I’m not good at predicting the future, but a tweet I read last week seems right to me: “Prediction: In the next two years there will be a large exodus of pastors from the pastorate. Every pastor I talk with is exhausted and, to a degree, frustrated. Theological and ideological differences between pastor and parishioners is increasing. It’s not sustainable.”
At the very least, pastors are facing tough new realities: restrictions in worship, decreased attendance, and divided opinions. Some pastors I know are doing fine, but many are tired.
At the best of times, pastors need Sabbath. These aren’t the best of times, and we need it even more.
Why Pastors Don’t Take a Sabbath
I can think of a few reasons why pastors don’t take Sabbaths.
The most obvious is theological. Many believe that we’re no longer required to observe the fourth commandment (Colossians 2:16-17). Fine. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take a weekly Sabbath. “Even if the Sabbath is no longer an old-covenant religious obligation,” writes Christopher Ash, “we are simply foolish to behave as though we no longer need a day off each week.”
Pastors also struggle to take Sabbaths because they like their work and see it as important. “I enjoy my work so much that taking a day off every week sometimes involves considerable self-denial and discipline,” observes David Murray. I have pastor friends who have worked seven days a week for years. They’ve never developed the discipline of setting aside their work and resting for a day each week.
I wonder if there’s a hidden reason why we don’t like to take a Sabbath: Sabbath is humbling. It reminds us of our limits. For a day a week, we set aside our work and remind ourselves that the world can run just fine without us. William Still sounded a warning for pastors centuries ago: “Don’t try to do the impossible. Know your limitations, and know what God is seeking to do in the world and what part in it He wants you to play … Most people crack up because they try to do what God never intended them to do. They destroy themselves by sinful ambition, just as much as the drunkard and drug addict. Ambition drives them on.”
Pastors have lots of reasons for not taking a Sabbath, but no good reasons.
Not Too Late to Start
We need Sabbath. I agree with J.R. Briggs: “I have yet to meet a burned-out pastor who practiced Sabbath religiously.”
If you’re a pastor, I plead with you: start to build this habit into your life. Expect that it won’t come naturally at first, but keep at it. We’re in for an extended period of tougher ministry than normal. We need to build rhythms in our lives that will help sustain us. We also need to set an example for the people we pastor.
This Thursday, I’ll finish my work. I’ll put an autoresponder on my email. I’ll prepare to wake up Friday with no tasks on my list other than activities that help restore my soul, and that bring me closer to God and others. God is gracious, and a weekly Sabbath is one of the gifts we get to enjoy, even in times like this.