Sabbaths and Study Blocks: Essentials for Pastors – by Jim Graff

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I wasn’t mentored by people who took a sabbath. Actually, one of my mentors died early. One of the things he said before his passing was that he felt like he violated the sabbath. He said that to his family near the end of his life too. He said this was something he would have reversed if he could have gone back and had a do-over.

For me, I didn’t start taking a sabbath in my first year of ministry, and I got pretty burned out. After 15 months, I was really tired. That’s when I started taking one. I’m grateful for men like my mentor who told me their regrets so that I could make a different decision for my own life. Having a sabbath is something I’ve never regretted one time!

This is what I heard about taking a sabbath that I think is helpful:

  1. You do it to rest your body and your emotions. If you’re physically tired or emotionally tired, the answer is a sabbath.
  2. You do it to revive your heart. I don’t need to go to a revival meeting because I’m “vived.” But every Monday tells me whether I’m “vived” or not. Are you close to God? Is He working through your life? If it’s not what it should be, the answer is a sabbath.
  3. You do it to renew your important relationships. Is there any strife between you and your spouse or children? It’s hard to pastor a church if you have that strife. If your important relationships are not in a good place, the answer is a sabbath.
  4. You do it for recreation. The sabbath is a gift. For me, sabbath starts Sunday night. We usually have one family gathering a month where we celebrate all the birthdays. We have a good family time, kids playing on the playground in the backyard, we grill out. It’s just fun! Then, the other Sunday nights Tamara and I usually go out with one of our kids, one of the couples, or we’ll just take one set of grandkids out somewhere. But our sabbath starts with just having good family time. We go home and take a holy nap after Sunday morning service, and then Monday there’s nothing on our agenda. If you don’t have a day that feels like a gift to you, the answer is a sabbath.

If you don’t have a sabbath, and if you don’t have a study block –and I’m not talking about studying for a sermon but just a time when you can study and pastor your own heart – you need to put these two power tools into effect for the good of your life.

A lot of people become pastors and think, “Man, I’m caring for people so much. I’m doing so much. Why are they not appreciating it, following me and working with me?” Well, it’s because they have to want to follow you before they want to be served by you. When you start with ordering your own life, you become an example to the flock. It really helps people say, “That’s who I want to follow!”

Have a sabbath so you’re not worn out. Have a study block where you’re not studying for a sermon; you’re just spending time making yourself better. I think it really helps you in ministry for the long haul.

I love what Jethro said to Moses in Exodus 18:18. He said, “What you’re doing is not good. You’re going to wear yourself out, and the people are not going to get the help they need from you.” You have to protect your energy and live a balanced and organized life if you’re going to be successful in ministry for more than a brief moment.

A lot of times, Pastor, if you’re wearing yourself out, you have to check your heart a little bit. We’ve all had these moments, so don’t feel bad if that’s where you are today. If you have people-pleasing issues, if you’re worried about people leaving your church, it causes problems in your care system. Some pastors feel like nobody can do it as good as they can, and while that may be true, if you don’t have a balanced and organized life, you’re going to wear yourself out and people aren’t going to get the help they need from you.

So I just want to encourage you today: If life becomes all about sermon prep and church leadership, your soul is going to get lean. But you can revive your soul by taking a sabbath and spending time in spiritual self-care. I think sometimes we hide because in our profession people ask us for so much. But hiding from it will cause your soul to get lean, but keeping life and ministry in the right balance is key to staying spiritually equipped and energized inside.

Pastor, we were created to do good works before the foundation of the world. Preparing a sermon, it is a good work and all that, but it’s just good to be good to people and it’s good to care. You can do that best when you’re fully rested, when you’re emotionally stable, and when you’re spiritually in tune with the Father. So as I’ve said a few times now, institute a sabbath so you’re not worn out, institute a study block where you’re getting on the same page with God. These two acts will help you be successful in ministry for the long haul.

This blog was created using content from the webinar Caring for Our Church Without Wearing Ourselves Out.