Stop, Drop and Roll: Pastor Sabbath in 2021

May 21, 2021 by Lee Hinson-Hasty

As we approach Pentecost Sunday and season, my text messages, social media feeds, and phone conversations are on filled with pastors running on empty.

It is like they are on fire and no one is around to notice or help. In many cases, they don’t even feel the heat because they don’t have time to stop between writing, filming, producing and posting videos; checking in via video chat with congregations overwhelmed by emotional distress; and planning hybrid ways to gather or worship. Frankly, I wonder when they eat, sleep, and hydrate.

Hydration is exactly what they need, and we have a word for that refreshment in our ancient practices and theology in the Church: Sabbath. It is the command God gave Israel in the wilderness that they welcomed maybe more than any other because they had just left enslavement to a Pharaoh 150% focused on productivity. In his case, it was building brick storage facilities for grain. Human life mattered less to him than what he could build and the wealth he could amass.

All of this reminded me of that critical grade-school lesson many of us learned if we were on fire: Stop, Drop and Roll! Stop moving, drop to the ground, cover your face, and roll to put the flames out. I am convinced the equivalent is needed for our pastors today.

They need their sessions to command that they stop now as a sabbath practice, drop out of sight and responsibility, and roll and refresh themselves in the ways and the places that give them life.

Sabbath, you see, is not so much about a vacation or a day off; it is about reorienting ourselves to God. For decades my presbytery of Coastal Carolina hosted an annual pastors’ retreat in which they brought in a scholar to teach in the morning, fed the pastors a home cooked lunch, and sent them off to do refreshing activities in the afternoon like reading, fishing, swimming, golfing, and exploring. Spouses were also included. Evening restaurant dinners created community and fostered new and old friendships. In our case, beach homes owned by Presbyterians were donated for accommodations. Now that I think about it, it was always after Easter and around Pentecost.

In the Pentecost scripture reading, we may get distracted by the howling wind in Acts 2:2 or the flames of fire in verse three and miss the point, that they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak and hearing them in their own native language.

Now is the time, liturgically in the church year, and practically for pastors to stop, drop, and roll into a new life empowered by the Spirit. Even if you do not understand these pastors, hear them now. They are doing things like collaborating on worship service videos when a pastor friend has a family emergency like my preaching cohort did last week. It was a BEAUTIFUL thing and a witness to the body of Christ and connectional church… but it is not sustainable.

Your pastor needs a break. So much so, some of them are questioning their very vocation. If you are a pastor, you need a break, and I know that I hear you and see you. Churches should be generous in allowing this restorative time, which will be paid back in full and so much more as pastors return to their calls refreshed and renewed for the important work ahead.

Read more about Sabbatical Support for Pastors