By Kristine Brown, Crosswalk.com
My best friend at church warned me about trying to do too much. She could see exhaustion taking its toll and knew I was the kind of girl who would press on, even at the expense of my own health.
We’d planted a local church months before and still hadn’t found someone to lead the children’s ministry. The number of kids grew rapidly, but the number of volunteers dwindled. As the pastor’s wife, I had other responsibilities. But I couldn’t overlook the need for someone to step in and fill that role. Besides, I taught school full time. I had the skills and the heart to do this. So I kept the kids’ ministry going, all while my mind and body felt more depleted each week. Was it time for me to take a break? Is that even possible for a leader in the church?
“Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.” (Romans 12:4-5)
I’ve always loved the apostle Paul’s teachings about all believers being part of one body. When I first felt called to serve in church, I had no clue how to begin. Reading Paul’s words encouraged me to find ways to help, according to the unique gifts God gave me. I learned that no matter where we serve, each part is important to Kingdom work. No one part is more valuable than the others.
Before long, my eagerness to serve turned into a skewed view of what a “servant’s heart” should look like in real life. “Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically” (Romans 12:11) became a mantra I lived by. Overcommitment soon followed. I needed to find balance and know in my heart that I wasn’t disappointing God in the process.
By the time I reached my tipping point, I knew my answer. Yes, it was time I took a break from serving in the church. But that answer will not be the same for everyone. If you find yourself burnt out on serving, please know this from a friend who understands. I could never tell someone else whether or not to take a break from serving. This decision is deeply personal. It calls for time, prayer, and possibly wise counsel, too.
However, I can offer encouragement as a go-getter who struggled with the whole idea of taking a break. There are a few questions that could’ve helped me avoid getting to that critical point of overload. As we look at each one, I pray these thoughts will help guide you to the right choice.
Have I Filled My Time, Heart, or Mind Beyond My Capacity?
I can flip open my daily planner and easily tell if I have time in my day to add something new. When I see a blank space waiting to be filled, my mind sees “availability.” Until I’d lived with every space filled, I didn’t see the beauty of intentionally leaving some spaces blank.
When stepping out to serve the Lord, we don’t usually give much thought to our mental or emotional capacity. We may have a free hour or two in the week, but how might this new role affect us? And if I feel called to help in that ministry, will I have the bandwidth left for other areas of my life?
We can be passionate about living for Jesus, showing hospitality, and giving to people in need. Ministry can also move us to tears as we see deep hurts in those around us. God shows us ways to help, but without realizing it, we may also pick up the weight of responsibility for it all.
Many times I agonized over needs so close to home that I wore myself out emotionally as well as physically. That led to ending each day feeling completely drained. Serving can be tiring and inspiring—all at the same time. So we must remember, God doesn’t ask us to wear ourselves out, leaving nothing for our spouses, families, or Him.
Jesus gave us an irreplaceable gift by offering to lift our burdens when he said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Leaving blank space for sweet rest can help us guard against the overload that leads to needing to take a break altogether.
Does My Serving Fit Well in This Season of My Life?
Wednesday nights became something to dread rather than the fun I had once looked forward to. After a full day teaching 7th graders, I ran my little car around town and scooped up kids who needed a ride to church. A small group of us fed them in the fellowship area, cleaned up after, then held mid-week classes. By the time I got home, I’d be crying. Not tears of happiness or gratitude, but tears from exhaustion.
It seemed natural for me to teach the kids’ classes at church. I love kids, enjoy my time with them, and feel called to teach them. But with a school-age son at home and a career working with children all day, it may not have been the best time to serve kids at church, too.
A mom with a toddler may need to have time in adult service rather than serve in the nursery. Caring for an aging parent could mean stepping away from teaching a class and instead helping with online tasks. Maybe a change like leading a prayer group would have breathed life into ministry work at a time when I needed more of God and grown-ups. It’s not selfish to ask, “Does my serving fit in my season of life?” A shift to another ministry area may be just the thing to revive a weary spirit.
Am I Aligned with God’s Will?
God wants his children to serve each other. 1 Peter 4:10b says, “Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everythig you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.”
We hope that what we do shines a light on Jesus, not ourselves. We also hope people will see Jesus in us as we reach out and help. One way to avoid having to take a break from serving is to make sure we’re serving for the right reasons. God’s reasons, not our own.
I’ve been known to add more jobs because I think I need to take up the slack for others. I’d rather wear myself out than see a ministry canceled because no one volunteered. In the process, I get frustrated with what others are not doing, which affects my attitude. That’s when I know it’s time to pray and ask God to search my heart.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (Psalms 139:23-24). Frustration is an ugly foe that affects our desire to serve God. Frustration says, “I’m done.” It gets in the way of God’s plan. So we need to guard against frustration when deciding if we need to press pause on serving.
A wise friend and mentor once advised me to decide on a time limit for breaks. When someone we both knew wanted to step away from a leadership position, my friend said, “Okay, let’s decide on a reasonable amount of time. How does 3 months sound to you?” The enemy wants to see us pull away and stop using our gifts to serve the church. Having a limit in place is one way to guard against that while we rest.
In Paul’s teaching about being a living sacrifice, he reminds us of the power of prayer. Prayer is our greatest resource when times get difficult. “Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.” Let’s keep this verse front and center today. God sees your weariness and hears your dilemma over whether it’s time you took a break. Whichever way we go, in God’s comforting presence we will find truth, rest, and renewed fervor for serving.
Photo Credit: ©Getty/deviousrlm
For more spiritual growth resources, check out the 5-day email study Walking with Rahab by today’s devotion writer, Kristine Brown. You’ll find weekly encouragement to help you “become more than yourself through God’s Word” at her website, kristinebrown.net. Kristine is the author of the book, Cinched: Living with Unwavering Trust in an Unfailing God, and the companion workbook.