I have devoted much time and effort to church affairs in my life over
the last 35 years, and after reading the story of Mary and Martha again in
Luke 10, I see some parallels between Martha and our North American
If you dig into the text of Luke 10:38-42 you will see that Martha
worked hard at serving her Lord. Yet Jesus felt that her serving was
"distracting" (NIV) her from the important issue at hand, which
was sitting at His feet with Mary, listening to what He had to say.
How could serving Jesus possibly be so distracting? First of all, the
abundance of busyness distracted Martha from visiting with Jesus, even
though this busyness was an act of service. Secondly, after becoming upset
with Mary for not helping her serve, her frustration became a distraction
to her original motivation to serve. I do believe Martha had good
It is interesting to note that Martha seemed just as upset with Jesus
as she was with Mary. She felt that Jesus did not care that she was
working so hard. Thus her frustration with Jesus became the biggest
distraction of all.
I don’t think Jesus really cared about the fuss Martha was making
over Him with all of her work. He’d rather have both ladies simply visit
with Him in peace.
So here are the parallels between this story and today’s North
American church. Like Martha, we are very busy in our service to Jesus.
For example, we expend great energy building and maintaining our
sanctuaries. We exert even greater energy maintaining the programs we
involve ourselves in within these sanctuaries, much of which becomes
self-serving, not Christ serving. This busyness is a distraction from our
relationship with Jesus and the issues at hand. For many, "the work
of the Lord becomes more important than the Lord of the work".
Like Martha, with all the busyness, we at times get upset with our
brothers and sisters for various reasons. Divisions occur, destroying the
very service we’re attempting to provide.
Also like Martha, some find themselves upset with Jesus while in the
midst of the divisions. They not only separate themselves from their
brothers and sisters, but from Jesus as well. It saddens me to have known
people who have walked away from Jesus over things associated with
Jesus told Martha that she was "upset and worried about many
things". (NIV) I think Jesus might tell us something similar today.
Maybe He’d say, "Listen, you’re way too busy, worried, and upset
about self serving Christian endeavors. Forget about all these
distractions. Return to the simplicity of your faith. Visit with me and
introduce me to your friends". This sounds a bit like Jesus’ words
to the church at Ephesus, when He told them to return to their first love.
Let me explain this another way. Emmylou Harris once said, "with
the making of many records, we have lost the living room experience in our
music". She was suggesting that the music industry became way too
business like. The fun, enjoyment, and simplicity of making music was
lost. Perfection in the recording studio replaced enjoyment in the living
room. Financial statements replaced creativity, the real motive for
writing and singing songs. I’ve heard similar statements made by
Christian musicians. They say we’ve made an industry out of Christian
music, loosing the reason why we make the music in the first place.
To a degree the same has happened in the church. As we have built the
industry of church, we have lost the living room experience. I use the
word "industry", because in many respects the church has evolved
into an industry, or a business.
You see, Jesus preferred Martha to visit with Him and Mary in her
living room, instead of involving herself in busyness, even though her
busyness was an act of service to Him.
I believe we need to return to the simpler aspects of our faith –
love of Jesus, love of the Bible, family, friendships, sharing Jesus on a
personal level, and so on. The problem is that we have built the church
into a massive monstrosity, an organization that has become a burden, and
is distracting us from Jesus and the important issues at hand. The church
was supposed to be like a living room, a place of support for believers.
In many respects it is like a Wall Street business with high office
towers, million dollar budgets, employees, advertising accounts, and so
on. I’m waiting for a church to issue shares in their business so I can
add them to my stock portfolio, finally giving me a chance to retire in
Out of interest, for those who don’t know, pastors in the United
Church of Canada are attempting to form a union to protect themselves from
their employer. I wonder who they consider their employer is, the church
or God. I also wonder what the Apostle Paul would think of this. Actually,
I believe I know what he’d think.
How many times in the 1970’s did I hear prophetic words asking us to
be an organism, not an organization. Yet the tendency of man is to
organize, to complicate, and to build memorials. And in many respects we’ve
done just that.
I believe there is a time to sit in the living room and visit with
Jesus, and also a time to serve Him in the kitchen. I’m not negating the
importance of serving Jesus. Still, our serving should not become a
distraction to the important issues of faith, as it was with Martha. In my
opinion, much of our church activity is a distraction, and has become self
serving, promoting our own special interests.
I believe Jesus is going to do something about this, and has already
began the process. I’m not sure that His plans will be easy on us. Maybe
I’ll talk about this in another article.