John Stumbo Video Blog No. 45
April 12, 2017
John admonishes church leaders to “Keep watch over yourselves and the flock that’s entrusted to your care” by making the gift of Sabbath an indispensable element in our weekly rhythm.
Hey team, I’m at Beulah Beach, one of the much-loved places in my life, here in The Christian and Missionary Alliance family, a camp and conference center in Ohio, one of the many that we have across the United States, where men’s retreats, women’s retreats, various youth events, family camps happen around the year. If you have not attended one of those and gotten to know our area camps, then I encourage you to lean in and get to know the Alliance family from another angle.
I’m here for a men’s retreat. I’ve had a great weekend with the guys, wall-to-wall worshiping Jesus in this place. It’s been rich, and for me, the broader theme here is not some place, like a camp or conference center; it’s the idea of setting aside special time for a spiritual intensive, where we give time in our calendars for our souls to lean in to what the Spirit of God is saying to us. In the midst of the busyness of life, I know that we should have regular routines and rhythms of personal devotion, and weekly church attendance, and hearing from God on a regular basis, but there’s something about having a spiritual intensive where we specifically give attention to our souls.
When I was a kid growing up that would look like, yes, a camp or conference center—Big Sandy was my favorite back then. But it would also mean special meetings, or revival meetings, or Deeper Life meetings, or whatever the terminology you used in your church, where for a week or two, or even more, there would be a speaker come through town, and we’d show up at church every night, and we knew that for that season of time we were giving special focus to what God was saying to us. A spiritual discipline on an annual basis, kind of a rhythm of the soul’s journey. Well, we’ve lost that, and I don’t know if that era’s going to come back or not—of special meetings or Deeper Life crusades—but I am interested in us being the kind of people who give serious attention to our souls.
And that’s part of what Council is. So one more invitation to come to Council, whether it’s for the whole week in Columbus, or just for the Saturday, where we’re hoping that there’ll be a thousand people from the region drive in for a special Saturday Alliance family event on the first Saturday of June. But the theme of giving attention to our souls, paying attention and giving priority to what is taking place deep within us, to not just assume that in the day-to-day life we are gathering everything that the Spirit of God would say to us. I notice in Jesus’ life the rhythm that He had of significant ministry. But then there would be times when He would withdraw—sometimes successfully, sometimes unsuccessfully—as the crowd would follow Him. But there was this effort within His own spiritual walk to have times that were focused on His own reflections, and special prayer to the Father, and just being away from the intensity of ministry.
This is important to me because, as you may have heard me and others say, the Church is too important to be led by weary leaders. The Church is too significant to be led by weary leaders, and ministry has a capacity of wearing us out—because of the demands of people, and expectations that we place upon ourselves or others place upon us, the hurts that we walk people through, and the joys that we celebrate. It’s all good. It’s all rich. It’s all ministry. But if we’re not giving attention to our own souls, then we’re going to fail at some point in time in our own leadership. Acts 20:28: “Keep watch over yourselves and the flock that’s entrusted to your care.” Yes, we’re entrusted a flock that we’re responsible for as church leaders, but before care of the flock comes care of our own soul—priority given for our own spiritual nourishment and refreshment.
This is why Sabbath is so significant to me; why in my weekly rhythm I have had to learn to carve out time. In some eras of my life, it has been very regular and weekly as my patterns were set; now, in this role as president, it is very irregular. But my assistant and I will sit down weeks and months in advance and say, “When is the Sabbath going to be on each particular week, where I have the spiritual discipline of shutting down the laptop, closing off the e-mail on my phone, and not being accessible other than for emergency by a text message?” That’s the way I’m handling it, where I have a 24-hour block on a regular basis that is not for ministry, not to serve others, but for the nourishment of my own soul—to get reacquainted with what the Spirit might be saying to me in those days and to just let it all settle.
If a banker said, “I’ll give you one dollar out of every seven I have,” we would seize it with all greediness. But when the Creator of the universe and the Designer of time says to us, “I’m giving you one day out of seven,” we say, “Oh, no, no, I’m too important” or “I’m not important enough. “I’m too busy” or “I can’t do that.”
We have lots of excuses why we don’t take the gift of Sabbath that He’s given to us. And I’m coming to conclude in these days that the Sabbath will be taken. It’ll either be taken by us in a good weekly rhythm—in a wholesome, nourishing way—or it’s going to be taken in some much less pleasant way. Not that God’s going to judge us for not taking it; I’m just saying that our own body was not made to be in the “conquer mode” seven days, week in, week out. We were made for a rhythm. And part of the rhythm is rest, where we renew and restore.
For a pastor, Sunday’s probably not your good Sabbath day. You need to pick a different day of the week where you are allowing your own soul to be nourished. I would ask congregations to allow their pastors to not be accessible one day in seven. Sometimes pastors, especially from various ethnicities, have said to me, “My congregation really doesn’t allow this.” Well, I’m appealing to you as a president of The Christian and Missionary Alliance—to the congregations of The Christian and Ministry Alliance—respect the Word of God enough, and respect your spiritual leader enough, that you grant him what the Father Himself has granted him: permission to not accomplish anything one day in seven.
“Sabbath”—the word means “stop, quit, cease, desist.” In its original Hebrew origin, it doesn’t have, intrinsically, something to do with worship, although it certainly leads to worship. In its root, the word originally comes from the concept of stopping, quitting, ceasing—letting everything go.
Now, if you have a laborer’s job, where every bite of your food comes from the bend of your back and the sweat of your brow, then to stop, quit, cease, desist would be a sedentary day, where you no longer do something physical. But for those of us whose job it is to sit in meetings, and sit and answer e-mails, and sit and prepare for a message, and sit and listen in some counseling session—and sit, sit, sit—I would argue that a Sabbath would be to stop, quit, cease sitting and to be freed up to go and do something active that is restorative to your soul. Sabbath days are when I take some very long walks or, if able, a bike ride. Sabbath is when I try to get out in God’s creation because that’s where I’m renewed. Some of you will be renewed in different ways.
I’m not trying to lay down new laws for how to do a Sabbath; I’m trying to simply grant the permission to your soul that the Father already has spoken into it, and that is—I want you to have a rhythm of rest. Camps, conference centers, even Columbus Council can be some of those significant, big blocks of time. But I would hope that in our weekly rhythms there is also those hours where we just breathe different air and think different thoughts because we’re not trying to lead anything. We’re not trying to be in charge of anything. We’re a child with our Father—resting, restoring.
One of the mentors in my life on the whole Sabbath principle said to me one day, “Sabbath is a day that I live a clock-less life.” I didn’t know what he meant. He explained: “It’s a day that I wake up whenever I wake up. Every other day I gotta get up at a certain time. On the Sabbath, I just wake up whenever my body says, Get out of bed. On Sabbath, it’s a day I’m done with breakfast whenever I’m done with breakfast. I don’t have any time, don’t have any schedule. I’m not scheduled that day. I’m living a clock-less life, where it’s more about ‘being’ than it is ‘doing’ and ‘accomplishing.’”
He walked me through this day that I didn’t even know existed. But since then, it’s something that I’ve begun to practice. And I look you in the eye through this camera, Alliance family, and say that I would have in no way been able to withstand the intensity of the ministry of being president of The Christian and Ministry Alliance, and the manner in which I have conducted that—being out on the road so much—I would have not been able to handle the intensity of this without weekly Sabbath. I don’t have some superhuman strength. I have amazing stamina that God has given me in His kindness, but without the rhythm of rest I would not still be in a healthy and eager place to see you in just a few weeks at Council.
So, would you hear this as a call for soul care? Would you hear this as a plea for us to prioritize this? I’m getting a little tired in my office of getting yet another report of yet another leader who hasn’t managed his own soul well. And I’m just inviting us to do the very same thing that Paul called us to do in the verse I’ve already quoted—Acts 20:28. “Keep watch over yourselves and the flock that’s entrusted to your care.” I love the Alliance family. Peace to you. I want the best for us. Thanks for joining me today.