The dog days of summer are upon us. Like Alice Cooper prophesied, “School’s out for summer.” But the church isn’t. So what does that mean for me as a pastor, Harbor Community Church in particular, or for the Christian in general?
I remember being chastised by a visitor at a previous church because we didn’t offer Sunday School during the summer. We chose to give the teachers a break, instead of fulfill this lad’s desire to have a class the one week all summer he was in Bradenton. A no-brainer.
I’ve learned not to despise the dog days of summer but instead come to embrace them. They can become quite beneficial. Here’s my theology, if you will, of summer. I don’t know if John Piper has already trademarked the “Don’t waste your summer” so I’ll just stick with “A theology of summer”
Summer offers us some rest
95% of church involvement comes from volunteers, not paid staff. People need rest. The summer time can be quite the time of refreshment for those actively leading ministries. It can be a time where those who lead and serve slow down and catch their breath. They have time to reflect. They may have more time to read, spend time with family, neighbors, friends. We have a weekly Sabbath to do that, but sometimes it helps to have an extended period as well. When we can’t rest from our labors, we have a faith problem: we are trusting in our hard work to save us and others, not the Lord. Sometimes it is good to rest from our church activity, even when that activity is good. And since we are a church only a year old, I’d rather do less now so we can be affective later.
Summer still offers us weekly worship opportunities
Some churches will end up dropping down to one service because attendance will dictate that. Last summer, fortunately, we actually gained some folks. Some on my oversight committee were concerned (as was I) that having 50-60 in May would lead to 25-30 in the summer. Thankfully we never dipped below 50 and, like I mentioned, we actually saw some crockpot growth. Who knows what this summer will bring, but I pray we have another like last year.
So it is not in reaction to my experience at Harbor (if you are Harbor folk remember that!), but more out of a recognition of what is common to us all, that I would like to extend some encouragements and challenges.
The opposite error of faithless summer busyness is faithless lethargy. Or maybe faithless recreational busyness is a better term. More often than not the greater pitfall for the American church, especially those in places where outdoor activities are so accessible, is “checking out” for the summer.
Preparing for a vacation one Sunday, and then on vacation, then getting ready for another vacation there, then recovering from vacation, then thinking about vacation, then doing something local you couldn’t do on vacation…Before you know it, you haven’t been to worship Jesus with your brothers and sisters in the faith in a month or two. But this is not good. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a 1000 times:
“25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”-Hebrews 10:25
If you think I’m writing intentionally about you, or have you in mind, you’re wrong. You’re so vain, you probably think this blog post is about you. Sorry, I had to. If you have jet lag, got in really late the night before, had insomnia, I get it! Rest up please, I’m sure you need it.
As I said earlier, we’ve never seen people “check out for summer.” But please know that this is the trend of American Christianity. And as a pastor, it’s a trend I’d rather not see catch on in more churches.
I don’t want guilt giving or guilt attendance. Neither does Jesus. Instead, let’s simply examine our hearts. We ought to consider that our tendency is either toward ministry overwork and refusing to rest, or recreational overwork and refusing to put ourselves in the place where we can experience the One who offers rest. In reality, most of us think that we can find better rest than Jesus offers. I know I do.
But the gospel reminds us that Jesus’ burdens are easy and his yolk is light (Matt 11:28-30). So for your sake, put yourselves in the path of grace and rest. Don’t come to worship out of guilt. Come to worship Someone greater and bigger and more glorious than you, your plans, your job, even your family. Then take a nap, go fishing or to the beach, or watch a baseball game, or visit someone in the hospital, etc….
Summer offers new fellowship and discipleship opportunities
Just because your community group or bible study doesn’t meet on a bi-monthly or weekly basis (to give hosts a break) during the summer, don’t let that short-circuit your discipleship process. Some of the best means of grace, alongside prayer, word, and sacraments are God’s people. God’s people are clearly another pathway to experience His grace and rest. Just because the calendar may be more open, don’t become lazy. Instead use some of your new free time to develop new or deepen old relationships. If your community group normally meets on a Sunday night, and has been now been put on pause, why not invite someone into your home or go out to eat after church? If you would normally see a church member at a bible study, and that study has ended, why should you stop there? Go out for lunch or coffee. Discipleship and fellowship can continue. You have more time in the summer, so use some of that time to invest in relationships. Some in our church are planning a kayak gathering. Harbor will have one or two fellowship opportunities all summer which then frees members up to do things like that. Let these relationships spur you on to love and good deeds (Heb 10:24).
Rest up. Develop new relationships. Put yourself in worship whenever you can. Seek fellowship with other church members. Continue reading your bible and praying.
Why? Not because Jesus will love you less if you don’t, but so that we can “see” Him more. And He’s worth it.
Have a restful and faithful summer!