Dear Pastor: A Sabbath's Leisure

Dear Pastor,

Do you take a day off each week? If you do, are you consistent in keeping it free from work-related tasks and meetings?

A true day off is different from a day where you work from home, and while a true day off may include a meeting or a lunch from time to time, as a general rule a true day off will be free from work-related responsibilities.

I fell into the habit of taking Fridays as my day off when I realized that, if I took Monday, as many ministers did, I would never have back-to-back days off, which meant we would rarely, if ever, be able to go away. I switched my day off to Friday and have never looked back. 

The point of a day off is leisure and Sabbath, the ability to rest and to take honest stock of your spiritual life before God. Pastors work strange days and odd hours, often outside the scope of what is observable by regular parishioners. 

When I switched my day off to Friday, I had a church member challenge me. (For some reason, it had been fine when I took Monday off, but the switch to Friday created a problem for him!) 

“If you take Friday and Saturday off, what are your five workdays,” he asked me, as though he had me trapped. 

“Sunday through Thursday,” I replied. 

“How is Sunday a workday?” he questioned. “I have to be here at church just like you do. It isn't a workday for me.”

My response was simple. “Are you able to go away for the weekend and not be here on Sunday and not have to take time off for that? If I decide to go away for the weekend and don’t come here [to church] on Sunday, what will happen to me?” I belatedly got him to admit that, yes, Sunday is a workday for pastors. 

Still, you have to fight to protect your day off. At the same church, another member had been in the habit of going to the church building on Fridays to do things, from tidying up a classroom, to photocopying the bulletin, to other small caretaking tasks. I informed her that I would be taking Fridays as my day off and that she should ask for a church key for herself, but she didn’t want to. Instead, she called me the next Friday morning and asked me to drive to the church building to let her in. I let her know I had plans for the day and wouldn’t be able to do that, and I reminded her that she should get her own key. This happened for three or four weeks in a row, and she was frustrated with me, until I visited her in her home and asked her how she would feel if, when her husband was taking time off, work people expected him to report at their convenience on his day off! We came to a truce, and she asked for her own key.

It’s easy to forge the idea that the church cannot succeed, move forward, or accomplish anything without our presence ever at the helm. But this is a false identity. This is an identity that is built upon two weakened structures--one, that we are the foundation holding everything together; and two, perhaps more dangerously, that our work is who we are.

Taking a day off is radical because it sets us outside of the framework that says “more is better” and admits that we have a need to rest. The false identity challenges us to do more, to give more, to burn out for the sake of the cause, to sacrifice our families because of the importance of the work. The true identity, almost always marginalized until we deliberately pay attention to it, pulls us towards rest that helps us realize that God is the one through whom the church will thrive. 

As pastors, we need to step back and ask whether we believe that Christ is the foundation of the church and that God is building the church through and by God’s Spirit. Yes, our work is important, and yes, our presence is often important to our work being done. But, if your ministry can’t go a day without you being right in the centre of it, is it really Christ’s foundation anymore...or is it your foundation, beginning to crumble at the edges?

A day off helps us to shine the light into our own darkness, to examine whether we serve our work or whether our work serves us. As pastors, we can become so caught up in being a pastor that we lose our identity in that role. We use the Bible only for lessons, pray as a formality when called upon, and moralize to others in ways we never apply to ourselves. A day off, away from the office and meetings, allows us space to think and pray and grow in our relationship with God without any of the heavy expectations of others. 

It doesn’t matter whether you call it a day off, a Sabbath, or your weekend. And it doesn’t matter whether you take Monday, Friday, or any other weekday as your day off. What matters is that you step away for a day, remove yourself from the ministry mindset, and focus on rest and leisure. You spend all week shepherding the souls of others; for one day, let God shepherd you. 

Will you set aside one day in the next week and protect it for rest and leisure? If you already take a day off, will you commit to scheduling nothing work-related for that day? Consider, on your day off, taking your family to a nearby town for a walk and lunch, or canoeing down a gentle river, or taking a hike in solitude. 

What most recharges you and helps you connect with God? That is the thing you should do on your day off. 

Let me know how I can serve you in this.

Love First,

Jeremy

P.S. It’s not always easy to identify space in our lives to build new habits in. We have many blind spots. If you’d like a guide to walk you through a process of discovering where and how you can build these new habits into your life, please reach out to me. I specialize in helping ministers make transitions, avoid burnout, and work through leadership challenges.