Thursday, April 10, 2014

Sabbath as Way of Life: Reading Sabbath Missionally

Too many pastors have accepted a life of “busy-ness” instead of a life of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I teach a course on the Exegesis of Exodus at Asbury Seminary.  As part of the semester, we work through the Sabbath commandment.  At the heart of the Sabbath, is God’s command to inaction.  I am not a sabbatarian in the classic sense of the word, but I am convinced that there is an abiding missiological witness implicit in God’s commandments.  When we as followers of Jesus Christ live out the principles found in Scripture, we reflect inherently to the world something of the heart and character of God.  Biblical ethics are not merely about punishment and sin—they are about witnessing to the world of a better way of life—the life that God created humanity to live.

When it comes to Sabbath, the principle of no work that brings financial gain is crucial.  As our world becomes increasingly global, Western nations are coming into competition with rising economies in which workers routinely work 60-100 hours seven day per week schedules.  I believe that followers of Jesus Christ have the opportunity to witness to the surrounding culture that work is not the final word for humanity—rest is.  A God-given rest has been woven into the very fabric of the universe.

Yet if followers of Christ are to capture this missional moment, Christian leaders need to live radically different than many currently do.  Too many pastors allow themselves to be trapped by a never ending mountain of busyness in which at the end of the day they experience poor health, loneliness, family discord, and burn out.

How can pastors begin to experience the sort of life that God has called humanity to live?  How can pastors begin to create an ethos of health within communities of faith rather than dysfunction?

 1) Pastors must be ruthless in their quest for a balanced life.  We need to quit making excuses for obscenely busy lives.  Each of us is ultimately responsible for the decisions we make in how we choose to conduct our lives.  God has not called us into Christian service so that we can destroy our relationships with our spouses and children, have no time for meaningful relationships with friends, and ironically lose the zeal that we once had to spread the Gospel.

2) Pastors who live balanced lives will prioritize their time around their strengths.  We need to understand ourselves.  It is crucial that we learn to spend the majority of our time doing what we do best.  Christian ministry in the traditional sense puts ridiculous demands on pastors.  Read the job description of the pastor in any denominational handbook and you will be shocked by the many and various tasks that a pastor is supposed to juggle.  Smart pastors focus on their own gifts and learn to delegate the majority of other tasks to persons more capable than themselves.

3) Pastors who live balanced lives teach and promote a gift-based ministry.  The New Testament documents portray the body of Christ as an organism in which each believer plays a crucial role through the deployment of his or her gift for the sake of the mission of the whole.  Christendom has subverted the biblical witness by setting churches up as corporations in which paid professions “do ministry” on behalf of a group of spectators (usually called the “laity”) who provide only the financial resources to fuel the mission of the Church.  Pastors need to have the courage to teach the biblical model of a gift-based culture.   Pastors need to function primarily as equippers rather than laborers.  Here is a test: if the pastor has to be present for a ministry to function, the pastor has not created a gift-based culture within his or her congregation.

4) Pastors who live balanced lives train leaders rather than enable followers.  New Testament communities expect Christ followers to deploy their gifts.  It is simply inconceivable for the biblical writers that a person can profess belief in Jesus Christ and then live unchanged and unproductive lives.  21st century leaders must focus on training leaders rather than feeding sheep.

What do you think?

© 2014 Brian D. Russell

For more on reading the Bible missionally, check out my book now available in paper and Kindle formats:


  1. Amen! Fully Agree.

  2. Brian, thanks for this article. This is probably the easiest area for pastors to live prophetically and yet we forget and look like everyone else. Our culture has forgotten Sabbath in our lifetime and I think we are paying the price.