spiritual leadership rest sabbath

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How to Honor the Sabbath When You Work on Sunday

For many pastors and ministry leaders, Sunday is the main event.  We pour hearts and souls into this day because we want the people in the care of our ministry to connect with God and rest at his feet.  We want them to lay their problems and cares down.

We plan and execute programs in the morning and the evening because we want to see the families know and follow God in a deeper way.  The problem with this scenario is that most ministry leaders themselves do not get a chance to worship and rest the way the rest of the congregation does.

If we are not careful, leaders can run on empty- spiritually, physically, and emotionally.  We end up working seven days a week without ever unplugging from the race.  This choice leads to empty, hollow attempts at leading others. But that’s not an accurate representation of God’s design for humans.

Since the beginning of time, God established a day for mankind to rest and hit reset – the Sabbath. God modeled rest for us when he rested on the seventh day (Gen. 2:3).  He didn’t need rest, but he knew mankind needed to rest and intentionally connect with the Creator.

The Sabbath day was “God’s merciful appointment for the common benefit of all mankind.” It was given for all humans, whether a lead pastor, ministry leader, housewife, or grandparent – the Sabbath was created for man. And it wasn’t meant to tie our hands and burden us.

The Sabbath restores our bodies and minds when we deliberately unplug from productivity for the sake of productivity so we can commune with God intentionally.

It refreshes us intellectually, spiritually, and physically for the service of the Lord. But how do we set aside time to do these things when we are leading and working on Sundays?

This moment is where, while staying true to God’s commands, we get creative with how we live them out.  Within 18 years of ministry, I learned much about taking a Sabbath day at a different time of the week, other than Sunday.  While in some seasons, this is easier than others, here’s what I’ve learned so far.

1. PICK A DAY TO SABBATH

While this may seem strange, picking a day for the Sabbath is essential in actually keeping a Sabbath.  While I won’t attempt to unpack all of the theological considerations surrounding Sabbath-keeping, Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27-28)”, so one day out of seven is set aside as the day to recharge by connecting with God.

However, we are not bound to Sunday as that day. One day out of seven is set aside as the day you are recharging by connecting to God.

{IDEA! Pick a day or even split the day over two days.}

I normally try to take my Sabbath day on Friday.  I try to start from the time I get home on Thursday evening until Friday evening.  This schedule works within the natural rhythm of my week. My “work week” at the church is Sunday-Thursday. Friday and Saturday is my weekend. Saturday is normally filled with family events, errands, and projects around the house.

2. ELIMINATE EXCUSES

Eliminating excuses is essential for constantly having a Sabbath. I have found that excuses turn my plan of having a Sabbath into good intentions and keep me from communing with the Lord.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks I had was that my family couldn’t join me on the day I practiced the Sabbath; I’ve gradually come to realize this is perfectly fine. My family can’t always participate in this day with me due to their rhythms of life looking different than mine – school, doctor appointments, etc. At this point in our lives, Sunday works better for them to rest and worship.

Another excuse I made was, “I can’t find a day to Sabbath.”  If taking a Sabbath is a new habit for you, I suggest picking a day and trying it out.  If it doesn’t work, change the day.

Protect the day of Sabbath because life and the tyranny of the urgent will seek to invade this special time.

As ministry leaders, our work ethic does not always serve us well in protecting this day because we don’t always see the worth of this day. The economy of time is so ingrained in us that our work habits sometimes tell us that the Sabbath doesn’t have value. But God says it does, therefore I agree with Him and seek to protect the time I’ve set aside. Don’t let those excuses keep you from this valuable time of rest.

3. CEASE MINISTRY WORK

Have you ever fallen for the “one more email” trap?  There is one text my wife dreads getting on any night when she asks when I will be home for dinner.  I respond with, “Soon… I just need to finish this last email.”  Forty-five minutes later, I finally pull into the driveway. I have learned there is always one more task to do, email to send, or phone call to make in ministry.

The Sabbath is a day to break from productivity.  “At regular intervals we all need to quit our work and contemplate His, quit talking to each other and listen to Him. God knows we need this and has given us a means in Sabbath—a day for praying and playing, simply enjoying what he is.”

I do four things to facilitate ceasing from ministry work.

  • Use a planner to map out my week and workload, including scheduling my Sabbath time.
  • Put my phone on the “Do Not Disturb” setting during my Sabbath time.
  • Take off my smartwatch, so I am not constantly prompted to do things.
  • When I leave the office on Thursday, I set my email to reply to incoming messages automatically.

Doing these four things helps me take full advantage of the day, and it also helps others know that I will get back to them. I also inform my ministry team and other staff of my Sabbath day, not only to avoid contacting me with work stuff but also so they can be praying for me as well. But this doesn’t mean that people cannot reach me in an emergency, because those do happen.

By ceasing ministry for this day, I am unplugging from the flurry of activity surrounding me to see what God has been and is doing.  Unplugging allows me to have the space needed to hear the Holy Spirit’s voice, and since I’m not the Holy Spirit, sometimes my Sabbath allows others to hear less of me and my leading and more of God and his.

4. CHOOSE REST

The Sabbath is about being not about doing. Rest comes when we cease work, both physically and mentally.

“Rest represents a break from physical labor and worldly striving. It provides a time for mental and spiritual restoration.” I have one friend that plays golf every Friday.  His time on the golf course helps his mind unwind, and he spends the time communing with the Lord.

I do a variety of activities for rest. Sometimes they include going for a walk or reading a book.  Some days I do a home improvement project that I enjoy.  But what I am consciously ceasing from is the productive nature of work and the physical labor of ministry.

If you don’t take time to rest, you become dull and even a bit jaded toward the ministry God has called you to do because you have nothing left to give.

Resting on the Sabbath ultimately becomes a downshift from the crazy rhythm of life to celebrate the greatest realities in the universe – God’s work in your life.
5. PLUG INTO THE POWER SOURCE

At the end of the day, no one can keep this day for you. You have to be willing to stop work, unplug from the craziness of life, and rest at Jesus’ feet.

In the Gospel of Luke, we read about two sisters, Mary and Martha, and their encounter with Jesus.  Martha was a woman of hospitality, and out of that giftedness, she invited Jesus into her home.

If you have spent any time around people with the gift of hospitality, they are busy making sure that their guests have the best experience.  That is exactly what Martha was doing. In fact, she was so distracted with all her preparations that she missed the Messiah was in her living room.

She was so focused on her work that she actually began to become upset and complained to Jesus about her sister, Mary. Mary chose to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to his words (Luke 10:39). Martha didn’t think what Mary was doing was right, and it really got under Martha’s skin that Mary was not serving Jesus beside her.

Jesus rebukes Martha and says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.” 

Mary was plugged into Jesus that day.  She was receiving the blessing of being in Jesus’ presence.  When we take a Sabbath, we must not forget this important step.  If we do, we are just having a “day off” and not a Sabbath.

When we plug into Christ and allow him to refresh our soul, it flips the way we approach ministry. 

Most of the time, we work really hard and then ask God to bless our efforts, but a Sabbath teaches to commune first and work second. After communing with God, we can then look forward to living out God’s mission in the coming week.  As we rest, we are watch and respond to what God has done and is going to do in our lives.

6. MEDITATION

There are two spiritual disciplines to help you set apart the Sabbath unto God and his purposes.  The first is meditation – saturating your mind with scripture- which leads to transformation.

When meditating, one takes a specific scripture and dwells on it all day.  You think about its application and practical ways to live the truth in the moment and the days ahead.  As ministry leaders, we are so often focused on feeding others God’s Word that we forget actually to partake ourselves.

Meditation helps us partake of the feast and align our hearts with God’s.

7. JOURNALING

The second discipline is journaling.  As you are spending time with God, make a list weekly about how you saw God working in your life, your family, and ministry (each area is a separate list).  Then take time to think through how the scripture you are meditating on applies to each of those areas.  Write that down as well.

You will see over time that practicing these disciplines as part of your Sabbath is God’s faithfulness in taking care of his children and how the Sabbath has prepared you to respond to the ministry God has already planned for you in the coming week.

WRAPPING UP

Remember that our submission to Sabbath is an acknowledgment of God’s providential care for us, that He might actually know what’s best for us.  So pick a day that works in your weekly rhythm and commit to using this sanctified time to connect with God.

Caring for our own souls can be difficult, but it is essential so that our relationship with Christ flourishes.  Out of that relationship, the rest of our world is ordered.  I hope that you take the time to observe a Sabbath and that it will become the highlight of your week.

Tim Drury is a lifetime member of the Ministry to Parents network.  He is the family pastor and biblical counselor in his local church in the Metro-East area of St. Louis, Missouri. He has over 18 years of experience working with children, teenagers, and their families. Tim and his wife, Sarah Jane, have two beautiful daughters that were born with Cystic Fibrosis.  Tim enjoys spending time with his family and advocating for special needs families. You can find Tim on Twitter or email him at tdrury@fbcbethalto.org.


For more on this month’s theme Care for the Soul, check out:

3 Types of Retreats to Help You Lead with Passion and Joy

What To Do When You’re Spiritually Empty: 3 Steps to Care for Your Soul

Common Struggles Among Ministry Leaders with Dr. John Delony

6 Ways to Care for Yourself While Caring for Others

How to Care for Your Wounds and Hurts in Ministry


M2P Members, make sure to grab your Spiritual Retreat Guide in the Toolbox: Care for the Soul.

This simple, two-step guide provides everything you need for spiritual, mental, and emotional rejuvenation. It includes two sections to be done consecutively:

  • Moments of Ceasing
  • Moments of Listening

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What if you and your church effortlessly planned an ENTIRE YEAR for upcoming Seniors and their parents with just one click? This kit gives you everything you need to easily show them your church cares about this unique rite of passage.

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