While I’m studying/reading about the church and culture, let me share this jewel by William Willimon & Robert Wilson. It is found in their Preaching and Worship in the Small Church (Nashville: Abingdon, 1980), 39-40. To set the context, Willimon and Wilson lament the way so many churches have taken the spotlight off Sunday, the day of the Resurrection.
“‘What you do outside the church is more important than what you do inside the church,’ was how the slogan went. Church school classes, youth-fellowship meetings, weekly prayer and Bible study groups, social action programs, elaborately designed educational activities, and seemingly endless committee meetings, all conspired to convince the people that worship was only one small part of the full program.”
“Such thinking had an undeniable appeal to the pragmatic, utilitarian, work-oriented society, such as we have in the United States. Time spent in worship tends to be thought of as idle time–unused time. We are a nation of doers and achievers. How can the ‘acts’ of worship compete in importance alongside activities such as Christian education, counseling, youth programs, board meetings, Bible study groups, and charitable work? The ‘active’ church with its doors always open, meetings in progress every night of the week, newsletters recruiting participants for a host of activities, insuring that every person is kept busy during the week (provided that person truly wishes to be an ‘active’ church member), has become the paradigm for any church that aspires greatness.”
“The ‘active’ pastor, with a full round of weekly meetings, community activities, and supervisory chores, which keep all the machinery oiled and running smoothly at the full-program church (provided that the church truly wishes to be a ‘viable’ church), has become the paradigm for any pastor who aspires to greatness. Somehow the centrality of Sunday worship has been lost amidst these pragmatic, program-oriented, organizational images of success.”
That’s what happens when “work ethic” has a say in the church. Good thing a huge theme of Scripture is “rest” instead of “do;” that is what we must emphasize, even though it goes against what is written on our DNA! Actually, Willimon and Wilson say it better: they say such a busy church looks more like the local YMCA than a church, and the pastor looks more like a program director than a preacher (p. 42). Here’s the deal-sealer: “Theologians have noted that our Pelagian busyness is frequently a works/righteousness cover-up for our spiritual emptiness” (Ibid.).
For more on this, see chapter four in Hart and Muether, With Reverence and Awe (Philipsburg: P&R, 2002).