Cultivating a Culture of Sabbath

When I was on staff at a larger church some years ago, there was a mandatory requirement of each staff member every seven weeks to take a Sunday off. Completely off. We were highly encouraged to not even step foot in the building. Rather, we were encouraged to go and visit other churches, or even just enjoy a day at the beach with the family.

We’re all familiar with the concept of sabbath and rest, yet the very nature of today’s churches are rooted in busyness, long hours, deadlines, and demands. At times, rest from ministry seems like a distant fantasy or a miracle; but God commands rest. In fact, the only reason we have rest is because He first demonstrated it at the finishing of the seven days of creation. We rest because we follow the standard set by our Creator in whose image we are made.

If those who lead the church do not have a value for rest–as well as an active display of it–the congregation will not value or display it either. And, of course, it will spill over into our families. Our spouses and children will view the church as the place that sucks up all our energy and leaves them to receive the most drained versions of ourselves.

"If those who lead the church do not have a value for rest…it will spill over into our families. Our spouses and children will view the church as the place that sucks up all our energy and leaves them to receive the most drained versions of… Click To Tweet

Inviting Others Into Sabbath

Perhaps you already have a healthy practice of sabbath and rest. Fantastic! How can you encourage fellow laborers in the Kingdom to develop the same practice?  If you’re reading this thinking, “Some rest sure sounds great but I have no idea how to implement a culture of rest in my church community,” here’s the first step in cultivating a culture of sabbath – and it might sound like it has nothing to do with rest.

Invite more people to be owners or volunteers.

The reason my previous church was able to mandate a day off every seven weeks, is there was a high culture of team-building. If I was going to take a Sunday off, I had to make sure my duties would be fulfilled by others. Rest is the product of being surrounded by trusted allies. It may be difficult to look at the calendar and schedule a day off, but you can always be inviting and gathering others to play a larger role in your community. In my experience, most people are happy to lend a helping hand, but they need to be asked. In Hawaii, we have a simple word “Laulima” which means, “many hands helping/working.” It’s the old adage of “many hands make less work.” Many helping hands can get more done, and it also leaves room for greater rest and fellowship.

"Rest is the product of being surrounded by trusted allies." ~ Hanzo Hamamura Click To Tweet

A Command, Not a Luxury

Remember, rest is not a luxury, it is a command. Rest is not a sign of laziness, but an opportunity to appreciate hard work. In my conversations with church leaders and people on church staff, when I ask how often they take a Sunday off, their responses are sometimes heartbreaking.

“Oh, I can’t take a day off, no one else knows how to do what I do.”

“If I take a day off, the level of excellence will suffer.”

“A day off sounds nice, but I’m already used to not taking a break.”

There’s no way around this simple fact – when we are not well rested we can not live at our best. Now that I’m in my 40’s, if I ever have a late night I have to confess I sometimes believe I’ll be totally fine the next day. But I am always, without fail, proven wrong. My body just no longer operates on those “college days” sleep schedules, no matter how much I want it to be true.

Failing to Enter Rest

In church leadership, it seems more holy to keep charging forward and just pray Isaiah 40:31 over our lives: “but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (ESV)

But we must never make a habit of using Scripture to justify bad habits or disobedience. Even one of the most memorized verses about the power of Scripture itself, Hebrews 4:12, is in the context of being obedient to the Lord through the act of entering his rest.

““Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.”

Hebrews 4:11 (ESV)

The previous verses of Hebrews 4 recount how God’s people failed to enter into His rest, although the invitation had always been open. Rest is a commandment, and it is also a promise from God. But it is obtained, like all of his promises, through obedience. The Lord’s heart is not for us to burn out and die from our labor, but to be fruitful. Times of rest must be built into the fabric of our churches or we simply cannot bear the fruit we hope and pray for.

The first step can be as simple as inviting more people to join in and offer their time and talents. Or it can be as simple as making everyone take a day off every seven weeks. When we value rest as highly as we value labor, our communities will flourish and more life will be experienced.

Cultivating a Culture of Sabbath
About the Author

Hanzo Hamamura

Hanzo is the co-vocational co-lead pastor of Ma Ke Alo o, a movement of multiplied missional communities in Honolulu, HI, where he focuses on cultivating locally rooted leaders who live out Presence in the islands he was born and raised in. His passions include his wife, Laine, and four sons, motorcycles and guitars.

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