Toward a Theology of Church Picnics

If picnics don’t have to do with God we may as well close up shop. Either all we do has to do with God or he is not God. “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do (like picnics), do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). “Whatever you do, in word or deed (like picnics), do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17). So part of my duty as pastor-teacher is to help you see how even church picnics relate to God.

This is no ivory tower theology. No, sir. On Sunday, June 12, after the second service we are going to Ham Lake Camp for the annual Sunday School picnic. The evening service will not happen at church. There will be a 4:00 p.m. vespers at the camp. So this theology is very relevant!

1. Meeting as a church out-of-doors is an affirmation and celebration of God as creator of the world. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). By divine appointment “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). It is fitting that the people of God gather corporately beneath the heavens to hear the proclamation of the firmament. Surely, the sky should join us in worship once a year. The admiration we feel for the Maker of the world is doubled when we exult in it together.

2. Informal togetherness, especially involving recreation, cultivates the unity of God’s people, which we are commanded to maintain (Ephesians 4:3). It does this in three ways.

  1. There is unpressured time for natural, extended conversation—and significant relationships take time.
  2. We are thrown together with people we don’t otherwise talk to. And some of the inevitable walls of separation between groups are penetrated.
  3. We feel a new kinship with people when we see them dressed differently and involved in recreation. For example, some people probably think the pastor is a real dud. But did you know that Noël and I almost won the three-legged couples’ race last year? And I wasn’t wearing a suit! It was like the time I first learned in college that my philosophy teacher cut his own grass—with jeans and a T-shirt!!

We are commanded, “Love one another with brotherly affection” (Romans 12:10). It is much easier to develop affection for a person if you see him tumble in the grass. And of course, this goes for all of you. Stodgy stereotypes need to be broken. Picnics are great for this. It makes for the “family-feel”…and affection.

3. A leisurely afternoon together affirms the need for rest and re-creation. “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place and rest a while,” Jesus said to the weary twelve (Mark 6:31). We are not God. And he invented the Sabbath to remind us of that. It is theologically appropriate that now and then lawn chairs replace church pews.

4. “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much” (Matthew 25:21). The little that the Sunday School has to put on a picnic it uses well. We will ride buses not a hundred cars.

So bring your duds (or wear them to church) and let’s spend the afternoon with each other and with God under the greatest vaulted dome ever made.

Eager to be with you,

Pastor John

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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org