10 Things To Know Before Serving In The Church

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I have attended church regularly for 12 years, 9 of which I have served actively in one role or another. Whether on worship team, set up, children’s church, or most recently youth ministry, I experienced some sort of burnout. I’m not alone in this feeling; in fact, a recent survey found that 33% of ministry volunteers experience burnout on some level, and those numbers skyrocket when looking at vocational ministry. While my pride and self-preservation is quick to kick in and point the finger at everyone else, time and time again I find that the responsibility is my own. Even if the situation was bad, 9 times out of 10, my response was worse. But there is hope! Here are a few things I’ve learned (or, more accurately, continue to learn) along the way.

10. Self-Care

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While you can delegate many things in your ministry, self-care isn’t one of them. No one else can maintain your relationship with God. Sure, some ministries may require more intentional self-care than others (setting up chairs on Sunday morning vs. leading a small group), both require a surprising amount of patience and strength from God.

9. Set Boundaries (And Keep Them)

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While it can feel wrong to say “no” within the context of serving in the church, this is actually a sign of really healthy leadership. Not only does having boundaries help people to avoid burnout, it also helps to curb pride. I don’t know about you, but I can have a Christ complex if left to my own devices. Far too easily I find myself thinking that I’m the only one who can fix this problem, or I’m the only one who understands and can speak into this situation. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s time to set up better boundaries!

8. Have Friends Outside Your Church

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Unhealthy churches are all-consuming. We joke about church ministry being a “country club,” or perhaps we shudder and think of it more as a “cult.” Obviously, neither one of these outcomes is what we hope or aim for. It is good and healthy to have friends who don’t go to your church. It is understandable that a lot of your close relationships will be within the community you serve in, but if a crisis happens in that community, or you find yourself stepping down for one reason or another, without outside relationships you’ll be completely isolated and more alone than ever.

7. Lead By Spirit, Not Flesh

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I always start out with the best intentions. Each new semester of youth ministry I know I’m in over my head. How am I supposed to show up every week and have the energy to laugh, cry, and pray with 40 middle school and high school students? It has to be God, and not me. But then after a few weeks, we get into the swing of things and I start to do things out of my own strength. And the thing is, it actually works! For a little while. And then I get overwhelmed and need to take a week off to catch my breath and refocus my priorities in ministry. Paul had a thing or two to say about this in Galatians 6 – “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life (vs 8).”

6. Find A Mentor

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If you’re feeling inadequate and overwhelmed, don’t quit just yet! Find someone who has been where you are and got through it by the power of God. Learn from them. Learn from their struggles and their triumphs. The Bible is full of examples of this kind of knowledge and relationship. Proverbs speaks of the wise main gaining understanding and a righteous man increasing his learning (9:9), Paul says to learn from him in Philippians 4:9, and we know that Timothy was indeed mentored under Paul. Even the picture of Jesus sending the Holy Spirit, His “helper” to us shows that it is good and wise to seek counsel from those who know more than we do.

5. Have A Team

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This goes a long way for setting boundaries – all too often I find I’ve put myself in the position to be the only person to know how to do a certain task. (So, in a way, my excuses from before weren’t technically inaccurate, but they were avoidable). Set yourself up for success! No matter how large or small a task is in your ministry, make sure you have a backup. This alleviates so much pressure week to week knowing that if for some reason you can’t show up, the show will go on.

4. Remeber Your Identity Is In Christ

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As a culture, the first question that gets asked in social settings is always, “What do you do?” So within the church setting, it becomes, “Where do you serve?” or, “How big is your ministry?” This is subtle but harmful. When we puff ourselves up because we happen to be in a season of success, it will destroy our view of ourselves when those numbers drop or the position changes. I also call this the “rock not sand” principle. (See Matthew 7:24-27).

3. Forgive

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This is so hard to type! Even now I’m reminded of times I was taken advantage of in ministry, as I’m sure you have your own horror stories to share. The longer we hold on to those hurts, the easier it is to blame everyone for hurting you. In psychology, this principle is called Behavioral Sript. Someone does something that reminds me of how I was hurt in the past, so I pick up the script right where I left it off last time and really escalate things. I’ve already played out in my head how things are going to go, so I’ll skip to the end of the script and just walk out! Forgiveness is the only way to break the cycle.

2. Practice Discernment

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Jesus gave this instruction to his disciples when He sent them out to do ministry, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16). Even within the church, there is a deep level of brokenness and many wolves in sheep’s clothing. I remember a time my husband and I had to speak up about a situation we witnessed with a leader and things did not end well. Ultimately, I’m glad we said something. It spoke volumes of how the leadership of a church can handle a situation when given the opportunity.

1. Don’t Be Ashamed To Talk To A Counselor

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Remember in the introductory paragraph I said that 33% of Christians experience burnout, and the number skyrockets once you look at those in full-time ministry? Those numbers are scary. 80% of those in full-time ministry feel like it negatively affects their families. 75% say they have severe stress, anger, depression, and isolation. 70% of pastors don’t have close friends! The list goes on and on. There is no shame in seeking professional, Godly help in these areas. Don’t lose hope! Take time off if you need to. Pray for your pastors and full-time ministry workers, as well as those who volunteer regularly.

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Hailing from the great state of Iowa, Jess currently lives on the eastside of Seattle where she loves to write, crochet, upcycle, redecorate her tiny apartment and play with her cat. Oh, and her husband lives there too.
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