Youth Pastors, Let’s Not Overlook Sabbath Rest

sabbath rest

I once heard a pastor friend and theologian share that if there were one thing she wanted to be known for at the end of her life, it would be how she practiced Sabbath. She wouldn’t want to be known for her academic achievements, prestigious awards earned, nor publications authored under her name, but for how she rested in the Lord. For my friend, Sabbath rest was not simply a day to unplug or take a break from ministry, it was a day that actually fueled her ministry and nurtured her intimacy with God our Father. I knew that she was onto something and wanted to grow in the same.

As ministers of the gospel with so many competing demands, we can easily overlook this practice, Instead, may we learn to receive from God the life-giving gift of Sabbath rest.

Sabbath: The Culmination of Gods Creation

The creation account in Genesis talks about God’s creative acts culminating on the seventh day with God resting. But for many, including myself and those in my church tradition, we’ve heard that the pinnacle of God’s creative acts was the creation of humanity. I thought you and I were the highlight of the creation accounts!

A closer look at the biblical story shows that on day six, God created Adam and Eve, but he also created other living creatures of the ground—“livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds” (Gen. 1:24). Yes, we as humans are made in Gods image in ways that other creations are not. And, yes, we have been given governing responsibilities to rule over and steward the earth as Gods representatives.

But while the sixth day culminated in Gods creation of humanity, the seventh day highlights the culmination of the entire creation account: a day declared holy and set apart for Gods rest, and by extension, a day of rest for humanity as well.

Only for the seventh day, and for no other day, did God speak out a word of blessing and declare it holy (Gen. 2:3). Furthermore, in the ten commandments (Ex. 20, Deut. 5), the most lengthy, in-depth treatment is given to the fourth commandment about—yes, you guessed it—remembering the Sabbath. Throughout the Pentateuch, in particular, there are echoes of remembering the Sabbath as a means to life. And paraphrasing the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Sabbath day was created to serve the well-being of humanity. Maybe my friend was on to something.

Sabbath Rhythms for Youth Ministry

Is the hallmark of our ministries the ways in which we put on our creative hats and come up with the newest activities, engaging games, and teaching ideas? When our time is so consumed by meetings, planning sessions, administrative responsibilities, late-night texts, weekend commitments with students, and for some in youth ministry, a second or third job just to make ends meet, where can we make the space and time to practice Sabbath well?  We can acknowledge that being in youth ministry does not bring the stability of a nine-to-five job. Should this reality not challenge us to ground ourselves more fully on the gift of Sabbath rest into which God invites us?

I recently confronted this question head-on after a successful completion of our fall retreat. I not only organized and spear-headed the majority of the administrative and logistical components, but I also preached on four separate occasions. Sadly, the validation that I received after the retreat was not the rest” that our students were able to discover in retreating with the Lord, but the success of our activities, the excitement of our students, and the programmatic momentum gained as a result. In hearing this feedback, the temptation to build on the momentum and add to our programmatic success was very real and alive—diminishing the call (and need) to rest myself at the retreat and afterward.

It has taken some time to get to a place where I notice my own Sabbath rhythms taking shape. I don’t always do it well, but, when I do, the rest I find in the Lord is so good and life-giving. Personally, I try my best to unplug from ministry entirely on my rest day, which is Monday. If work emails populate my notifications, I try not to give them my attention, as I can easily fall into the trap of wanting to (or, feeling the need to) respond right away. Instead, I want to prioritize relationships and time with God that get neglected in the busyness of ministry.

I am reminded when I practice Sabbath that my relationship with God through my ministry work is not the same as my relationship with God himself. I carve out intentional time to enjoy the things that help me take pleasure and joy in the Lord. These include intentional space for delving into my hobbies, reading (non-ministry books) for pleasure, creative acts with my hands like chopping wood, gardening, or cooking/baking, and in turn, being nurtured by the God who offers these enjoyments as life-giving gifts.

Teenagers Need Gospel Rest

When I practice Sabbath rest well, my students take notice and recognize my own commitment to rest in the Lord. My students see that I intentionally carve out an unhurried day that helps me slow down and pay attention to God, even at the cost of ministry tasks getting done. This practice models to my students that saying ‘yes’ to a day with God can have a greater lasting impact on their relationship with God.

Resting in the Lord teaches our students that their true value and worth comes not from academic achievements or getting everything done, but simply from being with God. For example, I have challenged my students not to leave their weekend assignments until Sunday evening, but instead to protect Sundays as their rest days. This means that at a practical level, our students don’t have to enter Sunday, the Lord’s day, with anxious thoughts about any outstanding school-work that still needs to get done. Instead, they can practice Sabbath more freely and openly through worship, fellowship, connections, outdoor activities, hobbies, naps, family time, and good eats.

After a busy week of ministry, I look forward to my Sabbath day of rest. Resting in the Lord reminds me that ministry is ultimately not about me or the tasks that need to get done. Sabbath is God’s good creation gift to us. It is in Sabbath where we often discover the gift of knowing God, and being known by him. It is a day when we can pay special attention to our relationship with Jesus—the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

So youth pastors, let us not overlook Sabbath rest. May we hear and heed Jesus’ call to us: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).  May we rest in the Lord as we enjoy the Lord of the Sabbath.

Brian Ryu serves as the Youth Pastor at Bethel Korean Presbyterian Church in Ellicott City, MD. He and his wife, Esther, parent two wonderful children, Manny and Zoe. He is also a chicken dad, outdoor enthusiast, reader, conversationalist, thrifter, foodie, and budding DIY tinkerer. He has a passion to see students grow in their love for God and his Church as they lean into discovering who they are called to be in Christ.

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