The pastor’s Sabbath?

Most pastors have something in their contract to the effect that they should have one day a week completely clear of work. Some contracts will refer to it as the pastor’s sabbath.  I’m deeply uncomfortable with that language because it suggests that the pastor should have his sabbath away from God’s people. It also begs the question “what is he meant to do with the day?” Is he meant to use it to find time to sing, pray, hear Scripture somehow. Or do we really just mean that it’s his day off.

A lot of people in Britain in fact have a full weekend.  They have Saturday and Sunday off work.  I suspect that the day in the contract is really meant to replace Saturday where a pastor isn’t able to keep Saturday clear of church business. Now to be clear, no-one is thinking of Saturday as their Sabbath (unless they are a Seventh Day Adventist -and then the issue is what they see Sunday as).  I think that’s right.  We live in a world where school and work are separate from the household but that wasn’t always the case. So, when the Law talked about six days to work, it was really about those six days for normal household life. Today, I think that includes doing your DIY, visiting the shops and any clubs and activities that the kids might want to join in with. Our modern Saturday is part of the six days.  Pastors need their Saturday for those things too.

But the Sabbath? Well, that’s meant to be something enjoyed together.  What that means is that for your pastor it should not feel like work. Yet it often does. Why? Well, the way we set up the day as busy and the way we structure church where even with people having parts in the gathering can make it feel like the pastor is there to organise things, to oversee, to make stuff happen and to perform with people watching.  When that’s what church is like, then he isn’t getting a Sabbath.

So incidentally, I don’t think the issue is so much about how many services a church has on a Sunday -and that’s true for pastor and congregation alike. It’s about how we approach our gatherings.  We need to think about how we design Sundays so that all who are coming along get the sense that this is Sabbath rest together, this is Sabbath worship and celebration together.

The pastor should feel as much as anyone else that this is an opportunity to celebrate all that God has been doing through the church family in the week. His sermon should feel like that too. 

I’m not going to make detailed suggestions about how to make that happen. It will differ from church to church but I’d encourage church leaders and members to set time aside to consider how Sunday can be a Christian Sabbath for all.

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