Riverlawn Blog

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Serving on Empty


If you’ve been involved in church for very long, chances are you’ve been asked to volunteer. And if you agreed, there’s an even greater possibility you’ve found yourself becoming tired, disillusioned with the idea of serving others, or worse, on the verge of experiencing complete burnout.

My wife and I were very familiar with the scenario. Doing too many things. For far too long. To the point we started dreaded going to church. Unfortunately, it’s all too common for those serving within church ministry to experience this frustration.

You’ve heard the justifications. “Who’s going to do it if I don’t?” “It’ll get better – I can stick it out for a while.” “We just don’t have enough workers.”

In discussing church burnout, Thom Rainer states that “in most established churches, about 90% of the ministry is done by one-third of the members (https://www.christianpost.com/news/5-causes-of-church-member-burnout-156557/). I don’t see it changing anytime soon, either – not until we can take an honest look at ourselves and the systems within the American church that allow for a large percentage to comfortably sit on the sidelines. For the record, that’s okay for a time.

Life is fluid, and what once worked for you may not always work. But the fact is, as followers of Christ we are all called to ministry in some fashion.

Maybe you’re actually wanting to serve but have had trouble getting plugged in or just haven’t been approached by Pastor Josh yet (watch out – the dude is relentless).

Whether you’re trying to find the best place to serve, are hoping to avoid overcommitment, or perhaps need to re-evaluate some things, here are a few steps you and I can take to have a more lasting, eternal impact.

1. Don’t wait for someone to ask. If you have a desire, find out what opportunities exist.

Often it takes a push from someone else to get you to step up. I would’ve never led a class on my own if a pastor years ago hadn’t asked me to do so. Believe me, they will ask. There’s always a need. But instead of someone approaching you, take the initiative and ask where you might be able to utilize your God-given abilities. And please don’t think ministry has to take place only inside the church walls. In this increasingly post-Christian environment, I believe more than ever that we need to step out of our holy huddles and into the middle of the messiness.

2. If you’re volunteering somewhere and it’s not a good fit, talk it out.

Instead of becoming disengaged, get to the heart of the issue. Dialogue with God. Have some conversations with a leader or another trustworthy source who will ask the tough questions. “Are you worn out or is it truly not working?” “Is this for God or for you?” Check your motives. Take a Strengthsfinder test. Ask friends and family what they think might be more suitable. Remember, there’s always an on ramp AND an off ramp at Riverlawn.

3. Learn how to say “no”.

Just because there’s a need doesn’t mean you have to be the one to fill it. We all have unique natural gifts and spiritual gifts (Eph 4:11-12). At times we need to step in simply because the work needs to be done, but God wired us to flourish using the skills and abilities He’s specifically given us. Saying “yes” to everything might feel helpful, but it will likely have the opposite effect. Practice saying “no” and you’ll be able to better serve Christ and others in the things you say “yes” to.

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