12 Then the Lord said to Moses, 13 “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy. Exodus 31:12-13
If I was asked what is the most disregarded of all the ten commandments in our culture, I would most likely choose “remember the sabbath and keep it holy”. Not only is it lightly regarded, but everything in our culture seems to be pushing us towards greater levels of activity, busyness and distraction. Even when we “get away” we rarely truly engage in rest and reflection.
Last year the Bethany Church Oversight Team spent some time thinking & praying about the issue of “Sabbath rest” and applying it to our entire congregation in some way. The result was a corporate resolve that the Spirit was leading us to take a month each year to encourage our congregation and leaders to “invest in rest”. Specifically, every year in the month of July.
At Bethany, many members of our congregation take on significant volunteer ministry responsibility in the life of the church. While we want to see everyone in our congregation using their gifts in church ministry, we also want to avoid adding to the extreme busyness of our culture that can lead to an unfocused life where God and healthy rest gets crowded out.
Jesus said that He “made the Sabbath for man”, and we want to embrace a godly lifestyle in our church; one that encourages time for rest, renewal, and reflection.
We’ve decided on using the month of July to incorporate an annual time for rest in our congregation for two reasons: First, this just fits with the natural flow of life in Minnesota. Second, our “fiscal (budget) year” begins on July 1st. It seems appropriate that after we have laid our plans and budget, we then take the first month of the church calendar year and dedicate it to the Lord for rest.
So how does this look in our church? Here are the two primary ways we’re asking our congregation to “invest in rest” during this coming month:
- Encouraging Ministry Teams, life groups, and other programs to limit activity and meetings for the month of July. We always encourage believers to spend time together but ask you to consider having it be fun, restful, and refreshing if possible. Some ministries (ex: children, worship, pastoral) have ongoing responsibilities that can’t be halted completely, but we encourage teams to look at reducing or eliminating responsibilities outside of the absolutely essential where possible.
- We plan to abbreviate and simplify Sunday services to one hour in length for the month of July to help limit volunteer responsibilities and number of volunteers needed. We will encourage people to spend time together after service with some fun snacks or activities. Our sermon series for July will focus on the subject of Sabbath rest. We will also have an outdoor service again this year on July 22nd. We will have no children’s ministry that Sunday, and our monthly BBQ will be on the church front lawn after the service.
So, those are the simple plans we have for encouraging obedience in our church to God’s commands concerning sabbath rest in our lives. We hope that by taking these small steps, we can release and encourage our congregation to be intentional about “investing in rest” in their lives and establish this as part of a healthy church culture.