How Busy Leaders Can Discover True Sabbath Rest : Ruth Haley Barton
Jason Daye | Care for Pastors, Church Leaders, FrontStage BackStage, Leadership, Mental Health, Pastors, Podcast, Sabbatical, Soul Care
There is something special, something powerful, something beautiful about the concept of Sabbath rest. And yet, as pastors and ministry leaders, it often feels just outside of our grasp. It’s something we’re happy to teach about and share with others, but something that is challenging for us to experience fully in our own lives. In this week’s conversation on FrontStage BackStage, host Jason Daye is joined by Ruth Haley Barton, founder of the Transforming Center, and author of numerous books, including Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Sacred Rhythms, and her latest, Embracing Rhythms of Work and Rest. Together, Ruth and Jason explore the spiritual reality of rhythm in our lives, and look at the idea of Sabbath in a way that is accessible for pastors and ministry leaders just like you.
Looking to dig more deeply into this topic and conversation? Every week we go the extra mile and create a free toolkit so you and your ministry team can dive deeper into the topic that is discussed. Find your Weekly Toolkit below… Love well, Live well, Lead well!
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- Additional resource links from this week’s conversation – so you and your team can easily find what is mentioned or referenced
- Ministry Leaders Growth Guide – key insights and concepts from this week’s conversation as well as engaging questions for you and your team to consider and process
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Additional Resource Links
Embracing Rhythms of Work and Rest: From Sabbath to Sabbatical and Back Again by Ruth Haley Barton – Ruth’s latest book grounds us in God’s intentions in giving us the gift of sabbath, providing practical steps for embedding sabbath rhythms in churches and organizations
Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation by Ruth Haley Barton – Picking up on the monastic tradition of creating a “rule of life” that allows for regular space for the practice of the spiritual disciplines, this book takes you more deeply into understanding seven key disciplines along with practical ideas for weaving them into everyday life.
Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry by Ruth Haley Barton – Each chapter includes a spiritual practice to ensure your soul gets the nourishment it needs. Forging and maintaining a life-giving connection with God is the best choice you can make for yourself and for those you lead.
The Transforming Center – Learn more about the ministry Ruth founded. For 20 years, the Transforming Center has provided retreats, relationships, and resources for those who long to keep seeking God in the crucible of leadership.
Podcast: Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership – Now in its 17th season, Ruth’s podcast provides encouragement and guidance for ministry leaders
Immersive Retreat Experience: Transforming Community – Learn more about the 27-month immersive retreat experience for ministry leaders that Ruth leads with her team at the Transforming Center
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Ministry Leaders Growth Guide
Key Insights and Concepts
- If we are not intentional in taking our Sabbaths then our illnesses, our health issues, and/or our accidents will become our Sabbath
- God invites each of us into a rhythm of sabbath
- God modeled a rhythm of work and sabbath
- When God took sabbath in Genesis, He ceased from doing His usual work of creating
- Sabbath means more than just rest, it means we cease from doing our usual work
- For pastors and ministry leaders, we must be intentional about taking our sabbath rest outside of weekend worship, because that is our usual work
- We must pay careful attention to what we do when we sabbath so that we are truly resting in God
- Sabbath is one of the main ways that God has given to us to actually establish sane rhythms of work and rest
- Our rest gives work meaning, and our work gives rest meaning
- When we break the sabbath rhythm we’re functioning beyond God-ordained limits for us as humans
- It can be quite dangerous for a person to live for very long outside of the human, God-ordained rhythms that we’ve been created to live within. Moral failures happen within a state of being burned out and being out of touch with God at the center of our being.
- Trust is a basic dynamic of sabbath: can I trust God with myself, and with my whole being?
- Regular sabbath rhythms can help protect us from physical, mental, and spiritual harm
- Sabbath orients us to God’s good gifts in our lives
- Through sabbath, God is working godliness with contentment into our lives, leading us to be satisfied and to cease consuming
- When committing to embracing a rhythm of work and sabbath, start by doing something before you try to do everything
- Rhythms of sabbath include daily (time with God in solitude and silence), weekly (Sabbath day), monthly and/or quarterly (personal retreat), annually (vacation time for rest and recreation), and every six years (sabbatical)
- When embarking on a sabbatical, careful planning must be done for both the minister and the ministry
Questions for Reflection
- How intentional am I about my rhythm of work and rest?
- Does our church help or hinder our pastors when it comes to embracing sabbath?
- What do I do during my times of sabbath? Is it allowing me to find rest in God?
- How have I seen myself functioning beyond God-ordained limits in my life because of neglecting sabbath rest?
- Why is it dangerous to neglect a rhythm of work and rest?
- What does a rhythm of sabbath look like in my life right now daily? weekly? monthly and/or quarterly? annually?
- What changes will I make in my life to be more intentional about my rhythm of work and rest? Where will I start?
There is something special, something powerful, something beautiful about the concept of Sabbath rest. And yet, as pastors and ministry leaders, it often feels just outside of our grasp.
It’s something we’re happy to teach about and share with others, but something that is challenging for us to experience fully in our own lives. In this episode, I’m joined by Ruth Haley Barton, founder of the Transforming Center, and author of numerous books, including Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Sacred Rhythms, and her latest, Embracing Rhythms of Work and Rest. Together, Ruth and I explore the spiritual reality of rhythm in our lives, and we look at the idea of Sabbath in a way that is accessible for pastors and ministry leaders just like you. Are you ready? Let’s go.
Hello, friends, and welcome to another exciting episode of FrontStage BackStage. I’m your host, Jason Daye, and I am so excited about today’s guest, and today’s topic is going to be a huge blessing to each of you. I have the distinct privilege every single week of sitting down with a trusted ministry leader, and really digging into a topic to help ministry leaders just like you embrace a healthy, sustainable rhythm in both life and ministry. And today’s episode is going to help you do just that. Now, we’re proud to be a part of the PastorServe network. And every single week, along with every episode our team creates an entire resource, an entire toolkit, that has all types of resources to help you and the ministry leaders in your local church grow. We have key insights, we have reflection questions that you and your ministry leaders can go through, tons of other resources. And you can find that all at PastorServe.org/network. So be sure to check that out. Now, if you’re joining us on YouTube, it is good to have you along with us. Please give us a like, and in the comments below, drop your name and the name of your church. We love to get to know our audience better, and our team will be praying for you and for your ministry. And whether you’re joining us on YouTube or your favorite podcast platform, be sure to follow, to subscribe. And if you’re finding value from the shows, we ask that you leave us a positive review. This helps us be found by other pastors and ministry leaders. And share this with your colleagues, with your ministry team at your local church, with other pastors and ministry leaders. Now, as I said, I’m very excited about this week’s guest and I am joined by Ruth Haley Barton. So Ruth, welcome to the show.
Ruth Haley Barton
Great to be with you. Thanks for having me.
Yes, I am really, really excited. And, and one of the things I’ve got to tell you, I have to admit, I was so encouraged, I guess I should say, to read and to learn that you yourself have struggled with the practice of Sabbath. Because I mean, your ministry, the work that you have done, the Transforming Center, which you founded, your books, your talks, your retreats, all that you’ve contributed to the Church, really, from a minister’s perspective, you are almost synonymous with this whole idea of embracing this healthy rhythm in life. So to hear that you have struggled in the past yourself with this idea of Sabbath really gives the rest of us a bit of a glimmer of hope. So thank you for your honesty. Thank you for sharing your journey. And Ruth, I was wondering if you could start us off by sharing a bit about about the event that literally stopped you in your tracks and became a bit of that kind of hinge moment for embracing Sabbath in your life?
Ruth Haley Barton
Yeah. Well, I’m a pastor’s kid, which means that I have experienced Sabbath, but we practiced it when I was growing up in a very legalistic way. So I was really not interested. I had kicked Sabbath to the curb. Didn’t think it had to be for me. Then you add on to it the fact that I think many of us Christians might say, well, that’s a Jewish thing. We don’t have to do that. And so I was able to keep, you know, Sunday is a day for getting a lot of things done. But then in my early 40s, even though I was teaching other people actively about spiritual disciplines, I was actively not practicing Sabbath because I wasn’t drawn to it at all. I had this biking accident where I was riding on a sidewalk and I crossed a parking lot. There was an older gentleman driving a van and I thought that we looked each other in the eye and I thought that I had the right of way because you know, I was the pedestrian on the sidewalk, but instead of keeping his brake on he actually accelerated and I think it was confusion. He was clearly in his 80s So I think he just got confused about what pedal he was pushing. So I could see that it was going to happen. I slowed down, but I couldn’t stop it. And so we collided. And I went down. And he literally drove his van up on my legs, which were intertwined with the bike. I mean, so it was quite horrific. And, you know, we, you know, the Lord was there, the Lord was sovereign, and I was cared for, and I just had one little, one fracture, but I was bruised and pretty traumatized by what I had gone through. So I was, you know, trying to recover. But I didn’t take any time off after this horrifying experience. And so I had a best friend who said, you know, Ruth, you did just get hit by a car, you could take a day off. And I realized, Oh, my goodness, my life, the way I’m living my life. The other thing is, is that by the time I was in my early 40s, even though I wasn’t practicing Sabbath, I was becoming aware of deep levels of exhaustion. And now the Sabbath really was starting to be something that was attractive to me. So I was reading beautiful books about the Sabbath, you know, Abraham Heschel and Wayne Muller and I would actually sometimes even get tearful, because the writing was so beautiful. And there was something in me that was longing for it. But at this point, you know, with teenagers in my home, and I was on staff at a church. So you know, I didn’t even know how to do Sabbath as a person on a pastoral staff at a church. And my husband, you know, his work was open on Sunday, it was just in the ‘too hard’ file, but I was letting myself long for it, and recognize my need for it. And it was during that period of recovery from that accident, that there was just a little bit of space for God to talk to me about my pace of life. And there was this quote, from Wayne Muller’s book that just kept coming back to me, you know, like a pesky fly on a on a windowpane that I just couldn’t dismiss. And it was his quote, where he says that if we don’t take our Sabbaths then our illnesses and our cancers and our accidents will become our Sabbath. And I was just knocked between the eyes, because I was pretty certain that that’s what was going on, was that my accident and what I needed to recover was actually God’s.. God didn’t cause the accident, but God was trying to invite me even more strongly into this practice of Sabbath. So by the time I recovered, I was I was sold and I, I realized God was inviting me to just go ahead and grab ahold. To stop thinking that my life wouldn’t allow for it, but to really believe that the desire that was in me for a sane rhythm of work and rest, that God was in that and that God was inviting it. And if I could just open up to it, God would show me the way, which is indeed what God has done over the years, because that was 20 years ago now. And I’ve been practicing Sabbath ever since. And as I say, in the book, I’m not even sure I’d be alive today if it wasn’t for God’s good gift of the Sabbath.
Ruth Haley Barton
Yeah, that’s so powerful, because it’s interesting to see how God redeems, you know, some of those things in our lives. Like, I imagine, it probably seems strange, but you’re probably very thankful today for a bike accident, right? I mean, it’s a beautiful thing to see how God’s fingerprints are all over again, not causing these things, but redeeming these things.
Ruth Haley Barton
And using them. Like using them in our lives for important things.
Yeah, I love that. One of the things, Ruth, that you speak to… Oftentimes, I guess we speak of Sabbath as a time of rest. But you also frame Sabbath in a way that I personally have found very helpful, not simply as taking a breather. But really ceasing from our usual work. Ruth, can you share with us a bit about this distinction?
Ruth Haley Barton
Yeah. Well, I think it’s really interesting for us to look at the original language. And you know, in Genesis, when it says that God rested, the more accurate translation there would probably be that God ceased, because God doesn’t need rest, God’s not limited the way we are. And so when we go all the way back to the beginning, where we see Sabbath beginning with God and emerging from God’s own character, we see that it is about the ceasing. And I think that’s a really a really important nuance, actually, because it gives us a way to think about what we’re going to include and exclude on the Sabbath because we’re supposed to be ceasing what we normally do, that way of being in the world where we are, you know, trying to have dominance over the world and be productive and achieve things and get things done. Whatever it is that fits in that category for us, that is what we are supposed to cease during the Sabbath.
Yeah, so you’ve shared you know, personally, some of the things that you like to do on the Sabbath, you like to garden, some people, you know, like to do woodworking or painting or whatever it might be. And so when we think of this idea of Sabbath, it’s not necessarily saying, we’re unplugging, we’re just loafing around in a hammock. Although it could be that, it could be. We’re not going to discount that, but it is this idea of pulling back from that, like you said, that usual work. So when we think of our roles as pastors and ministry leaders, that can be challenging. As you shared, I think we all experience, I bet everyone watching or listening is resonating with this idea. So talk to us a little bit about pulling back from that usual work, specifically from the perspective of a ministry leader.
Ruth Haley Barton
Yeah, yeah, there’s some very important nuances for the ministry leader for the pastor and ministry leader, because first of all, for most of us, we are engaged in ministry on Sunday mornings, which means we have to think carefully about when. And so what I’m encouraging in this book and beyond is that pastors do see and understand that the work that they do to pull off worship services is their work. And that’s part of what they need to see, so that their Sabbath doesn’t start until after that work is done. I think you know that in the book, I actually move us towards thinking about Sabbath communities, and how communities can practice together. So one of the things I’m suggesting for pastors, and, and staff and high level volunteers is that we don’t load a whole bunch of other stuff in on Sundays, but that when the services are over, the worship services are over, it’s done. Nothing else happens in the church building that day. And everybody goes home, including the pastor and the ministry leaders and the parishioners, and the pastor and leadership are actually modeling what Sabbath actually is. If you’re not pulling off the worship service, then worship can be a part of your Sabbath. But if you are helping to pull off the worship service, then it’s not part… it can’t really be seen as your Sabbath rest. And so what I suggest is that pastors see the time after church 12, or one, all the way until one o’clock on Monday, or even into the evening, if they can, that’s what I would suggest, it could just take so much to come down from preaching and all of that. And that the congregation knows that that is the pastoral staff’s pattern and practice. And maybe there’s a receptionist or a pastor on call for emergencies, but the staff together, takes their Sabbath and the congregation knows this, and it’s part of being a Sabbath community. Then I think the pastor has to be pretty careful about thinking about what kinds of things they’re going to do. So, you know, collapsing in the Lazy Boy and watching football for three hours. I think we need to be careful, I’m not going to tell you what to do on that. But I’m going to say that it might be helpful to pay attention to whether or not that actually is restful, or whether that keeps you riled up on some level. So I do include a story from a guy in this book, who talked about being willing to pay attention to what got produced in him when he watched football for three hours. And I really appreciate his honesty, because he’s a sports fan. And he loves it. But he also was able to name the fact that it got his competitive juices going. And if the team won, he had one emotion, but if the team lost, he had another emotion and then it could really take his whole day if if the game didn’t go the way that he wanted it to. And also paying attention to the fact that it riled him up on the inside, versus helping him to rest into God, so these are the kinds of things we need to pay attention to. And I think pastors in particular need to be careful about somehow distinguishing between the reading and the working that they’re doing for study and sermon preparation and things like that, and what they’re reading for their own personal soul’s sake, and to be very careful about what you choose to engage even in the realm of your spirituality on the Sabbath to make sure that you’re not, you know, trying to get a twofer, you know, resting today, and I’m starting to get ahead of my message preparation for next Sunday. Stop. I don’t want to hear that.
Yeah, that’s good. That’s very helpful. One of the things, Ruth, that you make clear in the book is that we must not pit rest against work or working against rest, right, like one is not better than the other. And I know as pastors and ministry leaders, it seems very tempting, really, first, to elevate our work even higher, maybe, than other other vocations? Because I mean, this is God’s work, right? So we have that tendency. Can you help us process a bit through this tension that we tend to create, especially in ministry, between work and rest?
Ruth Haley Barton
Yes, we do tend to do that, don’t we? We do tend at the level of our minds to create these false dichotomies and then elevate one over the other. So I’m glad that you’re, you know, bringing us to that point in the book. Because one of the things that I’ve really insisted upon is that number one, the word work would be in the title of the book, that this wouldn’t be seen as a book that’s just about rest. But it’s the rhythm between the two and then even in the in the back cover copy, you know, I insisted that it be about the goodness is in the rhythm, because that is where the goodness is, and so it’s the rhythms that we want to establish and the Sabbath is one of the main ways that God has given to us to actually establish sane rhythms of work and rest. And to experience the fact that rest gives work meaning, because on the seventh day like God, we can step back, we can savor the fruits of our work, we can feel the goodness of it, we can eventually hopefully get rested enough that we feel good about going back to our work. And that in many, many ways, it does give meaning to our work. And then of course, our work gives meaning to our rest, because rest without work would probably eventually devolve into laziness and purposelessness, and things like that. And so, the fact that we have done good work during the week, means that we really can know that it’s good for us to take a break, and to rest and to cease from our normal labors. And so, you know, almost all the rhythms that we can think of are very positive for the human self, and the human person, the rhythms of night and day, the rhythms of eating three meals a day, the rhythms that go along with dancing and music, the rhythms of sunsets and the rhythms of tides. I mean, rhythms are something that the human person and the human body is oriented towards, because we were created within those realities. And so this is just another rhythm that’s really good for us, that God created us to live within that, that really create goodness in all of life.
Yeah. So Ruth, talk to us a little bit about what happens when those those rhythms are ignored or neglected, right? Because we see the overwhelm, we see the burnout in ministry, you know, it’s pretty evident right now. There’s a lot of people struggling with that. So what, when we break the rhythm, you know, what’s actually happening to us, you know, as spiritual beings as, as people in relationship with God?
Ruth Haley Barton
Yeah. Well, we’re functioning beyond limits, that’s what we’re doing is that we’re functioning beyond God-ordained limits. So if it was a part of God’s self to work six days, and cease on the seventh, and God created us in God’s image, I believe that Sabbath is one of the ways that we participate in God’s very nature. And when we get out of rhythm, and of course, there are always there are reasons why sometimes we get out of rhythm. But if we know what our optimal rhythms are, we can get back to it immediately when the crisis is over, right. So I’m not saying that there has to be perfection here, because none of us can do that. But when we do get out of rhythm, we are functioning beyond human limits. And when that happens, the human person can’t sustain a life of living beyond human limits. We can’t tolerate it in the body, but also not in the mind, mentally, we’re not as fresh and clear. And then in the soul, we get very, very out of touch with God in the depths of our being and out of touch with who we are in God, and what God is calling us to do. And so it can be quite dangerous for a person to live for very long outside of the human, God-ordained rhythms that we’ve been created to live within. So and I think we all know people, and maybe even ourselves, who have gone to that place of burnout and what it means and what it takes to get it back, and to get ourselves back. And the destruction that can happen in the burnout state. I think that a lot of the moral failures that happen, happen within a state of being burned out, right, and being out of touch with ourselves, and who we most authentically are in God and also being out of touch with God at the center of our being, we’re too tired, we feel like we deserve something better. There’s a certain sense of entitlement, we get beyond seeking God to meet our needs. And so we’re trying to get our needs met in other ways. All of these things are the dangers that come to us, when we are living out of sync with these rhythms, and living beyond human limitation. There’s a place here that we really do need to grapple with. And that is God is our Creator. God created us, God knows us better than we know ourselves. And it is God who has said, this is a rhythm that’s good for you, and that I believe that you need and there’s a place where we need to trust God and say, If God says this is good for me, I believe him. And I’m gonna live in these rhythms because God is my, I’m not the Creator, I’m the creature. And God created me to live in these kinds of rhythms. So I’m going to trust God, and I’m going to live in these rhythms that God has made to be good for me.
Yeah, that’s obviously you know, core to who we are, as we’re staying in relationship with God. And I think that that’s obviously you know, super key, super helpful. And, you know, what’s interesting is you’re talking about rhythms. This idea that… oftentimes we think of, you know, this embracing of rhythm of work and rest, you know, this idea, we think of it at in terms of, oh, it’s a time of, you know, refreshment for me. It’s a time for me to recuperate or recover and those types of things, but in reality, although that is all true, the rhythm also serves as a way to protect us. You know, as you stated there often times, whenever we’re not in rhythm, and we’re not, you know, living in that natural rhythm, that is when we’re most vulnerable, more susceptible to attacks from the enemy, or, you know, making, you know, moral failures, or all those types of things. So it’s the sense that it is, it is indeed refreshing, but it’s connecting us, you know, at such a level with the heart of God and is protecting us, as well. Can you talk to us a little bit about this idea of Sabbath, as, you know, almost this holistic embrace, from from God for our lives?
Ruth Haley Barton
The practice of Sabbath enables us to get back in touch with things that we can be out of touch with, when we’re just head down working. So part of what happens in Sabbath is number one, it reorients us towards God. So spiritually, the Sabbath reorients us towards God, and God’s good gifts in our lives. And particularly it has it has to do with trust. So one of the spiritual dynamics of Sabbath is bringing us to a place of saying, you know, I trust God with my survival, I trust God with my sustenance. I trust God to provide, that if I do what I’m supposed to be doing six days a week, that God will continue to do what God needs to be doing on that seventh day. And you know, back in the historic Jewish tradition of the Sabbath, and in the historic story of how the Sabbath was given, that was one of the main things he Israelites had to learn was that if they did what God told them to do by working on six days, that God would provide for them on the seventh. So trust is a basic dynamic of Sabbath. Can I trust God with myself, and with my whole being? And we reorient ourselves towards who we trust, and that’s significant. I mean, that’s really significant, because most of the rest of the week, we’re trusting ourselves quite a bit. But on the Sabbath, we’re oriented back towards God. So that’s one thing. The other thing is, is that it really orients us to God’s good gifts in our lives, which often do get lost in the shuffle and in the rush of things. And so whereas we tend to be very consumeristic, always trying to get more and get stuff, on the Sabbath, God’s saying, no, stop right where you are, live right in the middle of your gifts, and be thankful for what I’ve given you. Stop consuming, stop looking out there for the next thing and settle into the gifts that I’ve given you, the gifts of family, the gifts of your home, the gift of your neighborhood with fall trees that you can get to walk in, the gift of good food, you know, the gift of a bed where you can take a nap, I mean, just settle into the simpler gifts and delight in what I’ve given to you. Contentment, you know, the scriptures say that godliness with contentment is a character of a mature Christian. So on Sabbath, God is working godliness with contentment, you know, into our lives. So to be satisfied, and to cease consuming, you know. So these are some of the things that God works in us. Even the practice of letting go. I mean, Sabbath is a very significant practice in letting go and acknowledging our own limitations, acknowledging God as the sovereign in our lives, and letting God to continue to run the world while we’re taking a step back. It’s very humbling, it right sizes our role and our position in the world. So those are some of the spiritual dynamics that take place, that we open ourselves up to, through the practice of Sabbath.
Yeah, those are excellent, Ruth. And, you know, from the perspective of a ministry leader, of a pastor, I mean, the letting go piece I think is huge, right? Because oftentimes, we think, in kind of a silly way that, you know, God is, you know, relying upon us to keep everthing rolling. Where it’s kind of a role reversal we have to work through, right? So Ruth, from a very practical standpoint, speaking to pastors and ministry leaders who absolutely love Jesus, but as we said, feel perhaps more overwhelmed than ever before, kind of sensing that we are shouldering perhaps a greater responsibility than we have ever really felt before, how do we practically even begin to tiptoe into this beautiful rhythm of Sabbath? You know, what do we what do we actually do?
Ruth Haley Barton
Well, in the book, I encourage people to do something before you do everything. So let’s just start there, that you don’t have to change your whole life tomorrow, or this week. And so one of the things I suggest is that maybe you identify a day out in the future, you know, one day in the next six months when you and your family, who whoever it is that you’re close with, you can actually plan a day that is centered around rest, worship and delight. And pick a day that works for everyone and let everybody participate. And, you know, do the one day and see how it feels and see how people respond to it and see if that becomes something like a touchstone where people say, I want more of that, I want more of that. So that’s one way to do something before you do everything. Another way to do something before you do everything is that maybe you can’t take a whole day, but you could start with, you know, Sunday after church, and then you just get the rest of the day on Sunday. Maybe you can’t go into Monday yet, because that would, that would necessitate that you’re changing the rhythm of your whole staff, and you’re just not ready for that yet. But you could really stop after church and through some sort of ritual, maybe it’s a really nice meal, with the lighting of a candle or something like that, or with the putting on of the jog pants or whatever, that you begin with a ritual and then the rest of the day is truly unplugged, and you’re truly orienting yourself around delight. You will have already worshipped but there could be a personal kind of worship that you’re, that you’re longing for and seeking. But you’re delighting, you’re unplugged from your technology, which is another very practical point I’m going to put out there right now. In this book more than any other, I’m really dealing head on with the question of technology. And I have come to believe that we do need to unplug from technology, at least to some extent for us to really practice Sabbath, because it’s not just the rest from and the ceasing from our work. The presence of the cell phone now has really introduced a level of stimulation and stress and anxiety that comes in through the news, it comes through the push notifications, it comes through texting, where anybody can now text whatever they want to us on any day, we are open to everything now if our phones are on. And so we really do need to consider unplugging. So even the ritual of a Sabbath box where for the Jewish people, it was a special box that held the symbols of their work. I think today, if we could just put our cell phones in there in the Sabbath box and say we’re not picking these up until the end of Sabbath when we’ve entered in, you know, we’ve we’ve ended the Sabbath through ritual. So maybe it’s just that, you know, maybe you can only get three hours or four hours to start, but you have a beginning and an ending ritual, and you really do unplug and you really do think about things that would delight you, you think about how you might get some rest. Do something before you do everything is really very important. And for the pastor, these unique challenges that have to do with Sunday’s, you’re going to have to really deal with those decisively and know that your rhythms won’t be the same as other people’s, because you are offering up your work and your service on usually either on Sunday morning or Saturday night and Sunday morning. But can we stop all of the Christian activity for the rest of the day, and everybody enter into a Sabbath? I think that could be a really good place to begin.
Yeah, that’s very helpful, Ruth. One of the things also that you touched on in the book is you begin to relate Sabbath with sabbatical. So can you talk to us a little bit about that relationship and and how that can kind of develop in our lives?
Ruth Haley Barton
Yeah. Well, one of the ways that I bridged from Sabbath to sabbatical is that I got to a point in my own life where I had been practicing Sabbath for many, many years but I recognized that it wasn’t enough. That I was still coming to Mondays, my Sabbath is on Sunday, I was still coming into Mondays, exhausted and stressed and not wanting to face my life and not wanting to face my life at work. And knowing that even emotionally and mentally, I still wasn’t sharp, I hadn’t rested enough to be sharp again. And and that was one of the clues for me that I needed to consider a longer sabbatical. And we had not yet had that embedded in our DNA here in our policies. It took me bringing it to our board and saying, I need, I really feel that I need this, can we work on this? They were so responsive. And I think we need to understand that most of us can’t accomplish sabbatical by ourselves, we’re going to need our community to come along with us. And our board just came right to it. And they we established a policy. We wrote up our intentions. They received a very, very simple proposal and affirmed all of it. They raised money for it because I think it is really important that it is, in as much as possible, the expenses of it are covered by the ministry organization or by the by the church, because otherwise that’s another weight that the pastor has to carry is that they have to raise the funds for it. And so there’s there’s some planning that needs to take place. You know, you have to plan for how the work is going to get done while you’re gone. You might have to plan what you want your congregation to be experiencing as you’re gone, so you have to line up special speakers, or maybe there’s other pastors, maybe there’s a sermon series that corresponds, you know, to something that’s happening in your congregation that you want to offer during that time. But you need to plan for your congregation. And you need to plan for what would be most replenishing for you. And so, a lot of times we think about sabbatical as being a time for travel and all that, and it can be and it should be, but you want to make sure that you’re not just running all over the globe, you know, during your sabbatical and not doing some of those other less tangible things that would be really good for you at this time, in terms of replenishment. You know, like, times for resting and not being on the go. Times when you are in your own home, really enjoying your own home, as it is. Times for spiritual direction and therapy and working out and doctor’s appointments, I mean, all the things that would contribute to gathering yourself back, you know, after all that you’ve poured out. So planning should be done very carefully, and should be done really intentionally versus just sort of in a highly reactionary way saying, Okay, I’m gonna go here, there and everywhere. Be careful, because it is for self care. It’s fundamentally different than a vacation in that way. There can be a vacation or two, but you know, it needs to be oriented towards another kind of intentionality.
Yeah, that’s good. That’s helpful. Now, Ruth, we’ve been talking about these, these rhythms. And we’ve talked about a few different rhythms, you know, talked about, you know, even a daily rhythm of time and a Sabbath time. We’ve talked about a weekly Sabbath. We just talked about sabbatical, which is, you know, after a course of years serving somewhere taking time off for sabbatical. Share with me a little bit of your thoughts and recommendations that you and your team kind of make to ministry leaders about someone’s different rhythms, daily rhythms, weekly rhythms, you know, annual rhythms, and then, you know, the bigger sabbatical? What have you found are healthy rhythms in those different time periods?
Ruth Haley Barton
Yeah. Well, I do think it is really helpful to think about the rhythms and the increments of time that we have, like you just mentioned. So we have our days, and for me, the practice of solitude each day, for me, the mornings work, but for other people, it might be something else could be evening could be midday, but to have some time, when I’m with God, and God alone. That’s important to me and I believe it’s actually quite necessary for people who are in ministry with high levels of responsibility, many decisions every day that need discernment, where you’re seeking to know the voice of God, to touch into that ultimate orienting reality in a daily way. But in an open and receptive way, I’m not talking about the busy Christian quiet times that many of us have set up for ourselves, you know, I’m really talking about solitude coupled with silence, that is very restful, by the way, because we’re open and receptive versus trying really hard to grab something from God. And so it’s a time daily to, you know, rest ourselves in God body, mind, and spirit, and also to see what God brings and how God guides and what God gives us for that day, the manna, if you will. And then also in the daily rhythm, I really do encourage people to consider their sleep and how much sleep they need, and to see this as a spiritual practice, that they know how much sleep they need. And they make sure that they get it as much as possible, so to look at our sleep. Also, there are some other practices that can take place within solitude. So self examination or an examen. So you could go back over the last 24 hours and ask God where God was and you missed knowing that, or you could also ask God to show you places where God was pointing out places where you might have fallen short of God’s best for you and to confess that to receive forgiveness and to learn to move on. So the examen can be a really important part of solitude practice. Prayer with words and journaling can also be a part of our daily Sabbath or our daily solitude practice. Spiritual books and reading them though, in a spiritual kind of way, where we’re letting God tell us and show us what we need to know versus just trying to get through and check it off the list, you know. So those are some things that can take place in a daily practice of solitude, and then a daily practice of knowing ourselves to be human and getting the sleep that we need. Then there is the weekly rhythm, and that is the Sabbath rhythm, which we’ve talked about here in great detail, but I’m you know, now establishing it as part of our overall rhythms, is that weekly rhythm of Sabbath. Then I suggest for pastors and ministry leaders that there be a retreat, either a nine to four type of retreat once a month, or a 24 hour retreat once a quarter, or even a little bit more, about a time when you withdraw, as Jesus did, from your life and the company of others and you have a more extended time being with God and God alone. It’s very important. Retreat, especially for pastors and leaders who are making many, many decisions that impact others, and also who are in the realm of words a lot, who are preaching and teaching and pouring out, we really do need retreat time, when we actually get away from our normal environments and we have greater availability so that God can come and meet with us the way God needs to meet with us. So that’s monthly, or quarterly. And then annually, yes, take your you take your vacation, and take all of it, see it as a spiritual practice. And when you really unplug, I mean, the thing about the cell phones is that it opens up options that are no good, that many of us don’t ever fully unplug. So to take your vacation, take it all, and to fully unplug as a part of your, your annual rhythm. And then, you know, sabbatical as we’ve discussed it here, that there’s this biblical agricultural pattern of producing for six years, and then letting the land lie fallow, and for us, that means letting the soil of our souls lie fallow for a while, every seventh year. So those are some of them. And then, you know, paying attention to the body as well, and making sure that in our days, and in our weeks, we are paying attention to the body and giving our physical bodies, which are the temples of the Holy Spirit, the place where God meets us, the only vehicle we have for doing God’s will here on this earth right now. To have as a part of our spiritual rhythms, paying attention to our bodies, and really honoring the body as a spiritual practice.
Yes, that’s so so helpful, Ruth, to even just kind of think through that actual rhythm and how it breaks down and that kind of gives us some handles to kind of incorporate it into our lives. And like you said, start doing something, and see where those pieces can fall in place. That’s so helpful. You know, Ruth, this conversation has been so, so good. And for those who are watching along, listening along if if this has piqued your interest, which I think for many of us in, you know, the state of the world that we’re living in right now, if you’re a ministry, I’m sure this resonated with you to some degree. And in your newest book, Ruth, Embracing Rhythms of Work and Rest, you go into much more detail with all of this. So Ruth, share with us a little bit: how can people connect with you, with your ministry, and with this new book?
Ruth Haley Barton
Yeah, thank you. Well, first of all, we are the Transforming Center. And so you can find, you know, you can find us online at transformingcenter.org. We also have a podcast called Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership. I’m the host of that. And we are, right now we have our podcast going on this new book, Embracing Rhythms of Work and Rest. And I’ve had some incredible conversations with good people who are attempting this in all sorts of different ways and all sorts of different environments. And so it’s, I think it’s a really encouraging season, that we as leaders can do this. And it’s, you know, I’m unabashedly addressing leaders in this book, I’m not embarrassed to say so because of the communal aspect, because Sabbath is a communal practice that needs to be led by the highest level leaders in our churches and communities. And so, you know, it fit right into the Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership podcast to do a big full season on Sabbath and Sabbath communities. So the podcast, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership. And then finally, we do offer a 27-month transformational journey, in retreat format. It’s nine quarterly retreats, over 27 months of time, and leaders gather in-person, it’s not virtual. We are, we are back to being in-person. And you can, you know, explore that. It’s a very significant commitment. It’s what I would call an immersion experience in spiritual formation for leaders. We believe that the best thing you bring to leadership is your own transforming self. So on each retreat, we handle different spiritual practices, but we talk about the personal practice, we talk about the communal experience, and then we talk about the leadership implications of every practice that we deal with. And you’ll be with other leaders who are willing to take the journey together. It’s very confidential, it’s anonymous. We really are very careful about protecting people’s confidentiality in that experience. And so that’s another way that people can connect. And for some people the first time they’ve actually experienced real solitude or real retreat or real Sabbath rest has been in the context of these retreats because there’s so much time built in for solitude and rest. So those are some ways.
Awesome, Ruth. Ruth, I’m so grateful for all that you are doing for the kingdom, you and your team, to encourage and come alongside of pastors and ministry leaders, you know, it’s very dear to our heart at PastorServe.
Ruth Haley Barton
I know. We have a shared heartbeat, don’t we, for pastors and ministry leaders.
Exactly. So and all those resources that Ruth shared, including links to the book, to the ministry to the immersive retreat experience everything you can find at PastorServe.org/network in the toolkit that’s going along with with this episode. So, Ruth, thank you so much for taking time to hang out with us and be with us. Thank you again for all the work that you’re doing, and how you’re serving pastors and ministry leaders.
Ruth Haley Barton
Oh, and same back at you. Thank you for what you’re doing and resourcing pastors, I appreciate this thoughtful conversation.
Awesome. God bless you, sister. Thank you!
Ruth Haley Barton
Take care. Bye bye.
Awesome. Thank you, brother. God bless you. Now, before you go, I want to remind you of an incredible free resource that our team puts together every single week to help you and your team dig more deeply and maximize the conversation that we just had. This is the weekly toolkit that we provide. And we understand that it’s one thing to listen or watch an episode, but it’s something entirely different to actually take what you’ve heard, what you’ve watched, what you’ve seen, and apply it to your life and to your ministry. You see, FrontStage BackStage is more than just a podcast or YouTube show about ministry leadership, we are a complete resource to help train you and your entire ministry team as you seek to grow and develop in life in ministry. Every single week, we provide a weekly toolkit which has all types of tools in it to help you do just that. Now you can find this at PastorServe.org/network. That’s PastorServe.org/network. And there you will find all of our shows, all of our episodes and all of our weekly toolkits. Now inside the toolkit are several tools including video links and audio links for you to share with your team. There are resource links to different resources and tools that were mentioned in the conversation, and several other tools, but the greatest thing is the ministry leaders growth guide. Our team pulls key insights and concepts from every conversation with our amazing guests. And then we also create engaging questions for you and your team to consider and process, providing space for you to reflect on how that episode’s topic relates to your unique context, at your local church, in your ministry and in your life. Now you can use these questions in your regular staff meetings to guide your conversation as you invest in the growth of your ministry leaders. You can find the weekly toolkit at PastorServe.org/network We encourage you to check out that free resource. Until next time, I’m Jason Daye encouraging you to love well, live well, and lead well. God bless.
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