Meet the Farmer Who Scheduled Your Sabbath School
Well, that isn’t the actual farmer, but I probably didn’t miss it by much. Let me explain. Last week I posted a casual question on Facebook and the number of responses surprised me. So, I’m pausing my Evange-Living series to explore the topic. This was the post that launched a major conversation.
Sabbath/Sunday School Attendance-50.
11 o’clock Service Attendance-500.
Is the issue scheduling or commitment?
I was exploring the reason there seems to be such a difference in the number of people who attend Sabbath School and “Divine” Worship services. The responses were both interesting and entertaining. One gentleman wondered whether describing the 11 o’clock service as “divine” might be tipping the balance. Mothers young and old complained of the impossible job of getting children up and out. There were numerous complaints of irrelevant quarterlies and boring teachers.
But this observation kept showing up, “Well, we get to work on time, we ought to get to Sabbath School on time!” Interesting point. It seems to make sense, but does it really? A better question might be, what does one have to do with the other? Work is compensated, worship is not. Work times are mandatory, worship times are not. This is where the farmer comes in.
Follow the Farmer
Question. Why do we generally meet at 9 am or 11 am? Is there something sacred about those times? The answer is no. There are several theories about why most churches meet at 11 on Saturday or Sunday mornings. But the most accepted theory is the agrarian theory, the farming theory. We worship at 11 because in the early stages of church history it was the most convenient time for farmers. They got their early chores done and then headed to church.
So, is that a good enough reason for you and me? I’m pretty sure that the early morning hours will always be a great time for Sabbath school and worship for most of us. I prefer it. It’s not just tradition, but it’s the body clock. But that’s not the case for everyone. Many mothers and millennials suggest that a later start might be a better start for church members and visitors alike.
The Question of Convenience
Although we know that convenience was a primary driver for church service times historically, many Christians feel that the words Christianity and convenience are mortal enemies. Convenience is a priority of a church that is lukewarm and uncommitted. And in many ways, they are right.
But there is a serious danger of raising our preferences to the level of principle. Erecting standards that are more personal than spiritual. Teaching for doctrine the commandments of men. Matthew 15:9.
There are excellent reasons for starting Sabbath/Sunday School at 9 am. and the worship service at 11. Many surveys still point to early Saturday and Sunday as the preferred worship times. That’s fine as long as we recognize that it’s a matter of personal choice and Christian liberty.
The Sabbath Was Made For….You!
For many Christians I sense that the reluctance to consider a more convenient time for services is influenced by a misguided understanding of sacrifice and struggle. The attitude is, “no pain, no gain.” For worship to be meaningful it demands sacrifice. David says as much in 2 Samuel 24:24. But taken to the extreme it makes a burden of the Sabbath and it totally miscasts grace.
The very idea of grace is that we get what we don’t deserve, what we did not work for. Moses told Israel,
“When the Lord your God brings you to the land He promised to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He will give you large and beautiful cities that you did not build, houses filled with every good thing you did not supply, wells that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant!” Deut. 6:10-11
Same for the Sabbath. The Sabbath was designed to be a delight. Isaiah 58. For many overworked, stressed-out Christians, the most delightful thing about the Sabbath could be some extra sleep. Is that a bad thing?
We will never be able to please everyone when we choose a Sabbath School time or worship time. My preference is to stick with the tried and true when there is doubt. But it’s perfectly appropriate to explore new times, additional times, convenient times. The sacrifice that we need to prioritize in all of our services has already been made. On a cross.
So, what do you think? What Sabbath School time or worship time do you prefer? Do you see the issue as commitment or scheduling? Do your friends and family feel the same way?