Riverside is a church of small groups. (I’m sure you’ve heard this before.) But more fundamentally, we’re a church of disciples. We band together, we live out our lives in Christ together, we make disciples together, and pretty much everything else—we do that together, too. But every (individual) disciple needs to rest. So does that mean we should rest together?
Yes and no.
Yes, we should talk as small groups about how we’re going to rest. Our small group leaders need vacations from leading. The (glorious, good, exhausting) grind of making disciples, caring for others, and organizing the group’s mission is . . . well, grinding. It takes a lot out of you to lead a community. And because we are not infinite, all-powerful, and all-knowing, every part of us needs a break. That’s good. That’s how we were created. That’s okay.
Of course, we’re called to weekly rhythms of Sabbath rest. But that’s not all that Scripture (particularly, the Old Testament) has to say about regular, scheduled seasons of rest. Maybe it’s surprising to consider the notion that, as some believe, the average Israelite farmer, scratching out an existence from the land through back-breaking, six-days-a-week work, averaged more days off than most white-collar workers today. Don’t believe me? Let’s do some math:
- Are you counting the fifty-two weekly Sabbaths a year?
- How about the annual high holy days like Passover, the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the Feast of Weeks/Firstfruits/Pentecost, the Feast of Trumpets, and the Feast of Booths/Tabernacles (all described in Leviticus 23 and Numbers 28-29)? Or the Feast of Ingathering (mentioned in Exodus 23:16 and Exodus 34:22)? Three of these festivals (Passover and the Feasts of Weeks and Ingathering) required all Israelite males to travel in order to worship the Lord in a central location—a spiritually mandated worship conference! We can assume that this required at least a couple days before and after to account for travel.
- How about the law that called for agricultural work to cease every seven years for an entire year (Leviticus 25:2-7)? For an agrarian society, a whole year off from working the land provided a significant break (to put it lightly) for most of the population.
- And how about the year of jubilee, which rolled around every fifty years and called for work to cease, the redemption of borrowed or purchased property, and the release of slaves (Leviticus 25)? Yup—a whole year off.
While Christ has fulfilled these ceremonial laws of the old covenant, should we expect that the One who calls us to find real rest in him (Matthew 11:28-30) would demand less rest than what was enjoyed under the former, inferior arrangement? Hardly! So yes, we should celebrate and plan real rest. And it sure seems like a good idea to do so in a regular rhythm that matches our culture’s recognition of the transition of warmer weather and school being out. Yes—let’s rest!
But why plan a rhythm of rest?
God loves us enough to give us rest for rest’s sake. But this self-care in the form of personal, family, and church “sabbath” has a purpose—to refresh our tired bodies and souls and empower us to take up the mission again once they’re over. The upward call to know Christ, love his church, and make disciples of all people never stops. We can’t fall into a trap of thinking resting from work means resting from God. Far be it from us to treat life with God as nothing more than a job! If that’s an offensive attitude toward our spouses, how much more disgusting is it to think of our relationship with God as an item on a to-do list, happily put on hold for months at a time? (For more on balancing rest and discipleship, I recommend this article for your consideration.)
Instead, we rest to work again. The work of making disciples, loving one another, and growing in Christ is hard. If we’re doing it right, it should leave us bone tired, bruised, and ready for rest. But while we wait for Christ to make all things new, fully and finally, our small groups should find rhythms that keep up the mission while also compassionately caring for the many who carry heavy burdens during the spring and fall.
What are some ways your group could change up its schedule to keep making disciples while enjoying godly rest? The options are too many to list (but that won’t keep me from giving it a shot!).
- Maybe your group only has one monthly “family meeting” for a few months while meeting informally throughout the week to read Scripture and pray together. If so, this would be a great time to break up into multiple mini-groups and practice reading the Bible together or praying for a shared desire!
- Maybe you continue to meet weekly, with the understanding that attendance will wax and wane, for a shared potluck meal. Or maybe you informally call dibs on a restaurant’s table from June to August, meeting there at the same time every week and getting to know the stories of your fellow “regulars.”
- Maybe parents meet during the week at the same time, at the same park, and let the kids enjoy each other outside of school. Is there a more natural way to get to know your neighbors who are doing the same?
These three ideas can be tweaked, combined, or improved easily. They all recognize the flexibility of the summer season without neglecting the normal Christian life.
How are you resting this summer?