Church made for (hu)man(ity)

I heard that a friend has taken up sleeping for Lent.  She read that sleep is a form of worship because when we sleep we acknowledge God is in control and can manage without us.  It’s an expression of our trust in God.

I’ve been thinking recently about the time Jesus was told off for letting his disciples pull ears of corn from wheat in a wheatfield on the Sabbath.  Jesus said to the Jewish leaders, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.’  In other words, the way God has structured time is for man’s benefit and wellbeing.  It’s not the other way round – that the Sabbath was set up as some sort of eternal abstract structure that people had to align themselves with regardless of their human needs.  Humans didn’t have to keep the Sabbath day at any cost to themselves…it was meant to be a blessing.  A blessing of rest.

I often think of this account in respect of the church.  A woman recovering from depression said to me the other day, ‘I want church to be a sanctuary, not somewhere that’s constantly making demands on your small reserves of energy and time.’

While I endorse the principle that Christians are called to a life of service and discipleship exercised within the body of the church, I felt sympathy with my friend’s comment.  It can feel at times as if people have been ‘made for the church’.  The church is an eternal necessity, and humanity has to lay aside its needs to ensure it continues.

There is a sense in which this is true; we do need to lay aside our needs to ensure the church continues…  to share faith in a way that is appropriate to the context among people who haven’t heard it, even if it’s at great cost to ourselves.  But it can seem as if some church people have got caught up (often without realising it) in keeping an increasingly resource-hungry church fed with volunteers and cash.  And when they’re heard to complain about the shortfall in congregation time or money, we might imagine Jesus saying, ‘The church was made for people, not people for the church.’

And that sets us the intriguing challenge of re-shaping church so it serves people  for the sake of the gospel, rather than recruiting people to preserve the church in a way that risks their own sense of shalom.

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