The following post is from Meredith Holladay, Associate Pastor for Spiritual Formation at First Baptist Church, Lawrence, Kansas. She wrote her dissertation at Baylor University on theology and popular music, and will gladly swap music recommendations. Though in Jawhawk territory, she’s originally from Louisville and can’t wait for Louisville basketball to start once again!
On Friday, June 28, Holladay attended the CBF General Assembly workshop led by Jim Somerville, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Richmond, Va., titled “Taking a Day Off – The Importance of Sabbath-Keeping in the Minister’s Life.” Below are Holladay’s reflections.
“You know how to take the reservation, you just don’t know how to hold the reservation. And that’s really the most important part of the reservation.” So goes a scene from Seinfeld, where Jerry is picking up a car, and, although he made a reservation for a specific car, the agency doesn’t seem to have any of the cars for which he made a reservation.
Jim Somerville opened his workshop on Sabbath Keeping for Ministers Friday afternoon paraphrasing this scene: “When do you take your day off, and are you keeping it? Anyone can take a day of Sabbath, but can you keep it?”
I don’t know about you, but I need the direct, and often hurtful (if I’m being honest) reminder that I’m not necessary every hour of every day of the week. The church will continue to do God’s work, my colleagues will continue their ministry, and may even do so better because I keep a Sabbath.
Somerville’s workshop, though clearly directed at the ministers in the room, began with not-so-gentle reminders that keeping a Sabbath holy is not just a biblical suggestion, but it is a command, rooted in the nature of who God is, the narrative of Creation itself, and is woven throughout the fabric of Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament.
The Sabbath is not something we do out of obligation; it is not another form of work. Rather, it is a gift. Taking time for rest – of mind, body and soul – is a God-ordained and God-given gift. We need this time to be at our best. We need this time to care for and cultivate all the facets of our selves outside and tangential to the work that we do.
One of the exercises that Somerville shared with us, that he does, is two-fold.
He keeps a weekly calendar – at least an ideal weekly calendar. As he plots out the general meetings, appointments, blocks of time for reading, sermon writing, peer groups, prayer, he takes a step back to ask himself, “Have I made time for Heart, Soul, Mind, and Body?” (Again, keeping in mind the biblical command to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.)
It was a challenge I needed to hear, to ask myself ,addition to all the work of ministry, which requires a nontraditional schedule, have I been intentional, mindful of my time in a way that takes seriously time for things/relationships/people I love, things that nurture my soul and spirituality, things that keep my mind and intellect sharp (“What if you set aside 30 minutes on a Tuesday afternoon to watch a couple of Ted Talks?” Somerville suggested.)?
Have I been mindful with my time that I can think about the food I will buy (and when I will get to the grocery store to buy it), the meals I will prepare and share, have I set aside intentional time to exercise my body? These are good and difficult things to do as a pastor. But really, they are necessary things to do as human beings.
Acknowledging that this weekly schedule is set in somewhat of a vacuum, Somerville shared with us that he takes a quarterly “sabbatical,” where he leaves town – not too far – for 24 hours. Sometimes that means camping at a state park, sometimes that means finding a retreat center or a monastery to find and reclaim some quiet. The first thing he does is sit down with a clean spreadsheet and rework and renegotiate the weekly calendar.
I need the reminder that time is, in fact, precious. It is a gift from God. And if we are not thoughtful, mindful, intentional about our time, and whether or to what extent we are taking time to love and serve with heart, soul, mind, and strength, we will burn out, we will exhaust ourselves, we will cease to be thoughtful, compassionate, mindful, present pastors.
Somerville, paraphrasing Eugene Peterson (in The Contemplative Pastor) cautioned that “Pastors are ‘busy’ for one of two reasons: they are lazy or they are vain.”
Uncomfortable words but good ones. Will we be too lazy or too vain to make time for Sabbath, to take care of ourselves so that we can take care of our congregations, to foster our own life so we can foster the lives of those among whom we are called? It is not selfish to keep the Sabbath. In fact it would be the very definition not to.