Sabbath for the Pastor (first of several posts)

The joke goes something like this. A pastor is making his report to the Church Council. At the conclusion of her report, she states that she takes Fridays as her day off. Immediately a council member jumps up and cries out: “You take a day off? The devil NEVER takes a day off!!!” Calmly, the pastor replied, “The devil has never been my example.” That ended the discussion.

Pastors need Sabbath time to reconnect with God, with their families and their friends.  Lack of sabbath creates a matrix of confusion, delusion and burn out.

Early in my ministry, before I was aware of this (duh!!!), the Staff Parish Relations Committee (the personnel committee for local United Methodist Churches) was deciding on a salary recommendation. They had come to a consensus on a fair raise. As they were voting on it, one person said, “Well, I don’t really know what we should do. I have no idea of what he does.” Needless to say, “The raise died”. Everyone else on the committee had a good idea of what I did but still no recommendation for a raise. The churches I was serving were small, close knit, and whatever the pastor did spread faster than texting.

Obviously, at first, I was angry and disappointed but I smiled and went home to brood. I brooded, and brooded and brooded. The raise was not the issue, although we could use it. I felt my integrity was being questioned in terms of faithfully doing ministry.

I made two decisions. One, I would communicate in a general, statistical way my activities for each month and report to the committee and church council. Second, for one month, I did a time analysis. I simply made a daily calendar divided into 15 minute increments. I put everything in , or so I thought. I called it accountability on the surface, but beneath the surface, it was, “I’ll show them.” I laid it out in pastoral tasks such as visiting, teaching, etc.

At the end of the month, I had a time sheet that would make any number crunching, obsessive compulsive, co-dependent candidate for burn out proud. I recorded around 80 hours a week work (including travel time). I can hear you sucking in your breath now, but it gets better.

I took it to the SPRC, beaming. “See how hard I work for you.” They looked at it and were impressed, even the one who didn’t know what I did. I had conquered the beast-or so I thought.

Over the years following this, I did mature and began to cringe when I thought about this time study, what it said and what it did not said.

I forgot to mention that in the time study for pastoral tasks, I did not include daily prayer time, personal Bible study, and sermon/lesson preparation. Neither did I include family time. (Do you see where I am going with this?). It also struck me that no one called me on this. Eighty hours a week was insane and just plain stupid, not to mention unhealthy. This is what you get when the devil is your example, even if you don’t realize it.

In my next several posts, I am going to write about what I did and continue to do to follow the example of Christ, to set boundaries, and care for myself, my ministry and my family. To be honest, I found it easier to work myself to death with a martyr’s attitude, than to observe a Sabbath time in my life.  It’s always easier to throw yourself on the altar of being liked and well thought of by everyone, rather than setting a boundary in your life, and having some folks unhappy with you.  I have also found that my life is richer and fuller as I claim and protect my Sabbath time. Stay tuned.


Pastor Bill


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