A Sabbatical for James
You will know that James Hatcher is a huge blessing and a gift to Life Church. He has been at my side since before we planted the church, and I thank God for his indescribable gift in James.
James is both our Operations Manager and a fellow elder. Between 23rd October and Christmas 2023, James 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 the purpose and some of the benefits as we press on with our shared ministry here in Southampton.
Why Sabbatical? Reason 1
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 the first reason for James taking a few months to ‘cease’ or ‘desist’ or ‘be released from’ his regular patterns of work. James is made in God’s image, and his life is caught up with following his example. He is foremost a follower and a disciple. If God did it, James is gonna do it!
Why Sabbatical? Reason 2
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 God’s 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 James shall be taking a sabbatical over the Autumn. The work of leadership and church ministry is a demanding one physically, emotionally, and spiritually. When James gets to the end of his days he will 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 he is to be able to do that, He will need to take time to be restored, to replenish nutrients, to keep a healthy balance to life, to redress some of the debts that he owes to his wife and family, and to be centred again on God’s grace towards him, revelling again in his own redemption.
Why Sabbatical? Reason 3
All I have just unpacked from Creation and from Mosaic law retains its truth and value, yet James has the great joy of being a Christian – freed by Christ’s perfect obedience from the burden of the law. James is not primarily taking a sabbatical because God did, or because God told Moses to tell him 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, and: ‘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.
The third great reason for James taking a sabbatical, is that we don’t want him to fall short of enjoying that rest that Jesus has bought for him. We want him to take time to re-centre his life on the grace of God found in Jesus. We want him to grow deeper in his relationship with him. We want him to hear from his commanding officer and enjoy time with his deepest friend.
So for all these reasons, James shall be taking a sabbatical over the Autumn of 2023. What he will do during this time is yet to be finalised, but we are not too concerned about that – the plan is to NOT do, rather than fill his diary with things.
Our hope is that he 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 James for the benefit of his beautiful church. Please be praying for him, Esther and the family during this time, and please support and encourage my fellow elders and the rest of our wonderful staff and volunteer team as they continue to press forward in James’s absence.