Thirty-four years ago Harriet and I decided Friday would be my day off. Back then many of my ministry friends reserved Monday as a day away from the rigors of ministry. But, after active Sundays, Monday was a down day for me. We decided Friday would be the best day to step away from the usual routines for personal rest, leisure, and family time. There were occaional adjustments for emergencies, weddings, and church functions. But, Friday was the day!
As we adjusted to that schedule, we had to learn about Saturdays too. When I was a banker and hospital financial administrator, Saturdays were the yard of the month club, college football, time out with friends, and all the other routine, necessary motions of a day off---household chores, errands, car maintenance, groceries, laundry, etc. . After being called to a local church we had to realign Saturdays and learn the rhythm of church life. Saturday became the preparation day, and not in the way most people think. Most of my sermon and teaching preparation was always completed on Thursdays. The Saturday preparation grid was more personal. We learned to lay low on Saturdays, to calibrate the day to prepare us physically and emotionally for the Lord's Day.
Suddenly, thirty-four years later I'm retired and everyday is Saturday. Now, we're un-learning the habits developed in thirty-four years of church ministry, and re-learning the metrics of a totally new life schedule. One of the most recent un-learnings has been adjusting my personal relationship to the clock, calculator, and calendar (three points, wouldn't you know?). As an achiever, those three handy tools were the stuff of every day. You know, I still wear a watch. But I haven't used a calculator or calendar since October 31. In retrospect, I wish I had learned separation from these tyrants years earlier.
At the center of this re-learning is a constant: the Sabbath. Now, I'm no deep theologian and can only argue the edges of Old Testament law. But, for me, the Sabbath is a biblical concept more than a day of the week. In thirty-four years of pastoral service we've attempted to step away from the motions of life for quiet time with Him. Yes, of course, there was always a daily devotion and worship tiime, at least most of the time. There were many interruptions, some legitimate, others bogus. Still, a Sabbath day was usually factored into the plan of every week. It didn't always happen as planned. But, we knew to at least include Sabbath planning in our personal spiritual development.
Today ministry expectations are extremely high, often unreasonable. For this reason many pastors and church staff members are constantly on the treadmill. The time commitments and church activity calendar often preclude a Sabbath time for the pastor or his family. As a result, many are running on empty. That so many churches don't provide for the personal spiritual development of their pastor, staff, and families is an indictment of our work-based system today, a theological error. Surely Jesus didn't intend for the individuals following in his steps to be automatons running on cruise control most of the time.
One day he saw the fatigue and stress weighing on his disciples. Mark recorded, "And he said to them, 'Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while'. For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure to even eat" (Mark 6:31).
It's a good word for these times, when 1,700 pastors are leaving the ministry every month. Many of them are stretched beyond their personal physical, emotional, and spiritual limits. So, here's a thought. If you're a church leader or member, insist that your staff and their families can step away from the mission grid on occasion. If you're a pastor, associational or denominational leader, teach the Sabbath every time you have a chance. If you're an active or retired pastor, embrace a pastor or church staff member and encourage them to step away for spiritual, physical, and emotional recover.
It's another constant. Learning, un-learning, and re-learning.