When I first started pastoring, I quickly developed this idea you could never take a week off church.
Not me, personally — I had it hammered in to me early to take time off to refresh and recharge. I got that.
But it was more about having a Sunday where church didn’t meet. We’re not supposed to give up the habit of meeting together (Hebrews 10:25), right? So if there was a Sunday, church was on. No matter what.
We had some interesting services. There was one week where cyclonic conditions meant we had no power. Localised flooding prevented anyone who wasn’t already there (the worship team and a few helpers) from coming. We did some worship and I shared a devotion. It was kind of beautiful actually.
Then there was New Years Eve. We ran a 5pm service, so we expected it would be pretty quiet. We moved out into the foyer and set up a little acoustic-session-type-service.
It was the biggest service we ever had. I felt better about our tendency towards a quiet New Years’ Eve after that.
The point is, if there was a Sunday, there was church.
How it changed
Then I chatted to my friend Dan.
Dan runs a church in New Zealand that’s kicking serious goals—not just in the ‘earthly’ sense, but they’re doing some really clever and innovative things. The thing that undid my ‘never miss a Sunday’ attitude was when he told me they take January off, every year. The whole month.
Unsurprisingly, they get a pretty mixed response from this move.
Some people freak out — what do you do on a Sunday when church isn’t on?? How dare you devalue the assembly of God. Church returns, and they don’t come back.
Others don’t come back for the other reason… how good are Sunday mornings? And how good is brunch?
These would be the outer extremes, but for most people, it’s actually a positive experience.
The reason they do this is because they have a high view of Sabbath. It’s so easy in our society to get sucked in to ‘hustle culture’, even in the church. In creation, and throughout the scriptures, God models a different way.
Sabbath is an act of resistance (to paraphrase Walter Brueggemann) against the ‘everything all the time’ mentality that pervades our culture. Not only is rest biblical, but it’s necessary for our souls. Taking January off is a way to make sure that February through December are done with full tanks of joy.
Why we’re taking a week off church
We’re not going to take all of January off every year, but we are planning on taking a summer break from Sundays of some sort. Stay tuned for that.
Much more imminently, we’re having a Sunday off gathering (May 28, in case you missed it!).
Practically, it’s because Jen and I will be away, as will quite a few others. That’s fine though, right? One of our early goals for church planting is that we don’t have to be there on a Sunday for the service to do its thing.
We did think through options of how to do church instead. There could be a morning tea, or an outreach activity, a movie morning, a… you get the idea. Or, we could just take a Sunday off and use it to make an important point.
Which is that we value rest too.
One of the founding ideas of Toowoomba Vineyard Church is that the community shouldn’t exist to serve the church. The church should exist to serve the community (the church, of course, being the body of believers, not the ‘corporation’ in the business sense!).
When you participate in church—on Sunday or otherwise—Jen and I want you to go home with a full tank. We want you to be so overcome by the goodness of God that it can’t help but spill out into your friendships, workplace, school, et cetera.
So hopefully, by choosing not to meet for a week, we can in a small way model that desire.
What you can do instead
Don’t let us tell you what to do! But if you do want suggestions, here you go:
- Go have brunch.
- See a friend you haven’t seen in a while.
- Go visit another church. We’re not worried! If you like it more, praise God that you were able to find the right church. It’s about the Kingdom.
- Spend some time reading the bible for yourself, for no other reason than to enjoy God’s presence.
- Pray with your family.
- Go on a bushwalk and enjoy creation. That’s not hard to do in our beautiful region.
- Sleep in.
Some of those suggestions are more ‘spiritual’ than others, but don’t panic. The point is to break down the religious idea that you have to go to church to be good, and step into the freedom that we have as followers of Christ. Do whatever helps you do that.
An important corrective
Before we finish, I do just want to make sure we don’t lose the baby with the bathwater…
Meeting together is something we value highly. In the typical Vineyard model of church, Sunday remains the main event, where we gather, worship, open the scriptures, and pray. There is tremendous value, as individuals and as a community, in being together as often as we can.
What we’re trying to break down isn’t the value of gathering on Sundays. It’s (as above) the religious spirit that sometimes infects the church, and makes us feel trapped. It sucks the joy that should come from being with our church family.
For Jen and I, our desire in all this is that we would find a healthy rhythm as a church. A shared habit and commitment to being together, without losing sight of the value of rest. And of course, the reality that sometimes you just can’t get there on a Sunday.
So whatever you end up doing on Sunday the 28th, we pray it’s refreshing, and that when we’re back on June 4, you have an extra dose of excitement for being a little part of God’s plan to reconcile and restore all things.