This year give your church a gift they’ll never ask for or expect.
Permission to not show up.
As upside-down and backwards as this sounds, for the last three years Grace Point Church (Topeka, KS), has intentionally canceled weekend worship services in favor of an all-church week-long Sabbath the days following Christmas.
The idea of an all-church Sabbath rest sounds absurd. Giving your church permission to take a weekend off from gathering as the local living body of Christ sounds ridiculous if not borderline heretical. In the words of the lovable but lazy salesman, Stanley Hudson, from the hit television show, “The Office,” “Have you lost your mind?! I'll help you find it!” Why in the world would you want to encourage this type of practice?
As crazy as this idea may seem, I’ve had a front row seat to watch God work because an intentional decision had been made to cancel weekend worship services in favor of an all-church week-long Sabbath rest.
For Grace Point Church (Topeka, KS), historically worship attendance over New Year’s weekend is low year-to-year making it challenging to create the kind of environments hospitable for guests who may be visiting. As tempting as it may be to cite poor attendance as the motivation for an all-church Sabbath, it wasn’t. While it’s true that Grace Point’s New Year’s attendance is historically low year-to-year, the decision to Sabbath wasn’t an attendance decision - it was a theological and practical decision.
Day one of Adam’s life in the Garden was a day of rest, not work. God placed man in creation on the sixth day. As an image bearer of God Himself, Adam was given the responsibility to serve and protect the Garden (Genesis 2:15), but his first day on the job was a day of rest. It was time off. Adam hadn’t even learned how to plant his first garden when God commanded rest. Here it is in Genesis 2:2-3:
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating he had done (NIV).
At the end of God’s creation timeline, He ceased working. And at the beginning of man’s mission he joined God in His rest. When we apply this rhythm in to the weekly work rhythms of our lives, we begin to realize that Sabbath rest is not what we do after a long stretch of life or ministry. Rather, Sabbath rest is how we begin each stretch of life and ministry. In other words, we work and worship from a place of rest; not the other way around. Before we work, we rest. Before we set out for a week of striving, producing, creating budgets, to-do lists, running around to kids’ activities and Bible studies, we remember, just as Moses commanded the Israelites after they were delivered from slavery in Egypt, to “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy…For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.” (Ex. 20:8,11).
Notice that thirty-three verses into the story of scripture the significance of Sabbath rest is introduced. You’d think by the time humanity was created, they’d be good to go ready to pursue their God-given calling. Why not plow ahead on day seven and get busy?
Well, the answer is simple (and it’s some of the most freeing news you’ll ever hear):
We are God’s unique workmanship created to do good work; we are not the Creator. We, like Adam, are written into a story already in motion. We are not the ones who write history. So before we do the good work we were created to do, we stop. We rest and we remember whose we are and for what purpose we were created.
Practically for the pastoral staff and servant leaders of Grace Point, the week leading up to Christmas includes executing 6 services in six days (three services on the weekend and three services for Christmas Eve), and one of the main principles preached to the congregation during Advent is to slow down, remember the why behind Christmas, and worship Jesus fully. A strategically planned Sabbath rest was one way to honor the staff and leaders at the end of a year, but it’s also been a way to worship Jesus fully during one of the busiest seasons on the calendar.
It sounds upside-down to cancel worship services, but in a way a lot of things about God’s Kingdom are upside-down. It certainly seems the case for Grace Point Church. In an era where the church in America is supposedly dying, Grace Point has been on a momentum swing for the last five years. “Something about an all-church Sabbath resonates with me,” says Tim Hughes, “It’s more than a break and time off. It’s a time for us to refocus and draw strength from God’s faithfulness to us in the past as we trust Him for all He has for us in the days ahead.”
Think About It:
How might God be leading your church to practice Sabbath rest as a body?