sabbath with a small “s”

Posted by Jerry Roth on

Even though I have recently joined the ranks of the retired, I find myself amazed at how busy life remains. More and more I am hearing phrases from others like “my life is crazy” or “I am too busy to (you fill in the blank)”. Soon it is followed by “I just need to find time to rest”.

Being an amateur scientist with a self-taught degree from the great science shows like Nova and MythBusters, I have learned one truth. We all have the same amount of time available and it is limited to 24 hours each day. So if we want to find time to rest, we will have to intentionally reduce some of our other daily activities.

The word sabbath is familiar to many of us in the church world. In various languages and forms, it has been around for millenia. If asked what it means, as Christians we might quickly respond that it means Sunday. If we are Jewish, we would respond that it is Saturday. But if you look deeper into the meaning of sabbath with a small “s”, it means a “day of rest”.

In working with church leaders, we often discuss our church’s contribution to this issue. We try to answer questions like:

      Why is it so hard to recruit catechists for our faith formation programs each year?

      Why are fewer people attending our liturgical services?

      Do our ministries contribute to our members or other attendees feeling overwhelmed by life?

In an insightful article titled Your Church Can Be a Refuge, Pastor Adam Stadtmiller shares how his church community addressed this growing issue. As a new pastor, Adam felt he needed to impress his community. For six months he led a frenzy of new activities. Although each was bringing new life to his community, the pace was unsustainable for both the pastor and church members.

He states, “I’ve always wanted to concentrate on leading the people I serve into the sacred presence of the risen Christ. But to do so, we needed to slow down and catch our collective breath. … God was calling us to build calm, safe harbors of connection rather than culturally relevant centers of activity. Our people longed for a place to be rather than a space to do.”

Out of this church’s honest self-reflection came four key Spirit-led areas of wisdom:

  1. Model and preach rest as a value – Does your church have a value related to rest? As this practice was pursued in his church, his members responded by telling “me how our new value of rest impacted their lives. Most told the same story: they were tired, burned out, and filled with anxiety. They wanted to rediscover what it meant to follow Jesus beyond their phone Bible apps and the seemingly endless treadmill of ministry opportunities.”
  2. Clarify your church’s vision – The community began to clarify their core values. Among twelve identified values were words like prayer, fun, and play. Pastor Adam notes, “After we established the vision of congregational rest, we decided to remove anything within the organization that got in the way of that vision. Few things besmirch the sacred like noise and chaos, so we cut anything that resulted in these annoyances.”
  3. Empower and equip your people – Their church’s vision was to be a church that can change the world. But to achieve this goal, they would work smarter rather than harder. Pastor Adam explains the change this way, “The church would be a place to replenish them for their journey, rather than the destination. Doing fewer organized events as a church freed us up to focus on equipping people to do more in their own community spaces. This encouraged church leaders and volunteers to shift their focus and energy toward their personal living spaces.
  4. Make church community simple – Ministry was made as simple as possible for the members and staff. They created a weekly prayer gathering and a monthly evening of worshipping through music. They used unneeded budget funds to start a free catered lunch for Sunday attendees. The leaders saw this as a community-building, enriching, multi-generational effort. Pastor Adam’s commentary on this change, “Most importantly, we were able to relieve the pressure from our people’s schedules rather than add to it. Our community is now running at a sustainable and life-giving pace.”

For another view on “less is better”, check out How Doing Fewer Events Is Helping Our Church Do Better Ministry by Karl Vaters.

The Center for Parish Leadership is available to assist you with key staff & leadership development activities. Please contact us to discuss how we can uniquely support your staff and leaders. If you would like to read previous Weekly Research Updates, you will find them on our website blog.



Jerry Roth

Research Analyst

The Center for Parish Leadership


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