Friday, May 08, 2015

Take a vacation from church!

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Did churches start reducing programming in the summer because people take a break from church and head for the pool, or do people take a break from church because churches reduce programming?

Mike Breen's 3DM Semi-Circle
Probably the answer is: Yes.

However, there is another way to think about sabbath and renewal other than as a "break." Mike Breen, whose life shapes I find useful for discipleship conversations, uses a semi-circle image to illustrate the balance between abiding and fruitfulness, resting and working.

In Breen's model, a congregation might reduce programs for a season in order to abide and rest. But one thing that would not lessen through that season would be regular worship, because worship is an integral part of abiding in God.

Reducing programs allows one type of movement illustrated on the semi-circle, the movement of pruning. Participants in faith communities can prune away some parts of their church life that have become overly hectic, less fruitful than they had hoped.

The pruning then allows space for the growth and nurture of more fruitful activity.

To me, this would be renewed focus on "right" worship. More time to read Scripture. More time devoted to prayer as preparation for communal worship.

It could also mean rested space in order to nurture faith relationships in other ways outside of programmed activities. There might not be Sunday school, but there is now time to meet at the park with friends, and as part of play at the park, huddle briefly for prayer. There might not be a mid-week Wednesday event, but instead a group of families cooks casserole and brings it over to a neighbor in need.

Not to mention the fact that if churchgoing Christians are going to have even half a chance of fulfilling the Great Commission and make disciples of all nations, they're going to have to be less busy at church so they can actually spend time among "the nations."

If I could "prescribe" a pattern for the summer in our own faith community, it would look like: Commit to weekly worship and daily prayer... don't miss worship; visit friends and neighbors and strengthen them, making sure especially that those at risk of being neglected or left out are included; give some time over to study, and some time over to advocating for justice. Use the abiding time to reframe all your non-church time as still abiding in God time.

Lots of people also travel in the summer. Did you know it is easy to find an ELCA congregation wherever you travel?

The Dude Lives, in his unperturbable
state of dudeness, somewhere.
Sometimes there is no better way to abide than to rest in God among people new to you. Worshipping away from home and gathered with others gives perspective.

Even if you can't find a church, abiding in these summer months can mean designing your own family worship. You can even worship on the road. Our family has sung camp songs, read Scripture, and prayed while driving.

The main thing is, to abide, rather than just break. What does it means to rest in God?

For myself, as a pastor, it means discovering that I don't just worship when I have to. Over time, I have learned how much abiding happens when I worship while on vacation. It's the time I "get to" be in worship. I don't not worship as a break from my work. Instead, I worship as part of my resting from work.

The lectionary text for this Sunday includes Jesus' proclamation: As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love (John 15:9).

But the word abide isn't much in use today, other than in The Big Lebowski. It is in need of recovery, because it is such a beautiful word. To abide is to stay, to continue in place, to rest, to dwell, to sojourn, to pause, to wait, to continue, to wait for, to be prepared for, to endure, sustain, submit, to bear with, to even stand the consequences of...

Abiding is not dead passivity, but rather active anticipation. To abide through these summer months is to actively prune to make space for what is coming, what's next. To abide in God is to rest during the pruning, trusting in God to provide, trusting that God is the very anticipated, God is both in our anticipation and the anticipated One.

If we approach summer "break" as time to abide, it will "break" open a whole new way for worship and life together.

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