Thursday, January 31, 2013

Finding a Sabbath for bivocational ministers

Someone recently asked my thoughts on the Sabbath for bivocational ministers, and it triggered a memory from the past.  Several years ago when I was pastoring I was preaching a series of messages through the Ten Commandments.  I was doing rather well until I got to the one that addressed the need to remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.  There was an immediate conviction as I had never kept a Sabbath.  As a bivocational minister I worked five to six days a week at my factory job and, of course, Sunday is hardly a day of rest for any minister.  Although I was now retired from the factory position I was managing a small business while pastoring the church.  A Sabbath had just never been a part of my life, and now I was about to preach on the importance of the Sabbath.  For a few days I really struggled trying to decide what to do.  Before Sunday arrived I decided I would make Monday my Sabbath.

During my message I shared my own lack of a Sabbath and my frustration throughout the week.  I talked about the importance of Sabbath-keeping, why God gave us the Sabbath, and how I would begin the next day taking Monday as my Sabbath.  The next day I went into our company and explained what I was doing to my administrative assistant and told her to call me on Monday only in cases of extreme emergency.  Throughout the rest of my pastorate I did a pretty good job of taking a Sabbath on Mondays.

As the owner of the company I did enjoy more flexible hours and could set my own schedule.  Obviously, when I worked at the factory my time was not that flexible, and that schedule would not have worked.  In my current judicatory role it is also difficult to set aside a Sabbath day due to the fact that I relate to so many different people with various needs.  What I find works best for me now, and I believe will work for many in bivocational ministry, is to set aside blocks of time for a Sabbath.

Actually, I first began doing this when I was doing my doctoral studies.  I saw others blocking off periods of time in their calendars for reading and writing, and that made sense to me.  That transferred over into my doing the same for mini-Sabbaths.  I may not be able to set aside an entire day, but I can set aside a three hour block of time two or three times a week to relax, to read, and to reconnect with God.  While that may not be the ideal Sabbath, it is far better than what many of us are doing, and this will fit in with the busy schedules most bivocational ministers maintain.

It will require discipline, at least it does for me.  I am an admitted workaholic.  I enjoy staying busy, and I enjoy doing a wide variety of different activities.  It is not natural for me to just stop, so it is a personal challenge for me to set aside a period of time for Sabbath.  After meeting many bivocational ministers through the years I have found that most of them are very similar to me in makeup.  They also like being busy.  They could never survive bivocational ministry if they didn't.  For them, and me, part of the benefit of the Sabbath is the discipline of stopping what we are doing to just reconnect with God.

For some of you, setting aside a half-day once or twice a week for a Sabbath doesn't seem possible.  It may not even sound like something you would enjoy.  Let me suggest you start off slow.  Could you block off one hour a week and make it a Sabbath?  Perhaps after a few weeks of that you could schedule a second hour and begin to work your way to a Sabbath schedule that works for your schedule and your temperment.  What we don't want to do is to violate this commandment from God and ignore the Sabbath completely.

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