Longevity #4: Remember the Sabbath

I just received the following in an email from Nelson Searcy at churchleaderinsights.com.


I recently read a New York Times article that really disturbed me…

“Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans.

In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen.

Many would change jobs if they could.”

Now, I read a lot of untruths about churches and pastors in “secular” news, but this one bothered me tremendously because, well, I KNOW it’s true!

In fact, I’d be hard-pressed to find a room large enough to seat all of the pastors I’ve talked to in the last few years who shared a similarly negative experience.

Here are a few statistics I found online at Pastor Burnout (just the fact that there’s a website about this should be a red flag):

  • 13% of active pastors are divorced.
  • 25% of pastors’ wives see their husband’s work schedule as a source of conflict.
  • 33% felt burned out within their first five years of ministry.
  • 33% say that being in ministry is an outright hazard to their family.
  • 40% of pastors and 47% of spouses are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations.
  • 45% of pastors’ wives say the greatest danger to them and their family is physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual burnout.
  • 45% of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.
  • 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job.
  • 52% of pastors say they and their spouses believe that being in pastoral ministry is hazardous to their family’s well-being and health.
  • 57% would leave the pastorate if they had somewhere else to go or some other vocation they could do.
  • 75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear, and alienation.
  • 80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with their spouse.
  • 80% believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively.
  • 1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure.
  • Doctors, lawyers and clergy have the most problems with drug abuse, alcoholism and suicide.

How can this be?

As church leaders, you and I have the unique opportunity to cooperate with God to transform people’s lives and make a difference for eternity…

So why are you so tired, stressed and unfulfilled?

Sure, God never promised that ministry would be easy, but you probably didn’t think it would be miserable either!

What if your obedience in one specific Biblical command holds the key to reduced stress, increased efficiency and renewed enjoyment of your life and ministry?

Over the years, working with thousands of pastors, I’ve uncovered one recurring sin issue in those who are on the brink of depression, burnout and/or ministry failure:

They are disobedient to God’s command to honor the Sabbath!

Whether it’s a prideful choice or by simple misunderstanding, the sin of breaking the Sabbath has painful consequences to you, your family, your church and your contribution to God’s Kingdom.

I don’t know what you think about honoring the Sabbath. Maybe like me you are convinced that the Sabbath is Saturday and as evangelicals, we don’t set a day to worship on Saturday anymore, it is Sunday that we worship.

But this is more about taking a time to “break” from everything else and to focus on slowing down, resting, and allowing time to recuperate. God set aside the seventh day of the week for a rest. “On the seventh day he rested from all his work.” (Genesis 2: 2) And if you are a pastor like me, you know that Sunday isn’t often much of a time to rest. It can be a very busy day. Saturday is often a day to finalize all preparations for Sunday.

I don’t know that taking a Sabbath will make it so that you will be able to continue long term as a pastor, or even long term in the same church. What I do know is that the less time you take to rest and slow down, the less chance there is that you will be able to serve long term. You will burn out and you will get depressed and you will get into trouble.

For me, I have done my best to have a day off most weeks. I try to limit my evening commitment to 2-3 evenings most weeks. I even often take a Tuesday off if Monday was a holiday. I do my best to get away for holidays for the number of weeks I’m allowed. And I try to make at least some of this time just my family doing something special together. I know it’s cheaper to go visit family, but that isn’t always restful either.

I want to be clear – I work hard. But I also protect my time. We need to learn to pace ourselves. Taking a Sabbath for rest, for a break, and for a time to refocus is not only valuable to you but to the church you serve as you come back refreshed and ready to go.

Remember to remember the Sabbath.


1 thought on “Longevity #4: Remember the Sabbath

  1. Children teach us how to do Sabbath, because sabbath is about play and rest and delight in things. These, someone has said, are the serious work of eternity; we keep sabbath time here as a way of practicing for the hew creation. That’s where children shine – think of it – you never meet many workaholic kids! (taken from Cam Harder’s work – Discovering the Other)

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