The Reality: Our culture that has eroded away much of the understanding and most of the obedience in Sabbath as a part of the Christian life. While it is easy to point out that clergy do not get Sundays off, making it difficult for them to make Sabbath time, all people in our churches live in a world that requires more work hours to maintain the current style of living, leaving their own Sundays (if they are not working them) as a day to catch up on house and yard work. I have not met parents that did not require their kids to do unfinished schoolwork on Sundays to get caught up for school the next day.
The Problem: Sabbath as a day of rest and worship has dwindled to a handful of hours once a week for those considered faithful members of our congregations. Our clergy are both leading and informed by this cultural understanding, often asking for many hours of volunteer service of our church members on their one day of rest. While the burnout rate among pastors is high it is much higher among church staff and volunteers who often work only part-time in our congregations and do not have the luxury of taking a day off in the middle of the week. We lose great servants of God every day because neither the world, nor the Church provides them with nor teaches them to make Sabbath time.
A New Perspective: I’ve come to look at Sabbath time as part of the rhythm of life. Rather than counting hours or looking at specific practices, I believe that we have a need to put everything on pause and be still in God’s presence. I need to recognize God’s work in my past moments. I take that time to give good thanks and give him the glory for the work we have been able to accomplish through His grace and strength. Then, I can turn the page and ask God to give me the wisdom, guidance, grace, and strength I need to prepare for the next task ahead. That is my concept of Sabbath: giving God the glory for yesterday and asking for His help as I turn the page to tomorrow.
Looking Back to the Source: Within this broad concept of Sabbath is much room for when, where, and how it is celebrated. I see this played out in Genesis 1 where God pauses every day for a moment to recognize the good work He had done. At the end of the sixth day, God recognized that it was all very good before taking a time of rest Himself. This example shows us the need to have “Sabbath” moments daily, weekly, as well as perhaps monthly and annually. Indeed, our particular life schedules may not work out with a 7-day week concept, but if we base our Sabbath schedule around completed tasks, it focuses us on our gratitude to and dependence upon God for all our life activity, rather than completing a spiritual or personal obligation without relationship.
A Greater Responsibility: As clergy, and as full-time clergy in particular, we cannot hold up a concept of Sabbath that is impossible to live out among our bi-vocational brothers and sisters and volunteers. Nor are we being true leaders if we simply reserve the privilege of Sabbath time to ourselves while we burden others with responsibilities in our time off. Sabbath was intended to be a community-wide celebration that informed the entire culture, not the opportunity of the elite. I expect it will require hard, diligent work on the part of full-time clergy, to create opportunities for true Sabbath, by which to allow God to shape and change our church culture into His images and engage the culture around us with His grace and love.
I want to invite Jesus to be the Lord of my Sabbath.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” – John 15:5-8 (ESV)