Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
In a recent issue of the Journal Preaching, a preacher by the name of Ed Young, Jr., says:
"At [our church], our favorite saying is, 'It's all about the weekend.' Why? Because throughout Scripture, the value of corporate worship is hammered home again and again—that's huge. Also, the weekend is the biggest port of entry into your church. That's where most of the guests and visitors show up. So, to make an indelible impression on the most people, you've got to have the weekend hitting on all cylinders.
Ed goes on to write about three ways his church makes “all about the weekend” their mantra. He says that he makes preparation for the weekend worship services his top priority each day of the week. (“If I don't jump on that in the morning, I won't have the energy I need to do it justice,” he explains.) He also says that they make the weekend services a priority in their budget, claiming, “If you are spending more money on stuff that has nothing to do with the weekend, then you're off balance, and you're not focused on what's most important.” Finally, he says that his church prioritizes the weekend during staff meetings: they talk about what went right and wrong last weekend, they compare numbers, and they strategize toward making the next weekend's services “better.”
Clearly, he isn't kidding when he says that, at his church, “it's all about the weekend.” Just as clearly, something about Ed's approach works: his church was named “the third most influential in America” in a 2007 survey.
I've been thinking about the article for a couple of days now, and I get what Ed is saying. I do. For a variety of reasons, it isn't surprising that church leaders and church members would act as though they consider the Sunday worship services the most important thing in a church's life. Everyone's there, after all. Often, church leaders' success and effectiveness are rated almost completely by how many people show up on Sunday. Obviously, when visitors show up we do want to make a good impression. And, as Ed rightly points out, good things can happen when a church is together to worship and hear the word of God proclaimed.
I don't know Ed, and don't want to judge him by one article he's written, but I'm honestly a little horrified by the whole “it's all about the weekend” idea. I particularly reject the idea that “spending money on stuff that has nothing to do with the weekend” means that a church is “off balance” and “not focused on what's most important.” Really? Is a church whose budget is heavily weighted toward missions, for instance, off balance? Is a church that invests heavily in helping the poor not focused on what's most important? While I would hope that every church leader would pray for the worship services, and that everyone who presumes to stand before the church to preach or teach would work hard at preparing, aren't there times – a lot of times – when it's probably more urgent in the moment to pray with someone who's hurting or sit beside someone and help them come to Christ?
I'm not sure the idea of corporate worship as we understand it is really “hammered” so hard in Scripture. When the New Testament writers do talk about the church assembled together, they seem to stress things like the Lord's Supper, prayer, preaching and teaching. When music is mentioned, it's singing that's emphasized – and certainly not stage shows that rival U2's. In 1 Corinthians, Paul says outsiders will be convicted and come to worship God through the Holy Spirit's work in the whole church. Not because all of a church's energy and resources are channelled into worship services that will impress them.
Here's my main concern with the “it's all about the weekend” approach: I fear it downplays and marginalizes the church's life together during the rest of the week. Jesus isn't only a Sunday Lord. Following him is not a weekend hobby. The church is not primarily a phenomenon of time and place, and our commitment to life together doesn't end after the final “amen” or the preacher's benediction or whatever. The church is just as much the church on Tuesday afternoon at 2:30 or Thursday night at 11:00 as they are on Sunday morning at 10:00. And what our world needs most are believers who will be the church in their offices, neighborhoods, schools, and homes.
That being the case, I don't believe that any church's “biggest port of entry” should be its Sunday worship service. Jesus said that people would come to believe in him when they see his followers loving each other. He called us “light of the world,” “salt of the earth,” “fishers for people.” He commissioned us to go into the whole world, proclaiming the good news to everyone. The church's biggest port of entry, if we have to use that phrase, should be believers who take their faith seriously enough to live it out in the world – live it out faithfully and fearlessly among people who aren't yet to the point where they can get anywhere near the door of a church building. If those people see Christ in us, maybe they'll be won to him, and not to “influential” churches.
I know. I sound like a grumpy old man. But it seems to me that many people in our world hunger for lives of spiritual significance lived in real, genuine community. That's what the gospel of Jesus offers, and it's the proclamation of that gospel that should capture our attention and use up the lion's share of our resources. Let our churches' “weekends” remind us of the gospel, and remind us of our identities as gospel-created people, and equip us and inspire us to be its witnesses in our world. Let them be an opportunity for us to lift our voices in worship and prayer with other believers. But let us not begin to imagine that our lives together are “all about the weekend.” The weekend doesn't even scratch the surface.
“It's all about Monday morning.” I think I like that better.