CPL: Put Your Load Down was a sermon that ushered in a season of Sabbath at Waverly Church. What did this season look like for your church? And what did it/does it look like for you?
In 2015 our staff and board declared a “Season of Sabbath” from Baptism of the Lord Sunday to Ash Wednesday. During that season, we did not schedule any church activities other than regular weekly worship and small group gatherings. Those days were literally blacked out on our staff calendars. We prayerfully felt the need to do so because we are an active congregation. Rarely do we have a lull in the calendar. Like most churches, a fraction of our people carry most of the load of ministry. More than anything, it was a blessing to our faithful servants who regularly give their time and energy. For many people in our church who are less invested, the season probably came and went without much notice. But for our key leaders, it was a much welcomed time of rest and renewal. Our staff still worked during this season. We continued our personal weekly schedules. But because of the cessation of activities, we were able to slow our pace and get ahead on some planning and visioning for the future. Because the 2015 Season of Sabbath was received so well, we have decided to do the same thing for 2016.
CPL: What advice would you give to other pastors about striking a balance between serving God sacrificially but also experiencing Sabbath rest?
First, such balance requires a healthy theology of rest and a healthy theology of work. We tend to be bankrupt on both fronts. We don’t rest well or work well and we don’t see the two as connected. In order to achieve balance, we need to see the connection between rest and work. Often we understand them to be separate, disjointed, or even opposite one another. Rest /work is the rhythm of life that was set forth by God in creation. We work from our rest. We do not work, then rest from our work as most people assume. We rest, then work. Ordering the rhythm of our life this way is what makes Sabbath-recieving (as I like to call it) a means of grace rather than a reward for work well done.
I receive Sabbath from sundown on Thursday and throughout the day Friday. Each Thursday I leave my study around 5pm. I simply walk away. The work is not done. I do not feel a sense of completion. But I leave anyway. Rest becomes an intrusion into my work. Sometimes it is an unwelcome intrusion, but it is always a needed one. I am reminded each week that my efforts do not keep the world turning. The beauty of this rhythm is that I don’t feel the burden of achieving balance. The balance is in the rhythm itself. And all I need to do is live into the rhythm.
CPL: How do you continue to raise the issue of Sabbath keeping at your church and encourage your people to engage in this vital spiritual discipline?
Most importantly, I model receiving Sabbath. I need Sabbath and I need to continually communicate to my church about my need for Sabbath. I give instructions about my lack of availability on my Sabbath and what to do if there is a matter of urgency. I do not open my computer or use my phone on my Sabbath. I don’t check emails or return calls. Unless there it is an emergency, I disconnect. In addition, I hold our staff pastors accountable to receiving Sabbath. I specifically preach and teach about Sabbath periodically. But more importantly, all of my preaching communicates that our lives are lived from God’s grace – which is the larger purpose of receiving Sabbath.
CPL: You have been at Waverly Church for 15 years now. At the conference you said that sometimes it takes more courage to stay at a church than go. Can you elaborate?
Many people assume that the courageous thing is to move somewhere else. To leave the present behind and to embrace the “new frontier.” And sometimes it may be. Obedience to God’s call is what matters most. Staying put is hard. It takes courage to remain in a ministry context and to live through struggles. Living with the same people for a long time takes courage. Fidelity takes courage. Long-term relationships require courage. It usually takes 3-4 years before you can really know people. And then it takes 7-8 years before real, lasting fruit begins to bear. I am not advocating for pastors never to move. I am simply combatting the assumption that staying put is the easier option. It is often not the easier option. It requires God-empowered, grace-filled courage.