Sabbath: Vacating from Church



“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” Exodus 20:8-11, NKJV.

One of the occupational hazards for a pastor is how hard it is to quit thinking about church. Even a casual encounter with an acquaintance in the mall can turn into a 15 minute church conversation, followed by a full day’s worth of reflection and fretting. I can’t help myself. I’m not complaining either; it goes with the territory and it’s why I’m paid the big bucks. No complaints at all; it’s part of being a shepherd.

In fact, there are a lot of jobs where you’re never off the clock: real estate and mommyhood come to mind. Moms understand pastor-hood best, I think. Relentless demands, and even when you’re not with the kids, you can’t help thinking about them.

peckingbird.gifI’m on vacation right now (at home), and I’m determined to focus on my beloved family and not on my beloved church. But church keeps pecking at my head.

I’m very glad that God introduced the sabbath-principle into our lives. He’s telling us to never run at full speed all the time. Take a break. Weekly, monthly, yearly. Alternate work and rest, work and play, work and re-creation.

Live with margin. It is not God’s will for me or anybody to burn out. Not even on church work, which I consider to be an incredible honor and privilege. Not even on pastoring and preaching–the most glorious call of all (can you see I’m biased?).

I told Margi that I didn’t want to go to our church this weekend. It would feel too much like work, and I have to get my church–as much as I love it–out of my mind for a while. I owe them a refreshed pastor when I get back. vacationpics.jpg

I read a Christianity Today article on how to be your pastor’s friend. Excellent points about confidentiality, supportiveness, etc. The best point I thought was that friendship can’t be forced–either you click or you don’t, and that insisting on friendship with your pastor just adds one more very awkward (and unwanted) agenda to an already very long to-do list. Friends don’t lengthen friends to-do lists.

But one all-important point was missing if you really want to be your pastor’s friend: Respecting their time off the clock and not bringing up church stuff. I have wonderful friends in Chicago who were masters at this. They never brought up church stuff, and even made me quit talking about it, when we were hanging out socially, or if it was a day off or vacation. They made me feel like Bill, not Pastor Bill. And that’s a huge difference. Thankfully, I’m discovering some friends with the same spirit here in Northern CA.

It’s hard because life and church are so intricately interrelated.

Of course, each person who emails or calls only has a VERY minor point to discuss that will only take a minute. No it won’t. Because long after your minute is up, my mind continues to crawl around on the leaves and fruit that branch off the twig you asked me to light on… and I can’t help tracing your issues to the root and so the connected vines, all of which gnaw at my mind… and occasionally enter my dreams/nightmares.

fishing.gifSo the answer is No. Lovingly yet firmly. Boundaries and all that. We have an incredibly gifted and faithful staff who can help you. My Yes to my family and myself is bigger than my Yes to you right now, and my yes to them has to be a no to you.

C.S. Lewis suggested that a higher love for family and God, a love that causes you to say NO to lesser loves, will be interpreted as hate by people who won’t accept your boundaries. I would find the exact quote, but my book (The Four Loves) is my office, and I don’t want to go there today.

We went to Ashland & Medford, Oregon, yesterday. Scienceworks is a cool museum for kids. Hands on science stuff. I like the bubble room: huge trays of soapy water and big wands to make huge bubbles. The kids stayed there for a long time. We also went to the Rogue Valley Family Fun Center–an arcade that also has kid-friendly go-karts. We also ate delicious pizza at Kaleidoscope in Medford. It’s a regular stop for us. One of my favorite pizza places, though it’s 2.5 hours away. I had sausage & pepperoni, Margi had chicken, mushrooms, tomatoes, and garlic. The kids had pepperoni.

I’m vacating from church, but not from writing. It’s good therapy for me. Just don’t make me think about churchy stuff, please, I’m beggin’ you.



8 thoughts on “Sabbath: Vacating from Church

  1. I Have a companion pass. Wanna come to Chicago for a few days and see ALL the family? Call me if interested?

  2. Hi James,
    Nope. Never been the Oregon Vortex. I’ve heard of it, and that it’s really weird and cool. What do you think? Do you give it thumbs up?
    P.S. I’ll try to watch Bonds break the record, but I’m only marginally excited about it.

  3. The Oregon Vortex is really weird and cool as you noted. Lots of optical illusions. Pretty fun. I would go if it isn’t out of your way. The people who run it use ghost stories, if I remember correctly, to add to the entertainment; if that isn’t something you want to encounter with your kids, then I certainly wouldn’t go.

    I am waiting to hear about Bonds in the news, but I don’t watch baseball on TV–only in person. I enjoy going to the Sacramento River Cats games. Not only is it much better than watching it on TV, but it is only $6 for lawn seats and the food is terrific for a ball park.

    Have a splendid vacation.

  4. Good for you Bill ,you deserve a break today!!!
    “Oops ” that was meant for James MacDonald.

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