To Virtuous Workaholic Pastor: Take The Day Off

If someone were to approach you and ask you to murder someone, most of my dear readers would probably decline the request.  Same with stealing a car, look toward the heavens and curse God, have an affair with the gal/guy at your office, or worshiping Barack Obama as God (though Jamie Foxx may disagree with that last one).

Upon being asked to perform any of the above-mentioned violations of what Jews and Christians have referred to as the “Ten Commandments” (see Exodus 2o), we might puff out our chest in pious unbelief and retort, “how could you think so low of me that you would you would think I would do any of those things?!”

But there is one commandment, in modern ministry, that is often shred to bits–violated more times than the speed limit on a rural Montana road.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it Holy.” -Exodus 20.8

At first thought we may choose to dismiss the topic.  After all, in the western world (especially ‘Merica), we value continuous work.  I’ve heard people boast about how long it’s been since they had a day off as though it is worth any ounce of admiration.  Last year I talked with a pastor who had been at his church for six years and had never taken a vacation.  I wasn’t sure whether I was expected to admire him or pity him.  We take meetings on our day off, schedule church functions for our days off, answer phone calls and emails and texts messages on our day off, all in the name of good Christian service.  We emphatically declare that, despite the fact that many parishioners think pastors only work for two hours every Sunday morning, a pastor’s work never ceases.  He or she is always working.  To some degree that has been the new norm.  But is that what God expects?

I would answer, “no.”  Scripture is abundantly clear as to what our work ethic should look like.  Let’s take a look at a couple work ethic concepts derived from the Scriptures.  These are not strictly applicable to just pastors but are for every follower of Jesus to put into practice.

The Sabbath Was Not A Suggestion

God told Moses to “remember [it] by keeping it holy.”  Holy, in its most fundamental definition means “set apart.”  We are to set apart one day each week to break from our normal routine.  To not work.  And, much like the Jews, we are to fiercely guard that Sabbath.  We are commanded to set a day apart from the rest and do no work.  We tend to treat days off as a sort of “flex day.”  They are often days which are filled with last minute things to do before Sunday, important meetings, or other bits of randomness.  In good virtue, we act out in real life what the cast of The West Wing displayed for six seasons.  But a commandment is not a suggestion.  God commands us to take a day off.

“I Have To Work On Sundays, I Can’t Observe The Sabbath”

If you’re a pastor there’s a pretty good chance you work on Sunday.  If you work in the retail or food service industries, it’s likely Sunday work days are a normal part of your life.  It’s just as easy to choose another day of the week and set it apart for rest.  Insisting your Sabbath be Sunday because “the Bible says so” is both historically inaccurate (seeing as how Jews observe the Sabbath on Saturday) and legalistic.  The important part is not the day, but the fact that a day is observed. Pastors, generally a day to choose to observe for the Sabbath is a day when you are able to most-effectively stay out of church affairs for the day.  Because of the toll preaching takes on pastors emotionally, many thereby choose Mondays as their day of observance.

“What If There Is An Emergency That Requires My Attention?”

Jesus actually addresses this in Luke 14.  If it’s your day off and you find out your church is on fire, for crying out loud change out of your pj’s and head out.  A death in your church is an emergency.  However, the missionary visiting church next month calling you is not.  Let it go to voicemail and address it the next day.

Fiercely Guard Your Sabbath Day

As previously mentioned, the Sabbath day is a non-negotiable.  For senior/lead pastors, if your staff calls, texts, emails, or in some other way attempts regular communication with you on your Sabbath day, instruct them not to.  If it continues get a little sassy about it.  Here’s a great example:

*Senior Pastor’s Phone Rings*

Senior Pastor Jim: “Hello?”

Associate Pastor Hans: “Hey Pastor, I just had something I wanted to run by you real quick.”

Senior Pastor Jim: “Hans, what day is it?”

Assoc Pastor Hans: “Ummm, it’s Monday”

Senior Pastor Jim: “And what day is Monday?”

Assoc Pastor Hans: “Uhhh, it’s your Sabbath”

Senior Pastor Jim: “For your treachery you will now memorize the entire book of Leviticus…in the original Hebrew.”

Assoc Pastor Hans: “Noooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Hyperbolic, for sure.  But the sentiment rings true.  FIERCELY protect your day of rest.

“There Is Just Too Much For Me To Do Without Having To Work On My Day Off”

First of all, that’s a bunch of hooey.  Generally when we find ourselves tending to church matters on our days off it has more to do with time and task management than it does work load.  But if you do find yourself in this position there are two simple solutions:

  • Go into work earlier.  No one says you have to work 8-5.  If you need more time to get stuff done come in at 7.  If you do that each day of the week, you’ve successfully earned yourself half an extra work day spread out through days you’re already working.
  • Delegate.  Make a list of your regular tasks and farm out the ones which make you want to bang your head against your computer.  Retain the ones which absolutely have to be done by you and the ones which you enjoy the most.

“I Don’t Need A Day Off”

Though it is impressive you feel you know yourself better than God does, this is simply incorrect.  You do need a day off.  From a productivity standpoint, quality of work nearly always increases when time is taken to rest.  Creativity is better, work is more efficient, and relationships are more amiable.  If you neglect taking days off for long periods of time you and your family will reap the consequences through strained relationship, missed memories, resentment and eventual burn out.

However the Sabbath looks for you, remember these two things: God commands that we take a day off and we are to fiercely protect and set that day apart from everything else.  Take the time to break from the grind and enjoy the life God has given you.

Todd Korpi (@toddkorpi) and his wife Tara planted and pastor The Cathedral, a life-giving church in Flint, Michigan. Todd and Tara live in downtown Flint with their three daughters and a golden retriever named Karl Barth. Todd has a passion for helping urban church planters, particularly in the rust belt of the northern United States. He has a B.S. in Church Ministries from Evangel University and is currently finishing a M.A. in Global Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. His debut book, "The Life Giving Spirit: The Victory of Christ in Missional Perspective" is scheduled to be released in March 2017. Find out more about Todd and The Cathedral at www.thecathedral.is

3 Comments

  • Reply December 24, 2012

    Gretski

    Yes! Amen and amen. I’m fiercely passionate about this topic, given how many people I’ve seen burn out around me. When we don’t take times of Sabbath, we make our work an idol – taking a day off acknowledges that the world is not sustained by my efforts, but by God’s good provision. Secondly, the failure to take care of oneself by resting intentionally is a selfish act that says “I don’t work in community – I am self sufficient and what I do has absolutely no effect on the people around me”. Part of doing this well is self-management – but part of this is the church clearly defining job descriptions for their staff.

  • Reply December 24, 2012

    waterlylies84

    Now, let’s get this message to sink into the rest of the church body. Pastor’s absolutely should zealously guard their day off, but the body must also recognize that not everything that happens in their day is an emergency or necessarily requires the attention of the pastor.

    All pastor’s need to recognize and be given this freedom. I’ve known of lead (senior) pastors who guard their Sabbath with a vengeance worthy of a zealot only to abuse their youth pastor. I’ve watched youth pastor’s burn-out so fast because of this. I have also seen former youth pastor’s become lead/senior pastor’s who then turn around and do said same to their youth pastor.

    And let’s not forget the volunteer staff and church attendees in general. Most volunteer’s have full time jobs and are just as busy raising families and yet, many pastor’s will preach a guilt ridden message because there aren’t enough volunteers. This tends to make the active volunteer’s feel as if they should be doing more and the volunteer coordinator allows it. I have only been at one church that ever limited my involvement as a volunteer. I taught Sunday school and worked in the nursery. Sunday school was every Sunday, nursery was once a month. I was going to volunteer to work with the intercity outreach and was told that I would need to give up Sunday school in order to do the outreach as both were very time consuming. You have no idea how much I loved and appreciated that policy. It taught me that it is OK to say no. It also taught to run from the attempted guilt trip at other churches.

    So, allow me to revise the my opening statement somewhat, let’s get this message to the rest of the church body and then let’s be sure we put it into practice with those who pastor us and those who work along side us.

Leave a Reply