Serving more won’t make you more “Christian”

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One of our church’s values is “working for Christ”—that is, the expectation is that if you’re a Christian, and you call our church home, you’ll be actively involved in the work of ministry, be it serving with children or as a greeter, being part of the praise team, leading a small group, or any other number of things necessary for pulling off our worship gatherings and seeing ministry happen throughout the week.

This is a good thing, obviously. I love that we are encouraging all people to participate fully. But there’s also this weird truism within churches, which is the 80/20 rule: that 80 percent of the work is being done by 20 percent of the people. Honestly, I don’t know how true that is at my church or yours, but I have seen it happen. I know because I’m one of the guys who usually ends up taking on probably a bit more than I should if I’m not being careful. Learning how to say no is a constant struggle for me, and I know I’m not alone. And sometimes I wonder if the reason the 80 aren’t (apparently) serving is because the 20 are doing everything… and feeling bitter toward their fellow believers and robbing themselves of joy in the process.

But we should not see service as a begrudging duty, anymore than we should refer to fellow believers as “spectators.” Doing so creates nothing but barriers and division. And there’s only one way to fix it: remembering that our sacrifice doesn’t make us more Christianer. Consider Ray Ortlund writes in Supernatural Living for Natural People:

Too many professing Christians think that God’s grace legitimates graded levels of commitment. His grace certainly does allow for failure, struggle and growth. But we do not understand God’s grace if we are asking questions like, ‘What’s the minimum I have to do to stay at my level of commitment? How can I maintain?’ The spiritual mind does not think that way. Authentic Christianity is not increasing levels of commitment grudgingly given to God; it is surrender to Jesus out of a sense of privilege in having him.

So do not measure your own Christian growth in terms of levels of commitment and sacrifice. That can look good, but it can also allow unspiritual values to dominate your soul. I give God only as much as I want, according to my level of commitment. I may give a lot, in my view. But underneath it all can lurk a hostility toward God that refuses to trust his goodness and desire his worth so much that I lose all to gain Christ. Romans 8:6 is telling us that there is no sacrifice in the spiritual mentality, but only life and peace.

Burned out servant, these are words you and I should take seriously. Serving is good, and you should serve to your fullest, absolutely. But you don’t have to meet every need. You are not valued by God based on how much you do. That way only leads to bitterness toward your church and hostility toward God. Serve where God has gifted you and given you passion, and be okay with saying no to the things that you only would do begrudgingly. You may find you have more joy and peace—and those who aren’t currently serving may have more opportunities to do so.

Posted by Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of several books for adults and children, as well as multiple documentaries and Bible studies. His latest book, I'm a Christian—Now What?: A Guide to Your New Life with Christ is available now.