Pastoral Sabbath in a Small Church

March 13, 2019 • Adam Wyatt

I recently started a sermon series on the 10 Commandments.  Obviously, Jesus came to us as the great fulfillment of the Law but the 10 Commandments still have spiritual implications for our lives. This past Sunday, I preached on the Fourth Commandment which tells us to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8).  Ironically, it also happened to the day we all suffer with church attendance due to the ridiculous Daylight Savings Time (maybe a topic for another blog!).

Most of us take the majority emphasis of this command that we should gather as a body of Christ in our local church and this is a part of this command.  However, as pastors, it is also important for us to understand that there is another principle there that we must understand if we are going to be faithful shepherds.

One of the main thrusts of the concept of the Sabbath is rest.  In fact, the root meaning behind the word “Sabbath” is “to cease.”  So, the thought behind this word, and the theology behind it, is rest.  Let’s face it: this is hard for most of us.  Most pastors are overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated.  We strive long hours and, regardless of effort, sometimes feel that we are, at best, ineffective and, at worst, headed toward burnout.  

Work is a biblical concept and cannot be separated from the Sabbath: “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lordyour God” (Exodus 20:9-10).  In other words, we are called and commanded to work and pastoring is no different.  It is labor.  We cannot escape this reality nor should we.  We have been called to the work that is most holy and needed and we must bear the load willingly (1 Peter 5:2).  But in our efforts to rest let us remember a few things.  I offer these as mild rebukes to all of us because I was hit with them hard this week.

Don’t’ confuse busyness for productivity in pastoral ministry.

Americans are busy people and pastors are no exception.  However, we need to make sure that what we are doing is what is needed.  Just because we are busy does not mean that we are busy with the ministry that God has called us to.  Take an honest assessment and make sure that what you are busy with is actually needed.  Just because you are a busy pastor does not mean that you are being productive.    

Don’t confuse laziness for rest.  

Pastors can be hard working men and, quite often, they need a break.  However, when we are busy doing unimportant things we can often end up taking un-Sabbath-like breaks.  Not doing things that we need to do is not always resting.  We need to rest but that is no excuse to not do ministry.  God commands us that we have six days a week in order to do what we need.  Let’s use these day effectively.

Get work done.

Considering that we have six days to be productive, we need to consider how we can structure our time to get work done.  Whatever it takes, let us craft our work week in such a way as to be available for our people and obedient to our calling as shepherds but also obedient to rest.  The only way that we can find a day a week in order to rest is if we get our work done.  

Pastors, in spite of what some of your members might expect, you are not superman.  Take a nap sometime.  Rest.  Relax. Reflect.  You will find that when we get our priorities together and work hard, we will have much more time for a Sabbath rest.  This is needed.  This is commanded.  May we all be obedient.

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