A day for the pastor

Not a day off, but a day to develop the lost art of spiritual renewal

Rich Carlson is chaplain at Union College, Lincoln, Nebraska.

Saturday's pastoral schedule:

6:30 wake up, dress, eat breakfast

7:20 finishing touches on sermon

8:15 teachers' meeting

9:30 Sabbath school lesson for new members

11:00 sermon: "The Value of Sabbath"

12:30 potluck

3:00 visit hospital

4:00 youth meeting at park

5:30 elders' meeting

7:30 vespers at church

8:00 church social and clean-up

11:13 home

11:53 crash in bed exhausted

As you lead your congregation each Sabbath, is there the stopping implied in the Hebrew word shabat? Everything you do is important. Everything is in honor of God on His day of worship. Everything you do is valuable. But do you really worship, and meet God, and is your soul deeply restored?

When do pastors rest in that deep Sabbath sense? I suggest not another day off. That is another issue. I recommend a special "rest day" for the pastor. A day set aside not for chores---that's your responsibility as a spouse; not for golf---that may be good for your day off; not for sermon preparation---that's your work. I'm not in any way suggesting a replacement for the Sabbath, but I am suggesting a spiritually renewing day just for you as a pastor. A day set aside for worship and personal communion with your God. A day when God is invited into your life, unencumbered by the busyness and business of the world, work, or whatever.

The greatest need of the pastor is not a new computer to help organize a hectic life. It is not a new organizer to keep track of the quantity of appointments that seem to continue growing as we sense the many needs of the congregation. The need of the pastor lies more in the direction of a deeper kind of "rest."

The case for a special day

It doesn't matter what day of the week you choose for your special encounter with God. I suggest Tuesday because it is close to midweek, does not interfere with Wednesday night prayer meeting, and is not so late in the week that you feel the pressure of preparation for weekend responsibilities.

What about treating this day, or at least a carefully scheduled substantial part of it, as a rest day for the pastor? Make no appointments, put the never-ending list of household chores away, and turn off the TV. Do whatever it takes to treat this day as you wish you could treat the Sabbath. Be prepared to pull distressed oxen out of ditches when necessary, but otherwise give the day to God as His time. Be with Him so that He can bless and sanctify you, filling you with all His goodness. To summarize C. S. Lewis: "We can't always be defending the truth. Sometimes we have to feed on it."

Your special day of rest may include fasting (see Matt. 6:16-18). It should include prayer and time with the Bible. It could involve the lost art of Christian meditation (the ability to fill your mind with God's Word and then listen quietly to His voice). It must involve rest and a time for reflection out in God's natural setting. All this should not be just a glorified devotional exercise. It should not be a negotiation for a shorter work week, or a substitute for the needed day off many of us neglect. This day or significant piece of time is dedicated to laying hold of blessings too often unreachable for pastors on the biblical day of rest.

A call for spiritual renewal

This is really a call to renewal and revival among us as pastors. If we want to see it in our people, let it begin with us. A return or a turning to true godliness necessitates a deep spiritual encounter with our God.

There is blessing beyond measure in regularly going out into God's creation, speaking to Him, and listening quietly and intently for an extended time to what He has to say. No agenda, no plans, except to meet God. There is great reward in journaling our thoughts during such quiet times. This is not done for anyone else to read or even as preparation for an upcoming sermon, but just to confirm that we are listening carefully to our God. This can be frightening. It can be difficult. It may also be what we desperately need to gain direction and strength.

As Christian ministers we are called to be spiritual professionals in God's church, especially as we look to the end of all things. I'm afraid, in these "last days" of technical advance and materialistic stress, we have tended to become ecclesiastical technologists. We are inclined toward the loss of genuine spirituality so critical to what we have been called to be and to do. We need our computers and Day-Timers, but we also need to find a way a time, a day to develop the lost art of regular spiritual centering and renewal.

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Rich Carlson is chaplain at Union College, Lincoln, Nebraska.

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