Last summer, I stopped working…for three months.
I didn’t quit.
I wasn’t fired or put on administrative leave.
I was given the gift of rest.
The church that I have served for over twenty years gifted me a 3-month sabbatical.
And, to be honest, it was hard to stop at first.
So much of my life involves ministry. So much so, that when the ministry part was taken away, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to stop well. I quickly discovered that I’m much better at busyness than I am at rest. And, I’m pretty confident that I’m not the only one. We youth workers are busy people. Our jobs are challenging, our lists are unending, many of our students (and families) are broken and needy…the list goes on.
The truth is that the job of a youth worker is demanding. It doesn’t fit neatly into the 9-5 work week box. There are always more students we could hang out with, more games or band concerts we could go to, more prep that could be done for youth group, more school campuses that we could be present on, more office work we’d rather ignore… (just making this list reminds me how much more I could be doing right now). Fortunately, for all of us, God gave us a cure for our busyness. I was reminded of that cure in the form of a book I read a few weeks into my sabbatical.
Three weeks into my gift of rest, I was still struggling to slow down. I wasn’t working, but I wasn’t resting well either. Then I started reading The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan. Reading this book seriously challenged my theology of rest. It confronted me in my busyness and forced me to stop and really think about why I needed rest—not just “sabbatical rest,” but weekly Sabbath rest.
The challenge with incorporating Sabbath rest into our weekly rhythm is that we tend to fall into one of two extremes in our understanding of it.We either dismiss it entirely as some form of weekly legalistic “holiday.” Or, we embrace it to the extreme as some form of weekly, narcissistic “self-care.” Sabbath rest is neither of those.
In The Rest of God, Buchanan defines Sabbath this way. Sabbath is “imitating God so that we stop trying to be God.” Let that sink in for a second.
Go back and think about all the demands of youth ministry…of your ministry. The lists, the people, the needs, the opportunities…. It’s no wonder that we often feel like we can’t stop. But, we’re not God, and some of us need to stop trying to be God.
Buchanan’s challenge continued. He writes that “sabbath-keeping involves a recognition of our own weakness and smallness, that we are made from dust, that we hold treasure in clay jars, and that without proper care we break.” If we are not careful, our busyness in ministry will lead to our brokenness. We need rest; weekly Sabbath rest. We need to slow down and remember that God is the “Great I Am,” and we are not.
The question for youth workers becomes, how do we rest? What does weekly Sabbath rest look like?
Here’s some food for thought from Buchanan as you think about your need for Sabbath rest in order to stay healthy and well in ministry.
Commit to the Sabbath Golden Rule. Sabbath is “to cease from that which is necessary; to stop doing what you ought to do. It’s the one day when the only thing you must do is to not do the things you must…and to embrace that which gives (you) life.” So, ask yourself, what gives me life?
When you ask that question and truly embrace Sabbath rest, you’ll find the God of rest filling you up. Then you you can pour out of His strength and not your own the other six days of the week.
Jason Matthews is a youth pastor in Washington State, where he’s been serving students for over 20 years. When he doesn’t have to be in the office, he loves to be outside with his family, hiking and exploring the Pacific Northwest. He also loves to network with other youth workers. You can connect with Jason on Facebook, Twitter @pjmatthews77, and Instagram (@wearethebreak) where he’ll often post on life and youth ministry.