By Seth Vopat
“Sunday is no longer the sacred day of the week anymore!” is one of many complaints I hear repeatedly for why the church is dying today. In translation, this often refers to the fact that a variety of kids’ sports tournaments are now played on Sundays. More and more people have to work on Sundays to satisfy our culture’s consumer hunger. The logic being if all these activities were not going on in our society today our pews would be more full on Sunday mornings.
Maybe they would, but I have my doubts.
I have a tendency to want to roll my eyes whenever I hear these comments. It’s not that I don’t understand the pain. My vocational calling for over a decade now has been and is to youth ministry. I understand completely the challenges of developing spiritual formative activities and attracting participants in the face of over-filled schedules with a wide range of activities including, but certainly not limited to, sports, music and part-time work. I understand the frustration, but I don’t believe church is entitled to Sunday.
These comments and reactions stem from a posture of fear that the church’s relevancy is rapidly fading away. As Cistercian monk Michael Casey notes, when we give into our fears and anxieties and aren’t willing to face them we avoid dealing with reality. He writes, “Then life becomes a sustained effort at avoiding real issues.”
It has been my personal experience this is what is going on whenever we play the blame game in church to address the reasons why fewer people are entering our doors. The problem with blame — in this case Sunday mornings being crowded out — is it allows us to settle for easy answers, ignoring the important processes of discernment and the need for asking hard questions.
Perhaps, instead of blaming sports and work for the loss of attendance on Sunday mornings, it’s time to ask whether or not our worship services are bringing people life and encounters with the living God?
We often talk about how amazing the love of God is and yet how often are we really living life out of this incredible love?
We all get the same 24 hours in a day and as parents of two boys, my wife and I continually try our best to use those hours and involve our children in activities we believe matter and help shape them into compassionate human beings. The reality is in our fast-paced culture with what seems like limitless options, when we choose an activity for ourselves or for our children to be involved in we are automatically saying no to other possible activities. Ergo, if we take the time to have our children participate in a program, we want to know it was time well spent, is filling them with life and is teaching them important lessons about life.
This is the problem with entitlement. When we approach Sunday as a day we are entitled to, we don’t always prioritize and make it our best. We think people should come into our doors regardless of whether the sermon was a Saturday night special or intentionally planned. We think they should participate in our classes regardless of whether or not the teacher is actually prepared to teach or is a last minute fill-in. Entitlement becomes a crutch which hinders us from giving God and our community our best.
When encountering the mystery of the crucified and resurrected Jesus the early church began meeting on a regular basis, but not because they had to. No one told them this was a required component of faith. Jesus called them to love God and their neighbor, not you have to meet together on a regular basis.
I believe they gathered together on a regular basis because it breathed life into them. It nourished their individual relationships with God in meeting with one another as they encountered God through each other.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but a community which breathes life into me is a community I am willing to make room for in my schedule and say no to other activities.