Shabbat Shalom: Clergy Sabbath as Disruptive Innovation and Renewal
As a practice in Western society, Sabbath has been largely eroded over the last few decades. This is true not only in the culture but in the church as well, both of laity and of clergy. The implications of this loss may be seen in terms of personal health or perpetual exhaustion, and while these are true results of a loss of keeping Sabbath the real loss is in a faithful life. More than a mere day off to recharge the batteries, keeping Sabbath rejuvenates us spiritually as we live into God’s invitation to live life abundant with God.
Long before the Ten Commandments, Sabbath comes to us in the creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2. The “day of rest” is actually a day of continuing creation where God brings menuhah – peace, rest, harmony – that is not separated from the previous six days but crowns them. In an attempt to define and protect the Sabbath, Jewish leaders set categories of work to be avoided on the Sabbath that were derived from those tasks necessary to build the tabernacle. Over time, the rules became ever more involved and stricter. This was the context of Sabbath that Jesus found himself in, and his Sabbath healing stories in particular show where the attempts to protect Sabbath were actually stifling its life.
This thesis focuses on keeping Sabbath by clergy as a means to renew not only themselves but the wider church as well, drawing from written sources as well as my own experiences serving in United Methodism and British Methodism. For clergy, Sabbath is not a luxury. Clergy are not so indispensable that they are unable to take Sabbath. Some clergy have trouble with saying “No” to doing things, a practice that is needed as Sabbath time must be protected. Clergy are important in Sabbath keeping because clergy are called by God to their life and Sabbath is integral to that life. Sabbath is integral to the life of all disciples, and clergy are leaders and modelers of that life.
Using the concept of Disruptive Innovation developed by Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School, clergy can begin to reclaim keeping Sabbath and find in it renewal of themselves and of the wider church. The wider national culture has overtaken much of church culture in this regard, and keeping Sabbath is a means to disrupt the new normal of living busy, hectic, exhausting lives and call us back to participation in the life rhythm of God. Duke’s Clergy Health Initiative found that clergy needed to repeatedly be given permission to take care of themselves, and this is a stark reminder of how far we have strayed from keeping Sabbath. Keeping Sabbath is part of our communal life together, and Christians have much to (re)learn from our Jewish brothers and sisters as to how we do that. Western life has become largely ruled by the clock, which is not without its benefits but also becomes an uncompromising taskmaster when completely submitted to. God’s children are invited to share in a life that is more than the big hand and the little hand and how much can be squeezed into a day. It is a life of creative rhythm.
Clergy can lead a renewal that embraces life abundant over a life of unrelenting busyness. Keeping Sabbath is a cornerstone of this life. By keeping it themselves, clergy can inspire members of congregations to follow suit and the ripple effects will spread outwards. While the ideal goal is to recover a Sabbath for all on the same day, there are also realizations of those who cannot keep Sabbath because of financial realities as well as professional realities such as emergency and medical workers. Nevertheless, part of keeping Sabbath is finding way to include these others, often beginning in small groups. Further, what is defined as “work” has personal and group dynamics.
We too often live as less than we are. In keeping Sabbath, we acknowledge that the Lord of the Sabbath is not I. The Sabbath is not just to be remembered. It is to be kept holy.
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