Friday, April 26, 2019

What About Working on Sundays?

 This question comes from a friend who is being kept very busy at work:

What should Christians do when they have to work on Sundays? There are a lot of us, like police officers, hospital workers, utility workers, and so on.

It is a pretty open-ended question. I could have asked for clarification to see exactly which facet he wanted to discuss, but that’s no fun. I want to cover as many of them as possible! If I do miss the one you meant, though, let me know. Follow-up questions are a good thing, my behavior in this instance notwithstanding.

Why Sunday?

First, I want to look at Sunday itself. I went back through my old articles and found that I actually discussed some of this previously. You can check it out here, but I’ll provide a brief summary. Sunday is the Christian day of worship because that was the day of the week Jesus’ resurrection occurred. We are nowhere commanded to treat is as such, as Jewish people must on the Sabbath, but it is an original tradition of the church. Evidence of that is found in Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 16:2, and Rev. 1:10.

So Sunday is the day of worship that tradition recommends but no law dictates. As a result, though, it is what basically all of us do. That does leave a lot of people on the outs. The question has necessary services in mind. The need for ambulances and police responses, and for running water and electricity, does not pause for Sunday. People in these professions do not really have much of a choice, and I just want to offer some encouragement.

Sabbath Application to Sunday Observance

God is understanding of our need to do what we have to. Jesus made a number of comments to that effect in regard to the Sabbath (Matt. 12:1–8; Mark 2:27; 3:1–5; Luke 14:1–5). While not exactly the same, what applies to the greater usually applies to the lesser. Jewish people have to rest on the Sabbath. It is commanded of them. Christians are not commanded to worship on Sundays. So if Jesus says there are necessary exceptions to the Sabbath regulation, then we are certainly justified in working on Sundays when the need arises. It is not a sin.

What I would recommend is that you find some stop-gap measures. Maybe there is another time during the week when you can gather with fellow believers. Try to get that fellowship. Perhaps your church records the worship service. See if you can get a copy and watch it during the week. Interact with an online ministry like this one to get some Christian education. Set your radio or streaming service to a Christian station so you can hear some praise music. Try not to skip an offering just because you are not at church. Make it up the next time you go, or send it with someone else. These things cannot really replace the experience of the service, so they should not be permanent. But they are especially good for those weeks when you cannot make it on Sunday.

This is also true for another category of worker not yet mentioned, but who I believe must actually be more numerous. Vast numbers of retail stores are open on Sundays and they obviously need employees to staff them. I do not blame Christian workers in this situation any more than I do in the necessary positions. But the situation must be acknowledged as different. Along with the other things already mentioned, I think you would be justified in asking for Sundays off. I am not telling you to quit if your boss says no. I am just saying not to fear making the request.

It is a sad fact that a lot of people in our society do not care to go to church at all. The silver lining is that it should make them available to cover for you. That means there is no harm in asking. On top of which, doing so is an act of devotion. Trust the Lord to see you through what you are attempting to do on His behalf.

If blame lies anywhere, it is with the rest of us. The only reason people in retail have to work on Sundays is that their employers require it. And the only reason they require it is because we go out and shop on Sundays. Again, I am not in favor of making Sabbath-style regulations. We just have to be honest here. If all Christians stopped shopping on Sundays, it would not be profitable for the stores to open and our brothers and sisters would not have to worry about working instead of going to church. So if anyone out there is prone to criticizing Christians for working on a Sunday, then I hope they are not hypocritical enough to go to the store on that day, either.

The Saturday Option

I want to swing back around to another potential solution to the problem of having to work on Sundays. It was actually the focal point of that previous article I mentioned earlier. If people have to work on Sunday, then could the church have a service on Saturday? As I said a few years ago, I am not against that in theory. In practice, we have to be careful.

A few problems come into play when you add a Saturday service, and they largely have to do with motivations. On the positive side, it doubles people’s chances in the week to worship. That can be great for people who have to work, and also for people who are really new to the idea of church and for whom the convenience could be very attractive. But convenience can get to be a problem. Most of the people who would go to church on Saturday would not be doing it because they cannot go on Sunday. They would do it because they do not want to get up on Sunday morning. I personally feel that is a bad motive, which is one of the reasons I would be very cautious about adding such a service.

Another motive issue is broader involvement. If a church has a Saturday service, are they also going to have Saturday classes? Christian education is just as much a part of what goes on Sundays as the worship is. If that is missing, then people might go to church on Saturdays in order to avoid being more involved. They can do that pretty easily on Sundays, too, but at least it confronts them with what they are missing. And that points to a related concern. If you have services on Saturday and Sunday, what is the point of contact between both groups that attend? You can easily wind up with two very separate congregations.

Along with that, the church itself needs to be careful about its motivations. Can yours honestly say the reason they want to add a Saturday service is because they want to try to serve the people who cannot come on Sunday? Or is it because they are running out of room? Saturday services tend to be a practice of megachurches. They already have two or three services on Sunday, so they add one or two on Saturday because they are short on space. I think that is questionable for a few reasons. First, it is asking a great deal of the staff and volunteers. Secondly, I am not in favor of churches that are constantly growing.

You read that right. It is a personal preference again, not something I can call a command from God. But as I see things, churches can get too big. When that starts to happen, I think they need to move from addition to multiplication. Rather than trying to get as many people as possible into one space, they would be better off to open new spaces. Planting new churches allows for them to be more intimate and to increase the number of reached communities. A Saturday service is a shortcut that does not really get us where we are supposed to go. And when people who work on Sundays are used as a reason to start them, I fear that is little more than a pretense in most circumstances.

Finding Rest

One last thing feels necessary to mention, though it is a little further out of context. It is true, though, that some people are working on Sundays because they are working an extensive number of hours every week. If you have a choice to do that, stop. If you do not have a choice, see if you can reasonably create one. Rest is a human necessity. Working 60+ hours a week is really not ideal. Sunday makes for a natural day of rest for Christians, but there are a lot of other ways to slow down. Look into them, and see if you can get work to accommodate them. You will be better off.

Hopefully, something here helps to answer the original question. Like I said, there was a lot to cover! Distilled to its finest point, my advice is to not feel guilty about what you cannot control and to try to be pragmatic about what you can. There are ways to get around a tough work schedule without giving up your connection to God and your brothers and sisters. I hope that is a relief to hear rather than a burden. Then you just have to try out how to make it work for you.

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