C: Great Books Approach to Sabbath/Sunday: Personal Formation and Spiritual Growth

Small Group Book Study: This structure is suggested for those interested in organizing and leading a small group book study centered around fostering Sabbath/Sunday thinking and practice.  The purpose of the study group is to expand the number of individuals who have a greater knowledge of the Biblical concepts of the gift of the Sabbath and for them to affirm a corporate and personal commitment to the benefits of regular practice of Sabbath/Sunday observance in their contemporary lives.

Defining the Group: A group might be a Sunday School or Bible Study group, an existing book study group, a lunch or dinner group, a neighborhood group, a book club, or perhaps a library topical study group.  Most of these groups already exist within some communities; if such a group is not already functioning, it could be assembled with a dessert and conversation invitation.

  • Organization of the Group:   There are many ways to organize the group.  The leader could select the book to be studied and go chapter by chapter over a specified time period.   Different individuals could be assigned to lead the discussion on designated chapters. More than one book could be selected with group members reporting on the topics covered from their book.

    Whatever approach is taken, all participants should be strongly encouraged to read the materials assigned for discussion.  The leader should resist the temptation to turn the gatherings into lecture sessions.  Care must be taken to allow all to express their opinions and share their experiences without dominating the group and devaluing didactic learning.  If the group is newly formed, there might be the need to establish “rules of engagement” agreed upon by the members.

  • Desired Outcomes:   With a study group, both guaranteeing and measuring outcomes is very difficult.  Objectives should include a more complete understanding of the origin and history of the practice of Sabbath/Sunday, personal reflection and evaluation of the practice of Sabbath time, a clearer understanding of the enormous benefits of Sabbath practice, an exploration of the challenges of Sabbath/Sunday practice in contemporary culture, and appropriate behavior changes.   
    • EXAMPLE #1: A group of 6-8 young couples are convened with interest in the place of Sabbath/Sunday observance in the family setting. They meet and study two books over the space of  months, then decide to offer a small workshop to their congregation. Three participants lead this gathering over a weekend day (when child care is also provided); the congregation decides to form a task force on the issue for new incoming members as well as longer-standing ones.

    • EXAMPLE #2: A number of clergy and their partners within a particular confession’s regional governance group have begun to gather monthly to explore alternatives to Sabbath/Sunday observance since their jobs often require more of them, rather than less, over this period in the week when the rest of their congregations mostly worship and/or rest.

      After a period of discussion and sharing from books they have each chosen for its input to their searches for rest and refreshment, they realize that their denomination’s theological emphasis has historically downplayed the place of Sabbath/Sunday observance, once proclaiming that “every day should be a little Sunday.” The sense of mystery and sacred observances tied to the Lord’s Day in the more liturgical denominations was also once seen as a kind of idolatry. They begin to discuss alternative ideas on this, and to teach and preach with such issues in mind.

The LDA suggests this project, in part, to advance its mission and gain some indication of the value of the expanded use and promotion of this method. The input from group leaders, and/or the return of reflective or responsive evaluations by participants would be valuable for our assessment purposes as well.

Note also:

  1. The first and second Bible Study references, below, give structural details for planning adult Bible Study and Faith Education classes which may also be relevant.

(See in particular the Spring 2017 study on the use of Gonzalez’ A History of Sunday, no. 2. below.

  1. Each eSunday Magazine issue includes at least one, sometimes two, book reviews of recent publications relevant to this topic as well. See the tab at: www.ldausa.org for more!

1. Fall 2016: “A Lesson Plan for Topics in Adult Faith Education/Scripture Study.”

2. Spring 2017: “Using a Book (here, Gonzalez’ A History of Sunday) for Adult Faith Education/Scripture Study.”

Bibliography:  There are many appropriate books to consider.  Below are a few possibilities.

Walter Brueggemann, Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014) (Study Guide) 2017.

Marva J. Dawn, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Fasting (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989)

Michael Fishbane, Sacred Attunement: A Jewish Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008)

Edward O’Flaherty, Rodney L. Petersen, editors, with Timothy A. Norton, Sunday, Sabbath, and the Weekend: Managing Time in a Global Culture (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2010)

Abraham Heschel, The Sabbath:  Its Meaning for Modern Man (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1951) 

Wayne Muller, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (New York: Bantan Books, 1999)

Developed by: Austin Connors