February. I creatively had to cut back a little. It’s hard to do in ministry… I schedule set times for rest in my calendar now. I believe we need to incorporate the Sabbath rest- in order for God to be able to minister to us, get refreshed and energized
A member at my last church had the best advice (Thanks Scott!):
Tickets to the Washington Nationals…….road trip, hot dogs, cold beer…..come back refreshed and ready to save some souls!
This year I decided to do something different. I took advantage of some family gatherings clustered togeter. I’ve told my church leadership that I need this time. It is stress reliving and very fulfilling. We leaders and ministers need to plan for the sustaining practice of intention fixed Sabbath weekend rest.