Do pastors need their own sabbath?

Many pastors have something in their contracts to the effect that they should take one complete day off each week. Funnily it often sounds like this is an obligation on them rather than what it is in fact which is provision for them!  It is sometimes suggested that this is to be their sabbath.  Now, it has also been observed by a number of people that if this is so, it does make pastors in western contexts unusual because most people consider it normal to have two days, a full weekend off. In fact, in my last secular job, we had flexible working arrangements enabling us to complete our hours by 1pm on a Friday in effect giving us a long weekend with 2.5 days off.

I am going to challenge the assumption here. You see, I believe it is based on a misunderstanding of the Christian sabbath and indeed the role of a pastor.  If we think of the Christian sabbath as a day off primarily for our private leisure once we have been and got church out of the way and if we think that unfortunately the pastor has to work that day, we have missed the point.

If Sabbath rest is about the whole community of God’s people enjoying God, his provision and the fruit of their gospel labours together, then Sunday should be when a pastor enjoys sabbath too. It simply does not make sense for him to have a day off somewhen else by himself that he calls his sabbath. 

Speaking as a pastor, I would say that this means that like everyone else, I have been doing my work through the week. I have been labouring by studying God’s word, by discipling people and by participating in evangelistic activities. Just like everyone else I arrive on Sunday ready to enjoy the fruit of this remembering that God is sovereign and all good gifts come from him. I enjoy this rest by getting to see all of the people I have been tirelessly working for in the week. I share with others by preaching so that the fruits of my study are shared.

Now, this does mean that we have a little bit of work to put in together. The reason why the day does not feel like Sabbath rest for pastors is I suspect not because they have to preach, talk to their congregation or attend a service and sing with others. Those things should all be enjoyable. However, I think that we often make the day like work for ourselves and also that churches can make it by look by everything else we add into the mix. If as well as preaching, the pastor is also running around sorting out logistical issues, if after the service, or even just before seems to be the best time for members to come and raise a complaint, if Sunday afternoon is spent sorting out upsets from the morning then it will not be a joy, not restful and definitely will feel like work.

So, do give your pastor time off in the week to rest, watch TV, play football and whatever household chores he is responsible for. Don’t worry about setting another day aside as his sabbatical. Do look at whether or not Sunday is designed in such a way that it is his sabbatical too.

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