As a longtime church staff member, I have been both overtly and much more subtly accused of being part of a modern church system which just keeps busy people even busier. The local church, these folks would say, offers too many activities which fill our evenings and weekends and thereby take away from essential family time. I have a friend of a friend who recently left her “big program” church to attend a church that just has one worship service a week and no other formal gatherings. For the first time in her life, she no longer feels guilty for missing all of those church programs, and her family is a whole lot less busy. Echoing this sentiment, there seem to be more Christians out there who argue that the ideal church is one with just a corporate worship service once a week, giving families plenty of time for worship and education at home.
Now I definitely understand the underlying yearning to have a life that is simpler, less busy, and less cluttered. And I also believe that the local church must always be evaluating what she does, how many programs are offered, and how these activities fit in with the Biblical responsibilities of the church. Just creating programs to keep people busy is not God’s plan for His Church. At the same time, many Christians who claim that the church is keeping them too busy are often unwilling to pare down the rest of their frantic schedules to get this simpler life. In other words, the local church (and her programs) can sometimes be the first place that people “cut” in order to become less busy.
So, how are we best to encourage one another in this matter? First, we need to begin with a Biblical understanding of the role and place of the local church. It is not to be just another social club which tries frantically to compete with all of the other activities from which people choose. Instead, it must stick closely to its essential work of gathering people for corporate worship, evangelizing the lost, educating and equipping God’s people, and being involved in service and mercy ministry. With only so many hours in the week, careful planning is necessary to not overtax those in our congregations in these tasks. At the same time, opportunities in these prescribed areas can abound so our people can be equipped and educated for the work of ministry. Just because a church has lots of programs doesn’t mean each member is expected to attend them all, or be at church “every time the door is open.”
Second, our families need to evaluate their priorities. In general, our American culture is all about MORE, not LESS. Things seem to always get bigger, not smaller. Sports is a prime offender here, as seasons have gotten longer, game days are longer still, more practices, more tournaments, and just more sports offerings than ever. And, there is simply many more activities to choose from in modern society–in recreation as well as work. So if families think the church is the main thing keeping them to busy, what about all the rest of their activities and institutions? They must be encouraged to take an honest look at what is taking all of their time. Many may find out that their church programs actually take up the least hours of their week.
Third, parents must take the responsibility to become more family-centered (and Christ-centered) in their activities. Here’s a chicken-or-egg question: Is the busy-ness of life keeping our families from activities like family Bible study, family discussions, and family time in general, or is busy-ness just blamed for why they cannot “find” the time to be together as a family doing these things? Not trying to be harsh here, but I wonder if the friend of my friend who just has one church service once a week is taking that extra time to teach her children the Bible, or spend more time in equipping, training, and relating to them? In other words, if all the programs of the church cease, would we just be tempted to fill that time with other (even less essential) activities? The bottom line is that our families desperately need time at home not just as a glorified motel, but where the Bible is taught and discipleship is clearly occurring.
There’s so much more to say about where we are headed in this way too busy world. But as the tongue-in-cheek church sign above critiques, we must take great care to not make church just a place to “look busy” for Jesus. If your church is not engaging you in worship, solid Christian education, and equipping you for ministry, than it may just be keeping you too involved in “busy work.” For the Christian, our prime activities are not about keeping busy, but to be diligently about our Master’s business!