There’s a relentless push for progress that we are being swept up in, and in an era of what I call “Big Eva” – the large evangelical ministry juggernaut replete with conferences after conference, ministry tool after ministry tool, leadership summit after leadership summit, technique after technique, there seems very little commitment to true rest. Apex leaders atop ministry pyramids are pushing God’s people with a sanctified version of brick making that has no end in sight.
I worry that an awful lot of modern day ministry is about making bricks for evangelical pharaohs. Whether those pharaohs are actual people, or whether they are systems and philosophies of ministry that have been put in place, doesn’t matter all that much; making bricks is the paradigm of much modern ministry. And it’s leaving a trail of exhausted people in its wake.
There’s too much evangelical ministry based on the brick making principles of Egypt, and by that I mean a relentlessness to its demands on its people that is a stranger to the idea of rest. Let me explain.
I’ve just read Walter Brueggemann’s Sabbath as Resistance, as good a book as any to read while you are on sabbatical. Brueggemann unpacks Israel’s flight from Egypt to freedom on the verge of the Promised Land. And he notes that although Pharaoh did not get to Mt Sinai with Israel, the imprint he left on God’s people did. And that is why the prelude to the Decalogue is there: to remind God’s people what they are coming from before pointing out what they are coming to:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. Exodus 20:2
God’s people have been making bricks. And more bricks. And yet more bricks. The demand for bricks from Pharaoh has been insatiable. How many bricks? Just more. A quota that is presented initially as achievable, primarily because it is presented as a quota, morphs to the point that somehow that quota is never quite enough.
There is never an end to the brick making. Pharaoh sits literally at the top of the pyramid, the typical apex leader, whose agenda is for all others to serve, and whose narrative to the people further down the pyramid that in reality we’re all in this together serving the gods.
Brueggemann says this:
It is clear that in this system there can be no Sabbath rest. There is no rest for Pharaoh in his supervisory capacity … Consequently there can be no rest for Pharaohs supervisors or taskmasters; and of course there can be no rest for the slaves who must satisfy the taskmasters in order to meet Pharaoh’s demanding quotas.
Brueggemann’s conclusion is clear:
It requires no imagination to see that the exodus memory and consequently the Sinai commandments are performed in a “no Sabbath” environment.