Sabbath Breakers

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 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. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

Exodus 20:8-11

Kristen and I are drawing more and more clear lines around Sunday– the culturally accepted Sabbath day.

Our new family rule is:

Church activities on Sunday are limited to the worship service and children’s church only. No meetings. No nothing.

There have been two general reactions to mentioning this new rule on my Facebook profile.

  1. People who don’t work at a church applaud. They feel the same pressure to get involved with everything at church and want to reclaim Sunday morning as a time of worship-only as well.
  2. People who work at churches don’t appreciate my sentiment quite the same. (Staff at my church get it.) The over all impression I’ve gotten from church staff is that they wish they could make Sunday a Sabbath for themselves, but they have too much work to do and try to turn either Saturday or Monday as a Sabbath.

Now… let me be fundamentalist for a second.

Under what circumstances is it OK to willfully break the 4th commandment?

None. The principle of Sabbath is just as clear and relevant today as all of the other commandments. It’s not OK to covet my neighbors wife if it grows the congregation, is it? It’s not OK to steal if I do good, is it? It’s not OK to create an idol for the sake of expanding a ministry, is it?

So why is it OK to willfully break the Sabbath by doing a million things on Sunday morning in the name of church?

I don’t think it is. Hence, we’ve drawn a line. (Here is a good time to mention we’re not asking anyone else to do this, it’s our personal conviction.)

This is where the grey area comes in

The command of Sabbath is a trust issue. You work the fields six days a week and you trust God to provide for you and your family on the 7th. Generations of God followers have taken that literally. But we’ve entered into an age where that is seen as a figurative command.

Jesus talked about the Sabbath a few times and he seemed to have a non-legalist perspective on the Sabbath. (See Mark 3:1-6)

In fact, Jesus gave 11 examples of when it was lawful to break the Sabbath. (source)

  1. Pulling an ox out of a ditch on the Sabbath was permitted.
  2. Circumcision is permitted on the Sabbath.
  3. It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.
  4. The precedent of David and his men eating the shewbread.
  5. Priests work on the Sabbath and are blameless.
  6. The ministry of the Messiah is greater than the ministry of the Temple.
  7. God desires mercy from His people and not sacrifice.
  8. The son of man is Lord of the Sabbath.
  9. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
  10. It is lawful to lead animals to water on the Sabbath.
  11. The Father works on the Sabbath.

Back to my house, bring this home

The principle of Sabbath is abundantly clear. All throughout the Old Testament we see that God’s people struggled to maintain the Sabbath (trust issue) and God punished His people as a result. (Numbers 15 is the most extreme example for habitual individual Sabbath breakers, for an en masse examples, just look at the exiles.)

I’m audacious enough to believe that God still cares about the Sabbath. I can’t lead my family to sin by working seven days a week and in turn expect God to bless my family. (Just like I couldn’t expect God to bless me financially if I didn’t manage my money well. Or other areas of clear trust/sin issues. You can’t expect God to bless areas of your life in which you exhibit willful sin.)

As I talk with church leaders– we all treat Sunday morning as our big day. It’s the day we try to cram as much as we possibly could into the service as well as the opportunity people’s attention and presence afforded us. Sunday morning is anything but Sabbath.

And for people in the pews its inborn hypocrisy. We say, “Put God and His ways above the ways of the world.” And yet, by our actions as leaders, we put the ways of the world ahead of the 4th commandment. By our desire to cram as much into Sunday as possible, we exhibit willful disobedience.

Our words say, “Run to the Lord of the Sabbath and He will give you rest.”

Our actions say, “Flee these crazy church people who want to make your Sunday even crazier!”

As I think of the hundreds of staff meetings I’ve attended, planning hundreds of worship services, I want to go back and ask myself this simple question: “Instead of trying to maximize what we can do on Sunday morning, why don’t we talk about how little we can do? What would happen if we modeled Sabbath on Sunday’s by doing the maximum 6 days a week and called our people to a minimalist experience of worship?

There is another way

This is where our family is headed. We want to trust God with our church life. We trust Him with our money. We trust Him with our children. We trust Him with our marriage. We trust Him for safety, security, and most importantly… our salvation.

So now we’re going to trust Him with our church. We trust that as we turn Sunday into a Sabbath day for our family and willfully skip the busyness our church provides… that God will bless our church.


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25 responses to “Sabbath Breakers”

  1. Jeffrey Greathouse Avatar

    Adam:

    I think that if we (church leaders) could switch our mindsets to “what happens in the home is more important than what happens at church” that the “sabbath’ could become more of a reality.

  2. bub Avatar

    I’m not an expert on any of this but isn’t the sabbath on a saturday? I know that Christians big days are Sundays but if we are really concerned about keeping the sabbath on the day the Lord intended, shouldn’t we be doing it on Saturday? Maybe I’m missing something scriptural that I don’t know of. I work on Sundays and my day of rest generally falls on a tuesday. Anyone know of a good service that I can attend? Oh, and Go Aztecs!!!!!!

    1. adam mclane Avatar

      That’s why I wrote this, “Sunday– the culturally accepted Sabbath day.”

      The only people groups I know that call Saturday the Sabbath are our Jewish cousins and Seventh-Day Adventists. There may be more… but I don’t think most people in the pews would say that Saturday is the Sabbath.

      As far as moving the day Sabbath happens to a Tuesday or Monday or whatever. I don’t disagree that people can honor Sabbath on another day. I just openly wonder if church leaders should actually model Sabbath on the culturally accepted day of Sabbath.

      Herein lies the disconnect. Church staff want to consider Sunday a work day. The people who have Sunday off as their Sabbath want it to honor that day.

      So who is called to lead whom?

  3. lisa grant Avatar
    lisa grant

    Interesting that you see this as a trust issue. I’ve never looked at it that way. Thanks!

    I have always seen the key as #9 in your list of Jesus’ comments. God knows that He created us with the inborn need to rest, and He knew if He didn’t command it, we wouldn’t take it. It is really an act of love on His part because it helps us live life to the fullest by recharging our batteries (spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally). It draws us into closer relationship with Him.

  4. Andrea D Avatar
    Andrea D

    I like this! It’s something that I have been learning, too. For me, it’s all about my homework, and how the weekend is prime time to knock out a lot of assignments. But if God commands me to put him first, I have to trust (like you said, its a trust issue) that it’ll be ok, and it may even be better, if I devote a day to rest and prayer instead. If nothing else, I am rested and ready to work hard the next day. Is God bigger than my class load? Yes, I think he is.

    Was it you who pointed out that there were studies of companies who gave their employees a shorter work day and more time off, and their productivity actually went up?

    And here’s another thought, maybe if our society could chill out and work less, there would be more jobs to go around. Maybe.

    1. adam mclane Avatar

      Good thoughts. Reminds me of my conservative Jewish friends. If they are going to honor the sabbath they have to pre-plan. The food has to be prepared, the work has to be done, and they have to be ready to rest come sundown Friday night.

  5. Paul Turner Avatar

    Well said Adam. I would say that many of full/part time guys would say we fall into #5 on your list for breaking Sabbath

    Priests work on the Sabbath and are blameless.

    I also thiink we also must define work. If I do what I love is it work? If I have a parents meeting to meet and eat with them is it work? Are small groups work? I guess it depends on your point of view. I know you can’t speak for YS but how does this fit for you on Sundays during convention season?

    Thanks for your thoughts

  6. adam mclane Avatar

    A number of questions…

    1. If I do what I love is it work? If it’s your vocation, yes. Liking work doesn’t make it less work. But if you love to garden and are an accountant… I don’t think gardening– even getting paid to garden– would be breaking the sabbath as that’s recreational. See the difference?
    2. If I have a parent meeting, is it work? Yes. And you’re asking parents to leave their families… I know I wouldn’t go. You have 6 other days to do that.
    3. Yes, I think I break the sabbath during convention in order to attempt to provide some sabbath for church workers. But we also recognize that and have “recuperation time” as an organization. Convention ends on Monday, I travel home on Tuesday and I won’t be back in the office until 11/28.

    You didn’t think this was full of contradiction, did you? 🙂

  7. Paul Turner Avatar

    I would not say there are some contradiction, maybe some skirting around 🙂

    1. You did not address #5 fit me. If I am a priest in God’s service am I blameless on the Ssbbath?

    2. If I a meeting parents I usually feed their whole family so I am not robbing them of family time. I am also equipping them so, I do not see that as work. I may have 6 other days but parents don’t
    Because I value family time I don’t make them come out on a night they should be home.

    3. And you know, just because you break Sabbath. So we can have Sabbath doesn’t justify the passionate approach you took YO start. I would consider you a priest in service of the king that day, so I would heap no guilt on you 🙂

    Love the dialogue

    Paul

    1. adam mclane Avatar

      First- know I’m being a legalist in my response to illustrate the point.

      1. Should we also teach people to get as close to having sex without actually having sex before marriage? The principle is rest… I think that Jesus was OK with priests doing their duties on the Sabbath. But the principle is to rest. So it’s not “how much can I do before I’m breaking the sabbath” it should be “What is the minimum I can do of my duties so I can maintain the sabbath principle.” The principle is “how little” not “how much.”

      2. I can only speak for me and my family. I’d skip that meeting because I’ve chosen to limit our church obligation to Sunday AM service/kids church only. To your situation: I don’t think you need to need to model squeezing things into when people are available. (That’s leadership by convenience IMO.) When parents don’t come to your meetings it has nothing to do with availability. People have plenty of time for things they make a priority. Why not cancel youth group for that meeting?

      3. Fortunately, grace is sufficient for both of us.

  8. Jeff Goins Avatar

    What about just taking a sabbath on another day, like, oh, I dunno, Saturday?

    1. adam mclane Avatar

      In our culture, Sunday is the sabbath. (Maybe I’m wrong here, but that’s the way i see it.)

      The problem with allowing people to move their sabbath is that Exodus 20 is community-wide. It’s not individualist… to apply it individually is re-writing the intent of the passage.

      Just tossing it back. 🙂

  9. Jason Huffman Avatar

    This was a very thought-provoking post. On a given Sunday, I sing with the praise team (both services), teach Sunday School, give a children’s sermon, have youth worship practice, lead youth group Bible study, and sit in on a boys small group.

    Almost all of this falls under my job description as a youth director. I do guard my Sunday afternoons with my family as a sacred time and also try to take other time during the week to be with family and rest. I like the theory of your post, I’m just not sure how we make it work. Occasionally I’ll schedule a meeting after church simply because it’s one time during the week when most people are already at church and usually these meetings aren’t more than about 15 minutes to get feedback from parents.

    I think if we love our job, it isn’t really “work” and it falls under your point #5 about priests. I just think if we do work on church staff that we find time to be refreshed and rest another day of the week. I really enjoyed this article.

    1. adam mclane Avatar

      Thanks Jason, for your thoughts. I’m just trying to work it out for my own family. And I know I’m throwing a whole dissertations worth of assumptions into a blog post of like 600 words.

  10. Daryl A Avatar

    Great post. I hope more churches begin to ask “why don’t we talk about how little we can do? What would happen if we modeled Sabbath on Sunday’s by doing the maximum 6 days a week and called our people to a minimalist experience of worship?”

    However, most churches I see doing that, are small. And seem unsuccessful (lack numbers and influence). And ironically, ‘megachurches’ pay good leaders (even if they want to do it a different way). From what I have seen, leaders will likely struggle to find employment in the church your dreaming of, so some cave and join the ‘business’. Or they look like pastor drop outs because they get work outside of church staff (usually now with seminary debt and under-qualified for anything else). Any thoughts on how this will change?

    1. adam mclane Avatar

      Daryl- if this post holds any truth at all we are at the breaking point financially and church vocation, as we know it, will need to change to reflect.

      http://adammclane.com/2010/11/09/inverse-relationship-between-church-attendance-and-business-models/

      So– influence in the church is a matter of size & influence? I’m thankful that isn’t true. (That’s for another post, I think. Ha!)

      I think leaders, even good ones, are going to find it hard to find employment in the coming decades years. (Don’t blame me for saying thing, Tony Compolo has said it for a long time.) Declining attendance and giving “system-wide” simply can’t sustain the amount of people wanting to be in full-time vocational ministry. Therefore, the only way to reach more people by spending less on staff is to empower local, indigenous leaders to act on their calling to reach their neighbors.

      Just $.02 worth. 🙂

  11. Daryl A Avatar

    I want to clarify by pointing out I said “seem unsuccessful.” Numbers can be influential (example: voting for legislation reform). Yet, I’m not saying success is measured by numbers; however, often it is measured that way.
    (example: A family decides to go to church A over church B because… more kids to connect with instead of your kids being one of the few))

    I agree times are changing therefore giving & vocation need to change – curious any advice how to navigate during the transition? Any advice for people equipped/burdened by the old system, but open to change. I appreciate you pointing out the problems (what happens when your readers are on your side), but love for you to share about solutions too (people are listening).

    1. adam mclane Avatar

      Sincerely, thank you for the discussion. It’s stretching to me. As I said in the post, this is a conviction my family and I are acting on. I’m not really trying to put it on a lot of people.

      I was just teasing about the numbers/success thing. It’s in our nature as Westerners to associate large things with success and visa versa.

      Solutions?

      Here are some thoughts I posted on my Facebook a couple weeks back:

      1. Remove all programming from Sunday morning and just have a worship service.
      2. Give those leading Sunday mornings the summer off from preaching/leading so that they can worship with the congregation.
      3. Ask the elders to preach in rotation. If they won’t lead/teach, they aren’t qualified to be elders.

      If people leave, dust off your feet and move on.

      I’m not really dreaming here. I’m trying to get folks to look hard at the pastoral epistles and ask themselves… “What would happen if we actually lived like this?”

  12. Hope Avatar
    Hope

    (said in love)
    Sunday is the Lord’s day.
    You seem to be promoting a more Biblical lifestyle, but are replacing it with something else that is also only culturally accepted (Sunday), not Biblical.
    Sunday was known to be the pagan day of worshiping the Sun god. The Church, when it decided that it replaced Israel made Sunday worship mandatory & said that it replaced Saturday. It was a kick in the face to the Jews.
    What if the veil between the Lord and and us is thinner on certain holy days? What if the Lord did set up “appointments in time” with us?
    It is a specific day. (Exodus.)
    Let’s humbly get back to our roots.

  13. Nate Long Avatar

    I’m convinced that God calls His people to model a new way of being human, distinct from what the world practices (i.e., come out of Egypt, etc.) While Sunday has clearly become the culturally accepted Sabbath (for those who consider there to be any Sabbath left — most seem to think Christ is our Sabbath, therefore we’ll get no rest till He returns, which makes no sense), it’s also become culturally accepted within the American Church to be worldly.

    It seems to me that both the Sabbath (7th day) and Sunday (8th day) are to be important for believers, but for different reasons. As Martin Lloyd-Jones pointed out, we must be salt before we can be light. Perhaps losing the 7th day Sabbath (and conflating it with the 8th day of Resurrection) is an example of losing our saltiness.

  14. Nate Long Avatar

    1. Remove all programming from Sunday morning and just have a worship service.
    2. Give those leading Sunday mornings the summer off from preaching/leading so that they can worship with the congregation.
    3. Ask the elders to preach in rotation. If they won’t lead/teach, they aren’t qualified to be elders.

    Irrespective of the whole Sabbath question these are great ideas!

  15. Becky Avatar
    Becky

    I really appreciate your thoughts, Adam and definitely feel personally challenged by them. However, upon pondering things, I am left with a few thoughts. Like how does rest and family time become equal? True rest for me as a mom means time alone!!!! And if family time is important, shouldn’t ANY time that we have with family be capitalized on (I am of the strong opinion that every day should involve family time)? I have some dear friends that are in situations where their husbands do not support their church involvement. So they set aside Saturdays for their family, so that Sunday can be the day that they spend with church family (it is easier for their husbands to accept this, since Sunday is seen culturally as the Sabbath). If we plan activities or meetings on a Saturday they simply cannot come.
    That being said, I think everyone should determine their convictions of how to observe the Sabbath. I appreciate that you started with saying that your church supports what you and Kristen are doing. I think church families need to have those discussions. I think it is detrimental for members to establish convictions that may be detrimental to the well being of the body without having dialog with the body.
    Thanks for your challenges and thoughts, Adam! They need to be heard. May the glory continually go to God!!!

  16. Adam Avatar

    I am horrible at this. I don’t know why, but I always find something or allow others to find something for me to do. I have been fighting to protect my family time and made some progress. However, finding ONE WHOLE DAY for rest and family every week is … I mean…it isn’t impossible, but it SEEMS impossible. I covet your prayers.

  17. Scott Avatar
    Scott

    Keeping sun god day is breaking the Sabbath. God hallowed the SEVENTH day, not the first. The traditions of men have attempted to mask and usurp God’s authority. It is better to obey God than men.

    I am not an orthodox Jew nor a Seventh Day Adventist, nor part of any other false religion or cult. I believe God. He said to keep the seventh day holy, which is His Sabbath, not sun god day which is the first day.

  18. […] I’ll admit that while I really felt this was an important post to write, I also avoided it because in all honesty, it’s a challenge that I am still struggling to figure out in my own life, and so I come to this post with a disclaimer:  This is more about conversation and questions about Sabbath than it is about prescribed answers.  This is about my struggles with the Sabbath more than it is about my success with it.  I also want to point to an inspirational post shared with me about Sabbath by Adam McLane of Youth Cartel.  http://adammclane.com/2010/11/09/sabbath-breakers/ […]

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