The Day that Saves a Church Planter’s Life
by Justin Howard
The need to produce comes quite naturally to me. My wiring demands it, craves it, and will not be satiated unless I see results. I’m a father to six boys eight and under so, not surprisingly, reproduction comes quite naturally to me as well…. In 2012 we launched Imago Dei in Orono, ME right outside of the city of Bangor. We used to joke that biological church growth was our model. We started worshipping in my attic with three other couples who had on average three children per couple. All in all there were around twelve children under four years of age. A goodly portion was mine (four at the time). It was suggested that since our fundamentalist friends had already determined that we were “Catholic” perhaps we should pursue a Roman name for our new community. Something along the lines of “Church of the Immaculate Conception,” at which point one of our team leaders, rather dryly, interjected – “more like, Church of the Frequent Conception.” I was of course scandalized.
We were an exhausting one year in to our church plant when my wife turned to me in the car as we were driving with a van full of kids and asked me, “Justin, would you ever cheat on me?” I just about spit my Dunkin’ Donuts latte all over the windshield for shock. “No, of course not!” I said in a disgusted and horrified voice. To which she wryly replied, “then why do you feel permission to flaunt the other commandments?” I protested, “What?! I’m a priest! What on earth could you be referring to?” She replied, “The fourth commandment. Is it the only optional commandment of the ten?” I quickly ran them down in my head… Sabbath! “Oh, honey, but Jesus has made our whole life a Sabbath rest (I have a theological education)…we don’t need a day!” At which point this mother of four boys under the age of 3 ½ proceeded to make me holy.
One of the greatest temptations in Church planting is to believe that your value and calling are based on your ability to produce as it relates to the A.B.C’s (attendance, buildings, and cash). The pressures of ministry, discipleship, and providing for your family can be overwhelming. Your level of comfortability with a Sabbath day in addition to a day off will expose, like nothing else will, the need to “succeed,” the need to produce – in the same way that the giving of our tithe exposes our level of trust in the God who provides. In both spiritual practices we are invited to relinquish control and trust his infinite goodness toward us and to rest, yes rest, in his great love for us. Observing a Sabbath day has saved my life and saved our family from becoming another sad statistic. Take it from me… chill out. Jesus is still on the throne and his Kingdom is still advancing even if you check out for 24 hours each week.
Here are some Sabbath suggestions for a church planting family:
- After church on Sunday collapse into your family and play games, make popcorn, watch a movie.
- Don’t invite people over unless you really want to (learn some boundaries please)
- Have a Saturday night or Sunday night family devotional that prepares for and/or thanks the Father for the gift of rest and fun.
- Turn your cell phone off (be present to your family)
- Read lots of books to your kids
- Give your spouse a few hours to leave for some Jesus time or to just go for a walk
- Don’t make meals, eat cereal or order out
- Read to your spouse after you’ve put the kids to bed, while you sip tea or (better yet) a tasty $8 Cabernet from your local grocery store.
- Pile the kids into the van, get a drive-through latte, and go to a local park
This will be hard in the beginning for all you “producers” but trust me, when you allow yourself to delight in a Sabbath you’ll look forward to it every week! You’ll be more productive and you’ll like your life and family a lot more (and they’ll like you more too). Oh, and, check it out… God ordained that we work from a place of rest not rest from work. The first day Adam was alive he rested, it was the Sabbath. Adam then began his first week of tending the garden. Yes, we are called into the Sabbath rest of the people of God, but it begins with a day. The Sabbath was made for man, it was made for you… work from rest.