by Chris Kilby
Between ‘Church in The Park’ in early June, and the ‘Westpoint Festival’ towards the end of August, I (Chris Kilby) shall be taking a sabbatical.
Some of you will be asking – ‘what does that even mean?!’, whilst others may be asking ‘why?’
I thought it might be helpful for me to explain why, and also what I hope to gain personally from such a time, and how I feel it will be of benefit to us as we press on with our shared ministry here in Southampton.
The word ‘Sabbath’ has its origins in the Hebrew ‘sabbat’ from the root ‘sabat’. It’s a word that can be translates as ‘to cease’, ‘to desist’, or ‘to release’.
We first see the principle of ‘Sabbath’ being demonstrated at creation. In Genesis we are told that:
‘By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.’ Genesis 2:2
The word translated ‘rested’ has the same Hebrew root (sabat).
The language is what we call ‘anthropomorphic’ – describing God using human traits and features, such as talking about ‘God’s strong arm’ (He doesn’t have arms…it’s an anthropomorphic metaphor to describe his strength in a way we can comprehend.) At creation, it is not that God was tired and needed to rest his weary self after a busy six days creating – but he was setting a pattern for mankind.
So in essence the origins of ‘sabbath’ are divine. A following of God’s example. That is perhaps my first reason for taking a few months to ‘cease’ or ‘desist’ or ‘be released from’ my regular patterns of work. I’m made in his image, and my life is caught up with following his example. I am foremost a follower and a disciple. If God did it, I’m gonna do it!
The principle of sabbath was also a providential one for God’s people and their way of life. It began with their land and crops. In Leviticus the Lord says to Moses:
‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord.’ Leviticus 25:2
The instruction was that they could sow their fields, and prune their vineyards, and gather their crops for six years on the trot, but in the seventh year, the land was to have a ‘sabbath of rest’. The land was to lie fallow for a year.
Not only did this replenish the nutrients in the soil, but it also provided a rhythm amongst Gods people of redemption. During a sabbatical year, debts would be cancelled, slaves would be freed as a regular reminder of God’s redemption when his people were freed from Egypt’s slavery.
So the sabbath year was a year for physical restoration, for a levelling, and for remembering God’s grace.
This is the second reason I shall be taking a sabbatical over the summer. The work of leadership and pastoral ministry is a demanding one physically, emotionally and spiritually. When I get to the end of my days I want to be able to look back like the Apostle Paul and say:
‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.’ 2 Tim 4:7
If I am to be able to do that, I need to take time to be restored, to replenish nutrients, to keep a healthy balance to life, to redress some of the debts that I owe to my wife and family, and to be centred again on God’s grace towards me, revelling again in my own redemption.
All I have just unpacked from Creation and from Mosaic law retains its truth and value, yet I have the great joy of being a Christian – freed by Christ’s perfect obedience from the burden of the law. I am not primarily taking a sabbatical because God did, or because God told Moses to tell me to.
The New Testament writer to the Hebrews said:
‘Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.’ Hebrews 4:1
‘There remains, then, a sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.’ Hebrews 4:9-10
This remaining sabbath rest is not simply about creation or fields lying fallow. This is about a much greater rest. This is the incredible truth that as we come into relationship with Christ, we are now eternally at rest, and a great battle has been won. Jesus has become our sabbath, our place of restoration, redemption, healing and wholeness.
My third great reason of taking a sabbatical, is that I want to be careful that I don’t fall short of enjoying that rest that he has bought for me. I want to take time to re-centre my life on the grace of God found in Jesus. I want to grow deeper in my relationship with him. I want to hear from my commanding officer, enjoy time with my deepest friend, intimacy with my lover.
So for all these reasons, I shall be taking a sabbatical over the summer of 2019.
What I will do during this time is yet to be finalised, but I’m not too concerned about that – the plan is to NOT do, rather than fill my diary with things. I will seek to achieve a balance of study, writing and prayer, alongside attending a conference or two, and visiting some other churches. I would like to be more available for my family and have a proper holiday too, as it has been a number of years since we have managed that.
My hope is that I will return nourished, strengthened, and passionate as a follower of Christ, as a husband and father, and as a leader in his church. As Jonathan Edwards, the great theologian and preacher in the 1700’s said: ‘God has things to accomplish that have not yet been seen.’
I believe we have more great adventures in the years ahead, and I’m excited about what God will accomplish through his beautiful church. Please be praying for me and the family during this time, and please support and encourage my fellow elders and our wonderful staff team as they continue to press forward in my absence.
Thank you, wonderful people of Life Church for releasing me in this way – you make my work a joy.
by Chris Kilby