Supporting the Pastor’s Sabbath

Maumee River Sunset

Leaders from a number of churches responded to last week’s post on clergy taking a weekly Sabbath. One specific issue surfaced, well summarized in this quote: 

“Our congregation gives the impression the pastor should be “on the clock” twenty-four hours a day. How can we persuade our church to support the pastor taking a Sabbath each week?”

This transition starts with leaders becoming convinced God is calling all His people to take a Sabbath. The pastor and leaders need to open the Scriptures. At the least, they should study…

  • The Third Commandment: God provides a good deal of clarity about the Sabbath in Leviticus chapters 19 and 26, as well as Exodus chapter 31.
  • Creation: Consider the implications of God, who needs no rest, resting on the seventh day. 
  • Discipleship: Examine how Jesus took breaks from ministry (Luke 5:6, Mark 6:31). Review how the missionary Paul went about discipleship (1 Corinthians 4:16, 11:1).

The process continues with leaders discerning why the congregation expects the pastor to work “twenty-four seven.” Key questions to ask include: 

  • Are members reflecting the attitude of leadership?  
  • Are members fearful they will not receive care during times of need? 
  • Are members resentful of the long hours they work, thus transferring personal frustration to the pastor?
  • Have previous pastors established expectations that pastors are on call “all day, every day”?

Finally, the pastor and leaders create a plan to support the pastor in a weekly Sabbath. 

The pastor works with leaders to choose a set day of the week for a Sabbath. While Monday or Friday are the most common, any day without regular worship services could work. 

At the same time, the pastor and leaders determine who will respond to congregational needs when the pastor is off. This could be elders or another staff member. What matters is there is someone designated that members can find, or the church office can reach, in time of need. 

Together, they define the level of emergency required to interrupt pastor’s Sabbath. In the parish, there were three reasons to contact me on my Sabbath:

  • If someone faced such a crisis of faith that they were at risk of denying Christ.
  • If there was a medical emergency where a member’s life was at risk. 
  • If there was a funeral. 

Once these decisions are made, the leadership makes a concerted effort to communicate when and why the pastor is taking a weekly Sabbath. It is beneficial to specify the pastor’s Sabbath in weekly and monthly calendars. Likewise, ensure members can readily find those serving in the absence of the pastor.  

What else would help a congregation transition toward respecting the pastor’s Sabbath? Leave your thoughts in the comments or shoot me an email. For addition content about clergy, churches and a Sabbath, read the following…

Clergy and the Sabbath

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