Sep 24, 2018
Help Your Students Sabbath
Greg Chimitris encourages college ministry leaders to help their students Sabbath well.
I hated doing chores when I was little. What kid doesn’t? And Sunday chores were the worst. Until Sunday school taught me all about the Sabbath. All of a sudden I had the perfect excuse to ignore Sunday chores! God said we were supposed to rest! Mom didn’t see it that way, and our argument escalated as I roped my brother and sister to walking around our house with protest signs shouting that we wanted freedom and wanted it now.
Not quite what God intended when he instituted the Sabbath. Little did I know back then, the Sabbath would become one of God’s chief works in my adult life and one of the most defining attributes of our college ministry.
Ancient Practice, Modern Relevance
When was the last time you read an article about “Why Your Students Shouldn’t Lie” or “Teaching Your Students Not to Murder”? I think we sometimes forget the Sabbath was one of the Ten Commandments! Our western culture often treats the Sabbath as an advanced discipline for especially spiritual people. But honoring the Sabbath was one of God’s most important commands to the people of Israel. The Old Testament is full of rich theology about the importance of Sabbath and its relationship to God’s identity (and ours!). Because the Sabbath is tied to who God is, it’s just as relevant today as it was for the ancient Israelites who first received the commandment.
Practicing Sabbath points us to God. Stopping from our work reminds us that God is the creator, provider, and sustainer of our lives. In wisdom, God designed us for rhythms of working and resting. To rest is to acknowledge “you are God and I am not.” In ceasing, we are saying that we trust God to provide for both our small, daily needs as well as our bigger, more overwhelming ones.
Unlike God, we are created beings. We have limits to our power and abilities. We get tired, anxious, and need to spend roughly a third of our life sleeping. The gift of Sabbath reminds of us our limits. Often when we Sabbath, our anxiety about or inability to cease our productivity points out our idols and false narratives.
From an early age we learn that our value to others is based on how much we do and how well we do it. Nowhere is this truer than in college, where students are regularly given numerical measures of how hard they work. If we are honest, we know that our churches and ministries are not immune to this influence. As we continue to see college campuses become places of increased stress, anxiety, and mental health struggles more and more we need to help our students learn how to rest.
I am convinced Sabbath is essential not just for the emotional, mental, and spiritual health of our students but for their discipleship as well. But in my experience, students can be good at stepping away from work and responsibility without being good at resting. How many students do you know that, given a night or day to themselves, will spend that time on Netflix, social media, or their phones? These things might temporarily relax or destress us, but they leave us feeling empty and bored instead of refreshed.
Many students I’ve worked with initially thought “Sabbath” meant something like spending 12 hours in silent prayer and journaling and wrote it off as inaccessible or impossible. But it’s a lot simpler than that – to Sabbath simply means to rest from anything that counts as “work” for a day and to do only what is restorative and spiritually refreshing. Students may need your help demystifying Sabbath and discovering what’s truly restful for them. And it’s a lot of fun to help them discover what activities are restorative for them and help them connect with God. I knew an auto mechanic student whose favorite Sabbath activity was working on his car! For many students (who tend to leave homework until Sundays…) you may need to help them work through when to rest. Many of my students have found afternoon Saturday to be the best time to start their Sabbath (or sundown Friday!).
God has designed each of us uniquely, and so you get to partner with God in inviting your students to discover how to rest and how to worship well. Often conversations about Sabbath with my students bring up crucial discipleship issues. Can they trust God with their academics or their finances if they have less time for work? Are they willing to be proactive about homework and ministry responsibilities during the week so that they have guarded time for Sabbath on the weekend? Can they put away their devices for part or all of their Sabbath? Idols are exposed and false narratives are challenged.
A Compelling Model
Years ago when our ministry was wrestling with the call to prioritize Sabbath, we made a Spirit-led commitment to never schedule meetings on Sundays — even though that was when it was easiest to get everyone together. We had 3 meetings that needed to be moved and it required a lot of rescheduling and complications. One semester our leadership team had to meet at 7 AM!
If you choose to prioritize the Sabbath, there will be a cost to your ministry. I love training and team bonding and I want to graduate equipped, committed Christian leaders from our ministry. I would love to fill their calendars with more hours of discipleship, training, coaching, shepherding, and accountability. But even more than that, I want to graduate disciple of Jesus who know how to pause, rest, and love God and their neighbors even in the middle of a world that worships productivity.