Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Tag: sabbath

hard work
Photo by devn on Unsplash

Should missionaries work long hours?

I have observed that missionaries are no longer quite as willing to talk about how many hours we are working. Have you noticed the difference as well? I used to see it as a badge of honor that I had worked more than 60 hours in the past week. I am not so sure that I would admit that today. Would my colleagues see me as a workaholic or unbalanced in my priorities?

I also must acknowledge that I don’t have the same level of energy as I did 30 years ago. My work weeks rarely if ever exceed sixty hours these days, whereas when I was a first-term missionary, they were commonplace.

As missionaries, we still like to say that we are busy. But in contrast to what I remember from 30 years ago, we are now much more likely to think that something is wrong with us or our assignment if we end up working a 12-hour day.

The importance of sabbath and vacation

We are also more free to talk about the importance of sabbath and taking vacations. SEND developed a sabbatical policy in 2016. I have been amazed at how many SEND staff have already taken a sabbatical since then. I am one of them. These are good developments, I believe. Weekly sabbaths, vacations and sabbaticals are necessary and helpful. By incorporating these into our lives, we acknowledge that we are not God and that we are not indispensable to the work.

Wearing multiple hats

Today, one of my students wrote a note on their assignment about job descriptions, “I think I have too many jobs.”

I can identify. I have two mission job descriptions. Both of them are leadership roles. One of them is supposed to take up about 60% of my time and the other the remaining 40%. I have wondered at times whether they are not in actuality two full-time positions that have somehow both found their way on to my plate. Following that analogy, pieces of both do fall off the edge and slop on to the floor every once in a while.  Maybe more often that I admit.

Sabbath and The Covenant Community

As we seek to understand what it means for our mission team to be a covenant community, we need to go back to the nation of Israel in the Old Testament.  Their identity as a people was grounded in their special covenant relationship with Yahweh.   The Lord God made some special promises to them (redemption from slavery, a land of their own flowing with milk and honey, etc), and made clear His expectations of His chosen people (no tolerance for hedging their bets with the competition, obedience to the Law, etc).   As a sign of their mutual covenant, God gave them the Sabbath, both as a distinguishing practice among the nations, and as a scheduled life “pause button”, enabling them to refocus their attention on their relationship as a covenant community with their God

Because the Sabbath day was a sign of their covenant, the Israelites were to remember to observe Sabbath and keep it holy (Ex. 20:8), refraining from engaging in regular work on that day.  Neglecting to honour the Sabbath was much more serious than just indicating a tendency to work-alcoholism; it would demonstrate their disregard for the covenant itself.   By treating this day as ordinary, they were in effect telling God and the world that they did not consider their relationship with God to be anything special.

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