Hopefully by now you are aware that I am taking a sabbatical this summer.
(My sense is that most people know that I’m taking a sabbatical, even if they are not quite sure when. Several times recently, people have approached me and asked confusedly, “Aren’t you supposed to be gone?” I’m not really sure how to respond.)
From Memorial Day through Labor Day I will be free from my regular job responsibilities at City Church in order to pursue rest and renewal together with my family. As Memorial Day approaches, I’ve been thinking about my hope for City Church during this summer of my sabbatical. At the risk of trying to control City Church even in my absence, let me share some key elements of that hope.
As I am practicing rest, my hope is that City Church would practice rest, too. When we rest, we discover that less depends on us than we think. We are reminded that we are human beings not human doings.
Rest, of course, does not simply mean not working at your job. Rest also doesn’t mean being lazy. Rest is an active ceasing from work so that body, mind, and spirit can be refreshed. Some of us have a tendency to busy our lives with so many leisure activities that we don’t know how to rest. My prayer for City Church this summer is that you will schedule rest on your calendars—hours set aside for naps, days set aside for worship, weeks set aside for vacation.
Because rest is so important, during my sabbatical we have designed a weekend for congregational renewal called City Church: A Family at Rest. The main seminar featuring guest presenter Wade Bradshaw will take place on Saturday, June 24th, from 9am to 12 noon, at All Saints Presbyterian Church (3000 Grove Ave.). You should go. You will learn how to rest more deeply with the family of City Church.
Whenever we think about rest, we also ought to think about work. Rest and work combine in God’s design to form the rhythm of the world. In creation, God worked for six days and then rested in the goodness of what he had made. In our lives, we rest first and then work out of that rest. In so doing we align with Paul’s admonition to the Philippians: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you.” We work because we know that God is already working in and through us.
Specifically, my hope for City Church during my sabbatical is that you will work hard in my absence, just as Paul enjoined the Philippians to do so in his absence. This call to hard work includes the City Church staff who will need to step into new—sometimes uncomfortable—roles, bear extra responsibility, shoulder added weight. It also includes our lay leadership who will assume a more pronounced role in shepherding the City Church flock in my absence. And it includes you.
One of the greatest potential benefits of my sabbatical is that we all begin to see City Church less as “Erik’s church” and more as “our church”. So, volunteer. Get involved in a new dimension ministry. Show up early, stay late. Greet visitors. Invite them to a meal. Start living out the welcome of the gospel with strangers. Stop assuming, “Someone else will do it.” Outdo one another in showing honor.
As I’ve prepared for this sabbatical over the last few months I’ve read with different eyes sections of the Bible that mention the Sabbath. The words sabbatical and Sabbath derive from the same lexical root. The Sabbath was the day of rest for observant Jews during Jesus’s time. Much of Jesus's public ministry took place on the Sabbath when crowds were gathered at the synagogue. Luke 6 records a story of “another Sabbath” when Jesus discovered a man with a withered hand. With religious professionals gathered around him looking for an opportunity to accuse him of dishonoring the Sabbath, Jesus brought the man ‘front and center.’ He instructed the man to stretch out his hand and his hand was restored. The disabled man was made whole.
That interaction (and others like it) demonstrate that the purpose of our rest is to be made whole. Rest is not a religious rule we have to follow just to keep the rules. Rest exists for us to be restored; for us to discover what it means to be whole people before God. Wholeness is what I will be pursuing this summer—for myself, my marriage, and my family. It’s my prayer that City Church will pursue wholeness, too, through a deeper understanding of both our work and our rest.