Unforced Rhythms of Grace

A serious call to rest

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Matthew 11:28-30 MSG

Recently, one of our elders, Mary Rawson, was preaching on our church value of being a restful church. As well as looking at God's Sabbath rest commandment, she also used this beautiful paraphrase of Jesus’ words from Matthew 11. Both of these remind us that God takes rest seriously. He rested on the seventh day after creation, not because he was spent, but because rest was a central part of that creation. He wanted us to take it seriously, which is why Sabbath, a day of rest, made the top ten commandments alongside not murdering, lying or committing adultery!

Yet, so often, there’s a nagging little feeling in the back of our minds that rest is time ill spent. I wonder if you’ve ever been sitting down and the thought has struck you… “I should be getting on with something!” We view rest as inherently wasteful, unproductive and empty.

Of course, that doesn’t come from God. Such a view of rest comes instead from our results-oriented, growth obsessed world. Busier and busier, ever seeking increased productivity, whatever the cost.

God’s view is different. Rest, for God, is not an absence of work. It is not unproductive time. Rest is a central part of our humanity, our faith and our calling. As disciples of Christ, we are called to rest, just as we are called to minister, to worship and to pray. Rest isn’t shameful. Conversely, our constant refusal to rest represents a rebellion against God.

Disobedient church?

I wonder, is that what our church has taught us? In words, perhaps, but what about in practice?How do you experience church? Is it characterised by unforced rhythms of grace? Do we encourage living freely and lightly? I don’t know about you, but my church ministry has all too often felt decidedly heavy and ill-fitting!

In many ways, the church today sometimes has appropriated the worldly view of rest. What we call the ‘protestant work ethic’, stemming from the puritan high value on productivity and frugality, looks down on those who are not constantly striving to ‘succeed’ at their ministry (whatever that means). Whilst we tell people that rest is important, we load our ministers with more and more things to do, so that Sabbath rest becomes an impossible, guilt-ridden luxury beside an ever-increasing in-tray.

When I was at theological college training to be a vicar, Alex Motyer, theologian and Christian author, came as a visiting speaker to talk about his latest commentary on Isaiah. However, before he launched into his chosen topic, he said this:

“Tell me, how many of you, as you move into ordained ministry, are expecting to regularly work on your day off?”

Of course, as keen and fresh-faced ordinands eager to impress, many of us proudly raised our hands. “That’s wonderful, marvellous, well done. I just need to you to know… that seventh day? It will not be blessed by God.”

You could have heard a pin drop. Of course, he was right. I’ve never forgotten it. I determined then to honour God’s call to Sabbath rest and to this day I am strict about my day off, which is my Sabbath day. Of course, it’s not a Sunday! Sometimes people find that difficult to understand, but I know that I need rest and it is a part of my call from God.

I’ve seen what happens when ministers don’t rest. It is why the instances of burnout are so high in the church. We need to recognise that. Dare I say it, we must seek the forgiveness of those whom we have damaged. This is not the call of God. It is very far from the ‘unforced rhythms of grace.’

A shared responsibility

We are all responsible for honouring the call to rest. No one can do that for us, and we must all learn that ‘no’ is a perfectly legitimate answer to so many of the demands that are laid upon us. However, the responsibility doesn’t just lie with the individual. It also lies with the church - to model those unforced rhythms and to ensure that we do not pressurise or encourage one another to break them.

Recent conversations challenged me in this area as a church leader. I take my day off (usually on a Friday) and then come back in send out a flurry of emails; on a Saturday, which is the only day of rest that so many of our secular-employed and weary ministers can get. I have taken my Sabbath, but in doing so, I am saying that the Sabbath of others is less important.

I want to say sorry, if I’ve done that with you. And it is from that challenge, and in conversation with our leadership team, that we want to work differently. We want to say that everyone’s Sabbath is important. We all need a day off, not just our paid ministers.

How we do Sabbath at Haven Christian Centre

Restful (Exodus 20:8-11; Matthew 11:25-30)
People who recognise that we are called to ministry, worship and rest equally and who take Sabbath seriously. We exercise ministry in a way that is sustainable and encourages, rather than discourages, proper patterns of Sabbath rest for everyone.

We want to make that value real. So, as a church, we want to ensure that, as far as possible, we create space on a Saturday for our church community to take rest.
Of course, you may have a different rhythm, and that’s fine. You don’t have to take rest on a Saturday, but if you take rest at no other time, here is your opportunity to do so.
So, we will do our best not to place demands on our church community on a Saturday. That means several things. For example:

Ministry-related phone calls, emails, texts and messages go quiet. Of course, we still share life together! Be friends, have meals, tell jokes, share news. But we don’t do ‘business’ communications on a Saturday.

We don’t do last-minute things that mean people have to do their part on a Saturday. We make sure people have an opportunity to minister at other times, if they so choose.

We don’t ask people to minister at church activities on a Saturday, unless we have ensured that they have opportunity to take a Sabbath day at another time - and that includes releasing them from rotas on Sunday.

Sometimes emergencies happen and life gets in the way. Jesus healed on the Sabbath because immediate need and care will occasionally mean getting stuck in. If someone is dying or in distress, we don’t tell them we can’t help because it’s our day off (but we might make sure we find rest at another time).

This is going to take some time to get used to, but we as a leadership team would like to honour this value because we want to model a different way. We would ask you, as a part of our faith community, to do the same.

Let’s not do life the world’s way. Let’s do life the Jesus way. Let’s live in his unforced rhythms of grace.


Jason Kennedy
Enabling Minister
Haven Christian Centre

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