6 Ways to Make Sabbath a Reality for Ministry Leaders

Finding the middle place in the dim room between round tables draped in white, I push high heels into the carpet under a ceiling of twinkle lights and speak to women seated around china tea cups and glass plates of cookies. They’ve asked me to tell them about the Sabbath Society.

I share about my weekly email sent to a group of 200 Sabbath-keepers who observe rest as a routine, instead of something that suits convenience. How disciplines are easier in the embrace of community – dieting, Bible reading, exercise – when accomplished with accountability.

The weekly encouragement is proving life changing for many, transformational for relationships and physically healing in some instances.

My eyes shift to the pastor’s wife leaning over her empty cup balanced between both hands, mouth slightly open. A handful of volunteers sit nearby. Pausing, I know what they’re blank stares are saying. I’ve heard the question echo among ministry leaders in many cities.

How do you do it?

Rest is elusive. The desire is present but those in the trenches don’t know how to Sabbath when Sunday responsibilities ooze over the sides of a full agenda and drip into Monday.

After twenty-five years in full-time ministry while raising two kids who are now teenagers, I tell them that the goal is not perfection but steps toward stillness and internal quieting for intimate reunion. Because God cares more about who we are than what we do.

Here are six ways to approach Sabbath for those who find rest a luxury or a weighty commandment shackled with hoops of guilt.

1)     Create White Space: Carve out a time period for rest that becomes a weekly routine. For example: Dedicate the first three hours of your day off to rest, reflect and abide in God’s presence before taking a shower or cleaning up breakfast dishes. I have a hunch those three hours will stretch once you experience the benefits of peace.

2)     Prepare: The key to successful rest periods is preparation. Walk toward Sabbath instead of away from it. Make meal plans, grocery trips and run errands ahead of time and find yourself anticipating joy in that 24-hour period the remainder of the week.

3)     Take an Artist’s Date: In the Right to Write, Julia Cameron encourages a weekly artist’s date to fuel inspiration on the page for writers. The practice offers the same result for ministry leaders. Take a day trip somewhere new, stop by an art gallery on a daily commute, visit a state park with a camera or peruse a local farmers market for cultivating restoration and hope. Taking a break from regular routines, whether walking a different path or driving a new route, widens perspective and inspires creativity, circumventing ministry ruts we are apt to fall into.

4)     Turn off the Noise: Keep your phone and laptop turned off for 24 hours to eliminate distraction. Creating boundaries with those in your spheres of influence provides an atmosphere of healthy respect that often becomes contagious. In the early years of ministry, before cell phones were a thing, we didn’t respond to phone calls or impromptu visits on days off and our people honored the boundary with deep respect. When the word emergency is clearly defined by you and your dependents, practicing this discipline becomes easier.

5)     Change it Up: If you enjoy reading, take a break from self-help or ministry topics and read a novel or fiction book. If you normally take notes for future sermons, talks, or blog posts on your computer, jot down your thoughts in a journal instead. The discovery of what pours out might surprise you when the paragraphs aren’t attached to productivity.

6)     Celebrate: Sabbath is about celebrating the goodness of our Creator. Stand back like an artist looking at his masterpiece from a distance and you’ll notice the gradations of color and vibrancy in life missed in busyness. Laugh, play, watch a movie on a wall of your house and give yourself permission for feasting. Enjoy food and drink that you normally don’t allow yourself the other six days of the week.

God created the Sabbath as a day set apart so make it different. Perhaps he uses more words to describe the fourth commandment for a reason.  He knows how hard surrender is for us.  When we take our hands off work and trust God with the outcomes, He honors the sacrifice like the tithe.

The way of peace in His presence surpasses accomplishment. That is the gift in Sabbath.

Is it hard for you to surrender and rest?  Which one of these six suggestions strikes a chord in you?

Photo Credit: Selma90 via Compfight cc


  1. Teri Lynne Underwood April 23, 2014

    I love this, Shelly. This is where I live, you know, carving out that white space in between the responsibilities of ministry and the demands of life with a teenager … knowing I *need* Sabbath in order to do anything else. Some weeks I find 24 hours in a row … some weeks I thank the Lord for multiplying the 24 minutes in a row. 🙂

    1. Shelly Miller April 24, 2014

      I know what you mean about hours versus minutes some weeks Teri Lynne, but we’ve seen how he honors our heart leaning toward abiding with him and not striving, haven’t we? It’s been a gift to sojourn as Sabbath-sisters this past year. Grateful to see  you here in this place.

  2. Amy Young April 23, 2014

    Shelly, I am delighted to have you here at Velvet Ashes! As one who receives the Sabbath Society newsletter, it is a welcome calm voice in my inbox. I look forward to ways you share yourself and the ways you are integrating this part of our faith from words and guilt to invitation and life.

    I cannot highly enough recommend ALL 🙂 of you sign up for Shelly’s Sabbath newsletter on her blog.

    1. Shelly Miller April 24, 2014

      I’m so delighted to have the invitation, I’m enjoying the interaction and reading here. What a great space on the web! Thankful for your support and encouragement Amy, and for joining the Sabbath Society. You are truly a gift.

  3. Mary April 23, 2014

    Shelly, I’ve been contemplating this for sometime. You may recall that I e-mailed you about it. These concrete steps may just help me to move forward to the next step on this journey. Thank you…really…THANK YOU!!

    1. Shelly Miller April 24, 2014

      I was delighted to see you in my inbox this morning Mary. Welcome to the Sabbath Society, I pray it is a blessing to you.

  4. Lynn D. Morrissey April 23, 2014

    Shelly, I love point 6, where Sabbath is a celebration. I don’t think people always associate resting with feasting. It’s about joy as much as anything.  Also, I thnk sometimes ministry leaders are wise in having a different day for Sabbath than Sunday. Just a thought. Somtimes church “jobs and duties” simply don’t allow time for rest in the way that would be most refreshing. I used to work for pastors who always had a Sabbath day of their own. =] Thanks for your wise suggestions.



    1. Shelly Miller April 24, 2014

      I think you are right Lynn and the celebration part has been an unexpected gift I’ve experienced weekly. And yes, I’ve expressed what you suggest about ministry leaders choosing another day besides Sunday as their Sabbath, perhaps I forgot to express that here. Lovely to see you here in the comments Lynn, thanks for joining in the conversation.

  5. Debbie April 24, 2014

    I am changing it up by switching to reading a fiction book. I’ve been reading too much non-fiction and I’m burned out on them.

    1. Shelly Miller April 24, 2014

      Debbie, I think you might find some inspiration in changing it up. I know I did.

  6. Jillie April 24, 2014

    Ah Shelly, it appears you, yourself, have learned a lot about choosing Sabbath. I am still at the stage of making sure I have most or all of my duties done ahead of time so that I can truly rest on Sunday. But, there is NOTHING I enjoy more than sitting in quiet, reading a good piece of fiction. Even the picturing of it in my mind brings me comfort and peace. I look forward to it each week. I also enjoy pen & journal in hand, recounting my week. It is on Sundays that I most sense God’s presence with me, and feel most drawn to the Word.

    1. Shelly Miller April 24, 2014

      I think our Sabbath’s look familiar Jillie. I long for it every week now. The quiet and contemplation fill me to overflowing most weeks and I feel cheated when I don’t get the time now.

  7. Lori Harris April 24, 2014

    Love this list Shelly!  Quite helpful and easily doable.  Thanks for modeling the way and for always inviting us to abide in Christ.

    1. Shelly Miller April 24, 2014

      I know how busy you are with ministry Lori, I’m thankful  you find it helpful and doable. Great to see you back to blogging after Lent!

  8. Natalie April 24, 2014

    So much good and practicable here. Walking toward that place of rest rather than away is a game-changing paradigm shift that I’m learning and reaping rewards from. I love your inclusion of your dependents in defining emergency. It’s good for them to know. Celebration is the next move for me.

    1. Shelly Miller April 25, 2014

      I agree Natalie, I think the move in thinking about Sabbath as something I am working toward than away from changes the motivation from what I gain in a selfish way to what I gain selfless way. I look foward to the intimacy with my Saviour, not what I get out of it to get through the week. Hope that makes sense. And I know, I’m not great at the celebration part except when it comes to eating. *snort*

  9. LISA MORELAND April 24, 2014

    So welcomed the listing of an Artist Date in the wonderful suggestions that you graciously compiled here. I have find that an Artist Date is often accompanied by the Holy Spirit’s inspiring, encouraging, and healing presence. Some years back, a visit to a sculpture garden in my city gifted me with one of my dearest memories of God’s presence.

    1. Shelly Miller April 25, 2014

      Oh Lisa, I just did that recently too. I took an artist date to a local public garden, sat down with my journal on a bench among the statuary and budding trees and pondered God’s presence. It was wonderful.

      1. Nancy Ruegg April 26, 2014

        Love this idea.  I need to find a public garden or other quiet, scenic spot for this kind of reflection!

  10. Aliyah April 25, 2014

    Thanks so much for this Shelley! This is exactly the kind of principles Father has been leading me to just the past week. I am so happy. My family have observed a sanctified day of rest for over 10 years now. Being from Jewish background, its pretty cool as we use the principles of putting everything off Friday night to Saturday night and we just rest – no technology, no tv. We eat, read, sleep and we are so blessed! Father knows what is best for us – He gave us a rest each week, we just need to take it. Bless you!

    1. Shelly Miller April 25, 2014

      What a gift to have Sabbath as a routine in most of your life. I’m sure you can tell others about how it impacts your life. That is inspiring.

  11. Nancy Ruegg April 25, 2014

    My change-it-up challenge:  try my hand/brain at poetry.  (It’s NOT a genre I gravitate toward.)  I might start with a verse or insight discovered during my quiet times during the week.  On Sunday I could use the poetry process to mediate and celebrate.  If nothing else, God and I will have a good chuckle over my efforts!

    1. Shelly Miller April 25, 2014

      I love that you are doing that Nancy. Poetry intimidates me but I’m so curious. You’ve encouraged me.

  12. Lisha Epperson May 16, 2014

    You’ve invited me to join the Sabbath Society and now our paths collide in this space…in this season where I desperately need it. I’m learning to take my sabbath as I find it. As your post suggests – sabbath is every where. Clicking over to join you in the discipline of seeking sabbath. Connected with you today through The High Calling.

    1. Shelly Miller May 16, 2014

      So excited to have you in the community Lisha. We are all desperate for rest and time to abide, you are in good company my friend.

  13. laura May 16, 2014

    I keep learning from you, my friend. Sabbath-keeping is not my strength but your example shines. And this is wonderful truth here–I am the one who receives the blessing when I enter God’s rest. Love you, my friend.

    1. Shelly Miller May 16, 2014

      Aw, thanks Laura. I think Sabbath has changed me in ways I didn’t anticipate, I’m thankful. So glad you are part of the Sabbath Society. I think it is a discipline that requires . . .well . . . discipline in order to see the fruit. Yes?

  14. Katie Kump May 17, 2014

    Thank you, Shelly! I love how your wisdom is both practical and freeing. Always grateful when women a few life stages ahead are kind enough to turn around and offer their perspective and love to those following in your footsteps. Blessings!

    1. Katie Kump May 17, 2014

      Well, that’s embarrassing. Had no idea that’s where that picture was going…please pardon my…me. 🙂

  15. ErinMP April 16, 2015

    I already take a Sabbath day, and I love it! I see here encouragement fellowship, and tips for improving my Sabbath. Thank you! 🙂

  16. James Silas September 13, 2016

    There is a 7th way to approach Sabbath, that should be added to your article: Be In Agreement With The Biblical Sabbath: Yes, in Creation, God made all of the days; but He only blessed and hallowed one of those days… Exodus 20:8-11 reads: “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it Holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is with thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath Day, and hallowed it.” I cannot stress how blessed it is to be in complete agreement with God’s Word. Nowhere in Scripture is recorded a change of “…the Sabbath of the LORD thy God…” from the Seventh Day to any other day. Lucifer challenged God’s authority up in Heaven, got himself kicked right out of Heaven, and had his name changed to Satan–but he drew one-third of the Heavenly angels with him… The “little-g” god of this world challenges God’s authority here on earth–which God created–and he only wants to kill and destroy God’s Creation by drawing them away from God’s Word as well. It has been such a blessing to me to keep God’s Sabbath, on the seventh day, because I gain another day before work-Monday! Try it and see for yourself; if you’re honest, you’ll admit that things work much better when we do things like God says to do things, and when God says to do things… What if Naaman had not dipped in the Jordan 7 times; what if the children of Israel had not circled the walls of Jericho 7 times before they shouted; what if we don’t keep Holy the day that God said for us to “…remember…” to keep Holy?

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