We see nothing in Jesus' life that would pass the approval of a life coach's prescribed 'ideal week.' Should church staff strive for a 'balanced' life, or a full life?
Two years ago I stepped into the biggest controversy I've experienced at Mars Hill Church. It was the day we instituted the six-day workweek among our staff.
We set the expectation that paid staff must work full-time Monday through Friday, and then fulfill Sunday responsibilities as necessary. Staff who don't have any official Sunday duties are expected to serve as volunteers at a local Mars Hill church.
The message played with mixed results. Some employees were angry. A few even chose to find another job. But most accepted the change and adapted their schedules to maintain right priorities of Jesus and family.
As much damage as this change may have caused temporarily to our staff culture, it was the right decision, and it's bearing healthy results today. One lesson I've learned the hard way through this process is the need for careful explanation, including a solid biblical basis for philosophical changes in the context of church ministry.
The Bible actually does have a lot to say about work and even the workweek. I'd like to share some of these ideas here on the blog for the benefit of Christian employees in general and church employees specifically.
A biblical rhythm of work and rest
God created the seven-day week and he allotted one day for rest (Gen. 2:1?2). Keeping the Sabbath as a day of rest is one of the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:8?10). The Sabbath was a big point of contention between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day. The religious leaders confronted him and his disciples about what someone could and could not do on the Sabbath, and Jesus settled these disputes by declaring that he was the 'Lord of the Sabbath' (Matt. 12:8).
Many Christians falsely believe that a two-day weekend is mandated in Scripture. However, the five-day workweek wasn't established in the United States until 1940, and its advance had more to do with workplace production and cost containment than biblical principle.
Balance versus fullness
Many Christians strive for balance in life. While most of us associate a balanced life with a healthy life and would agree that a healthy life is a good life, the modern concept of balancing work and leisure isn't necessarily biblical.
The Lord Jesus himself worked hard (Mark 1:29?35; Luke 6:12?19), and on numerous occasions he worked to the point of physical exhaustion (Matt. 8:1-24; John 4:1?6). After his work he would then steal away to have time to refresh (Luke 5:16). We see nothing in Jesus' life that would pass the approval of a life coach's prescribed 'ideal week.' Yet he alone was without sin (2 Cor. 5:21).
The Sabbath was a big point of contention between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day
The apostle Paul goes so far as to say, in comparison to the other apostles, 'I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me' (1 Cor. 15:10b). Grace and hard work are not in tension. Rather, the undeserved love of God for us in Jesus empowers our hard work. Jesus gives us something better than balance. He gives us fullness and abundance. We've been given the ability, enabled by God's grace, to work hard, worship hard, and love our families fully as we pour ourselves out in serving his church.
Being a role model
Another apostle, Peter, tells his fellow elders, who were paid to work in and on the church, to be 'examples to the flock' (1 Pet. 5:3). No one should love the church more than her paid elders. And no one should devote more time and energy to working for the church than paid staff. But in my experience, I've often seen a church staff that devotes fewer hours to serving the church than the volunteers put into making a living outside of the church. This can lead to disunity when the volunteers who are working jobs and serving tirelessly see paid staff putting in four or five days a week of work.
Grace and hard work are not in tension. Rather, the undeserved love of God for us in Jesus empowers our hard work
At Mars Hill Church, we are fortunate to have many great men of God who faithfully serve as volunteer elders alongside paid pastors. These are not men with an early retirement or flexible work schedules. These are men who work long hours (45?50 weekly) in demanding careers to provide for their families. These are men with wives to love and children to raise. And these are men who give at least one and often two nights a week serving the church, as well as most of the day on Sunday.
In addition to these volunteer elders, we have many other men and women who serve with similar commitments as volunteer deacons. For example, Ashley has been at Mars Hill U-District for over two years. During the day she works as an executive administrative assistant. During the evenings and on Sundays she plans for band meals and is the 6 p.m. service lead. Her volunteer hours require a significant amount of time, but she loves it because within the student, professional, and family makeup of the U-District, it allows her to build relationships with groups of people that wouldn't normally congregate together. 'Jesus came to serve,' she says. 'To be like Christ we must serve others.'
Paid church staff must understand that not only should they lead volunteers in hard work, but their salaries are provided by the sacrificial giving of these same people. There must be a sacred trust between these two groups that honors Jesus.