Clergy and the Sabbath


At first, this post will likely confuse church members yet resonate with pastors. In the end, it should provide useful clarity for both.

Let’s test my premise: Pastors have a difficult time taking a weekly Sabbath. 

To any number of congregational members, this statement will make no sense. Who is in church on Sundays more often than pastors? Who spends more time preparing for Sabbaths? Who invests more emotionally in worship services than clergy?

That’s the point. Of the Sabbath, God said “you shall not do any work” (Exodus 20:10). I assure you, leading worship is work. Preaching and teaching is work. Greeting guests and visiting with members is work. 

It’s work we enjoy

It’s work we value. 

It’s work we even love. 

But, it’s work. 

When I lead worship the Sabbath, one way I assess how I served is my level exhaustion Sunday night. If I’m not emotionally spent, I probably didn’t give my all to God and God’s people. That’s unacceptable to me. I’m by no means alone among clergy.

Clergy are not precluded from taking a Sabbath just because they work Sundays or weekends. Romans chapter 14 makes it clear that, in Christ, any day can become the Sabbath. Yet, ministers still struggle to take a Sabbath. 

Some pastors don’t take a Sabbath for internal reasons. 

  • They never feel they are caught up with work, so feel they can’t stop and take a day off. 
  • They define their role so broadly they must work seven days. 
  • They feel like they are never “off the clock,” so they never really “rest.”
  • They are driven to prove themselves even though the drive has little or nothing to do with ministry. 

Other pastors fail to observe a regular Sabbath for external reasons.

  • They don’t feel they are taking a Sabbath unless they gather with fellow Christians, so they don’t take a Sabbath during the week.  
  • They are responding from pressure from congregational leaders, who expect clergy available “twenty-four seven.” 
  • They have a denominational culture that pressures clergy into making constant personal sacrifices. 
  • They work a second job, which takes the place of a Sabbath away from parish ministry. 

Given this reality, it’s fair to question whether clergy should take a Sabbath. The answer is a resounding, “Yes.” 

The clearest and most direct reason is the third commandment, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.” God said take a Sabbath. We take a weekly Sabbath. 

It’s also important because ministers are leading the process of making disciples in the local congregation. This is done, not only through preaching and teaching, but by modeling the Christian life. Pastors who work seven days a week are training members to do the same. Likewise, when clergy take a Sabbath, they are equipping their members to take a Sabbath.

Finally, taking a Sabbath is vital for ministers to fulfill their calling. We were not created to work incessantly. It takes a toll on us; body, mind and spirit. 

In next week’s post, we’ll dive into how congregations can help leaders take a weekly Sabbath. Until then, share your thoughts in the comments or shoot me an email. 

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