A second-grade teacher in north Texas is garnering national attention after her innovative “no homework” policy went viral during the first week of school. This year, instead of formally assigning homework, she's asking parents to spend their evenings doing something different. “Eat dinner as a family, read together, play outside, and get your child to bed early,” she suggests.
The teacher’s much-lauded decision has renewed public interest in the educational value of homework, which many experts believe offers little benefit for elementary-age students. If anything, they argue, homework diminishes performance by intruding on students' “quality time” at home. Kids apparently need playtime more than extra chores. Who knew?
I think Jesus might endorse this teacher's unorthodox approach. After all, in his dealings with Mary and Martha he similarly upsets social conventions by privileging “quality time” over hard work. The situation there is a little different, of course, but it's not hard to picture Martha as the taskmaster who wouldn't let her group settle for less than an “A” on a class project, while Mary would be quite happy with a “B” if it left time to play outside with her friends. Mary would share the superior grade, but Martha would end up doing the bulk of the work—which is why it upsets us that Martha is the one Jesus chastises for having misplaced priorities.
Perhaps we can declare a moratorium on spiritually fruitless busywork and remove the social stigma of saying “no.”
In my experience, overworked churches act a lot like Martha. Without quite realizing what they're doing, they gradually encumber members with miscellaneous duties that, important as they may seem, have a way of insidiously morphing into routine chores. Over time, going to church starts to feel like another part-time job for families already working multiple jobs to make ends meet. As a result, devotional habits begin to slide. And this simply shouldn't be. All of us need that weekly time of sanctuary when we have space (and permission) to shamelessly recline at Jesus' feet—and to know that our brothers and sisters won't drag us away to put us back to work.
Perhaps it's time for the church to adopt its own “no homework” policy, then, recognizing that ours is a “no homework” kind of God. Yes, the doors have to stay open. Diapers have to get changed, and someone has to teach Sunday school. Worship leaders need to rehearse, and dirt won't clean itself. I realize, in short, that the business of “doing church” won't go away just because the ideal of “being the church” takes precedence. Still, perhaps we can declare a moratorium on spiritually fruitless busywork and remove the social stigma of saying “no” to the myriad little obligations we lay upon one another. Perhaps we should revisit God’s priorities and find jobs on our sign-up sheets that could be eliminated without doing violence to our most critical ministries. Or maybe we can discover creative new ways to ensure that our volunteers each get a turn at Jesus' feet while others are on duty.
This is important because we live in a culture of obsessive hyperactivity. Against the misdirected mandate of doing more, the church needs to model the God-honoring discipline of doing less. Because if childlike faith is the ideal of authentic discipleship, then life in Christ ought never to be all work and no play.