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  Should You Go To Church To Serve Or Be Served?Tuesday, June 18th, 2024  
Ministry in Motion

Those of us who work in ministry know the dangers of burnout. When ministry is where your heart is it is easy to exhaust yourself while serving others. The danger is when we don't know when to back off. Should you go to church to be served? Is it wrong to take this attitude. Recently several acquaintances who are highly involved in church ministry shared their perspective.

Karen Wingate, who is married to a minister, understands the risks of over commitment. She share's her church's policy on serving.

"There is a verse in Deuteronomy that instructs newly married men to stay home with their wives for one year. Treading on thin ice in the addition to Scripture realm, I have expanded on this verse. Jack and I did nothing ministry related our first year of marriage. I've also taken that principle to heart in new ministries. I try not to commit myself to anything for at LEAST six months. Our church has a policy of not letting new members, even transfers do any teaching or serving on committees for one year - their reason? You need time to get to know us. That goes for the minister's wife too. You are just as new as any new member."

Marti Suddarth observed, "I believe you go to church for both reasons. If you don't have both, you'll have neither. You can't sustain one without the other."

There is a balance. Imagine the old fashioned scales. On one side is serving and on the other side is being served. If we focus too much on serving others it gets heavy on the serving side. If we back off too much then the self-serving side kicks in. At my former church following the spiritual gifts discovery classes we had ministry consultants meet with class graduates to help place them in ministry. Some people were already connected and had a nice manageable balance of duties. Others were doing as many as six of seven ministries, a sure indicator they were headed for burn out. Some were ready and willing to serve, and simply needed direction. And some were simply too busy. We'd try to schedule an appointment and they would call and cancel or not show up. After multiple cancellations we simply let them go. In many cases I think it was a case of misplaced priorities. So, how do we find this balance? I think it's a case of constantly taking a step back and looking at what we are involved in. If we are going at a frantic pace, then it's time to let some things go. If we don't take time to nourish ourselves we'll do no good in our ministry. Know when to say, "no."


I had an interesting conversation with a woman manager today. Ellen is a military officer who volunteers in the children's department (interesting combination I know.) She is interested in the Ministry Team we are forming and wants to use her managerial skills. While I was explaining the function of this particular team she made an interesting comment.

"I'm used to ordering people around. They have to obey, no questions asked. It's hard working with volunteers, because they're volunteers."

That, in a nutshell, is the challenge of working with volunteers. What do you do when a volunteer messes up? It's pretty hard to fire a volunteer since they aren't paid. Recently I went to a library used book sale and picked up an entire grocery bag of books for only $5.00. I felt like I'd won the lottery. Nearly every night I sit down with one of these books and find some new gem. Several of the following suggestions came from an old book entitled, "How to Sell Yourself to Others," by Elmer Wheeler. I've adapted and modified them to be more appropriate for church ministry.

When It's Necessary to Correct

1. Apologize for him or her. If you must call the mistake to the attention of someone else make the volunteer feel there was a good and understandable reason for doing that way. Here are some ways to help him/her save face.

"Anybody might have made the same error."

"I've made the same mistake myself."

"I should have explained that to you first."

2. Praise before criticizing. Follow the two to one rule. For every criticism you must make, make sure you say two positive things first. You'll be much better received. Author/speaker John Maxwell says he uses the sandwich method. Sandwich the criticism between praises. It softens the blow.

3. Leave them with a good taste. When you must correct someone, do it so it leaves him/her with ego intact. Do not play up the seriousness of the error. Make it appear as trifling as you can, say, "Everybody makes that type of mistake at one time or another."

4. Give people an incentive for doing things right the next time by using four important words. "I'm counting on you!"

I would add that sometimes you should just overlook the error. Recently a volunteer helped create a devotional guide for our stewardship campaign. She worked hard condensing some preprinted material down to a tiny devotional size. However, when she gave it to us for printing, we discovered that the pages were not laid out in print order. The graphic artist in me couldn't help but notice other inconsistencies in the format as well. The team co-leader and I went ahead and made revisions ourselves and we never mentioned it to Debbie. Interestingly enough, even after the campaign was over, several people wanted extra copies of this devotional to give to friends and family members. This proved to me that sometimes my perspective is distorted. I saw as flaming errors that were really only minor problems. Later when I saw Debbie I made sure to say thank you and I told her that the devotionals were in high demand. She seemed very pleased.

MINISTRY IN MOTION. Identifying spiritual gifts for ministry. Utilizing volunteers for maximum ministry impact. Recruiting, equipping, empowerment.

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