The Dangers of Giving Your Life to Ministry

The time and energy ministry takes can infect your family, friends, and, to be honest, just about every aspect of your life. You can burn out, get angry and resentful, and walk away from the faith that originally spurred you into ministry.

Giving your life to ministry, whether it’s paid or unpaid, church or mission, home or overseas, is full of contradictions. You give your life to ministry and feel like you lose control. You agree to be set apart, then feel isolated. You’re overwhelmed, yet claim to trust a sovereign God. So, which is it? Are you willing to give your life to ministry, or do you want to hang onto your life? Whether you’re about to take the leap or you’ve served most of your lifetime, take a moment for a heart check.

Living in a Bubble

When you commit to ministry, you develop a routine. It doesn’t seem like a routine much of the time, because the demands are different every day. You’re constantly being interrupted and inconvenienced, but after all, isn’t that what being available to serve involves?

Throughout the variety of day-to-day changes are trends of consistency. You find yourself increasingly involved in some things and less committed to others. You gravitate toward . . . people in need, people outside the church, other people in ministry; it differs for each of us because of our calling, passions, and needs, but as you say “yes” to some people and tasks and “no” to others, you inflate a bubble.

Saying “yes” and “no” are good things, but we can easily let our habits determine our decisions instead of our discernment of God’s will. Just because God led you to serve in a specific area or reach out to certain people does not mean he wants you to take up permanent residence there. He might tell you to stay there for a long time, perhaps even a lifetime, but you need to check in with him on a consistent basis in order to know for sure.

Just because something is comfortable and familiar doesn’t mean it’s God’s will for you in this season. Just because something is difficult and challenging doesn’t mean it’s God’s will, either. The only way to know God’s will is to . . . ask God.

When you put yourself in a bubble, you’re not just keeping some things in and other things out. You’re keeping God in (or out) of the bubble, too. If you feel he’s close to you, so he must be in the bubble, you might fail to see him working in areas outside the bubble. That’s a problem, because you lose a kingdom perspective. If you feel God is distant and disinterested in what you’re doing, well, that’s a problem too. God is personally invested. Always. You are not the exception to his character.

Putting yourself in a bubble is a control issue, which is exactly why it is a danger of ministry. Giving your life to ministry is about giving up control. Yes, God still gives you choices every step along the way, but choices and control are two very different things. Control might give you a sense of security, which might feel better than vulnerability, but that’s exactly why God wants you to give him—control. He’s the only one who can give true security. Vulnerability isn’t a bad thing in your relationship with him. It makes you more sensitive so you can see his perspective more clearly and anticipate what he can and will do when he uses you for his kingdom work.

Overspiritualizing Everything

When you’re in ministry, everything seems to have purpose. You find lessons in everything. Whether it’s an encounter in the fast-food drive-through or car problems on vacation, you find examples and applications. And you usually can’t keep it to yourself. It’s not like you’re preaching to everyone; at least, you don’t see it that way. You’re just observant, and you want to share.

Why wouldn’t everyone around you want to hear your insights? Isn’t that one of the reasons you’re in ministry, to share?

Well, yes, but not everyone is exactly where you are. Not everyone has your background or education. They don’t share your passion or needs. God pours into you, encouraging and challenging you in everyday situations, but that doesn’t mean the lessons he has for you are the best fit and timing for everyone around you.

Thinking you must teach, share, and apply everything is another attempt at control. The goal isn’t to make mini versions of you. God isn’t trying to replicate you. People are created in his image, not yours. The flow of lessons doesn’t go from him through you to others all the time. Pay attention to what he’s teaching you, and realize, many times, those lessons will flow from him through others to you.

That’s not to say he doesn’t want you to share, but he doesn’t want you to decide what is right and wrong for everyone. He has justice figured out. He knows where he placed lines of morality, and he knows the battle lines you are to stay within and the ones you are to cross.

We can get so caught up in managing ministry that we become as legalistic as the Pharisees. We take up a mantra similar to a popular reality show, and assume the authority to proclaim: “You’re either in or you’re out.”

If we encounter people lining up with God’s Word (or our interpretation of it), we affirm them with a high five. If not, we drag them (sometimes kicking and screaming) into God’s Word to make sure they see what we are confident they must accept at that very moment.

We’re not in charge of the “yes” and “no” of other people’s choices. We don’t even know the critical timing of the choices God is giving them. But we certainly have choices of our own. We have the choice to listen to him. And it’s only when we choose to listen that we can know when to stand up, sit down, speak up, and shut up.

Is It Worth the Cost?

Jesus taught on the importance of counting the costs of giving our lives to him (Luke 14:25-35). So, how much is too much? How do we know when we need to pull back and give less?

Perhaps that’s not the issue at all. Maybe we’re already giving less, and it’s time to give more. Not more time, effort, organization, resources, or teaching. We can’t imagine giving anything else, because we’re spent. But maybe we’ve used those things we can count and manage as a crutch. Maybe we haven’t fully given what’s most important: ourselves—our pride, preference, comfort, control, understanding, agenda, and goals.

What are you hanging onto? When you identify it, you will find the most dangerous part of ministry for you. It’s what is holding you back. It’s the stumbling block. When you give it some thought, giving your life to ministry might be the very thing holding you back.

Jesus doesn’t ask you to give your life to ministry. He asks you to give your life to him. Ministry simply comes out of the life you live for him. When you give up your life—and any delusion that you are in control—you start living.

“Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it” (Luke 17:33).

Originally published at

Walls of Legalism

indexTo work or not to work on a Sunday?

That was the question.

School was going to start soon, but the new gym floor was not yet finished. The team of workers had been delayed and wouldn’t be able to begin work until Saturday. Could they work on Sunday?

Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.

The answer seemed easy enough, but a group of leaders took a deep breath, and asked, “How can we honor God with our response?”

You see, this group of workers would likely not be near a church if we didn’t open our doors to them. Under our roof, they would be prayed for and (presumably) closer to God’s presence than in their hotel rooms. Our legalism would build a wall and close a door to our opportunity to build a relationship and open a possibility. Our legalism–the same legalism that we’d set aside when we went out for lunch after church and expect others to work and serve us.

Instead, we would serve the workers. A small group of us would prepare a meal and eat with them.

It was a little awkward. They didn’t seem quite comfortable. Who were these church people that wanted to give them a break from the work they were being paid to finish, give them a hot meal, and talk with them? They scurried back to their work after being reminded they were welcome to the leftovers, including tea and coffee we’d leave out for them.

Who knows what an impact, if any, it had on the men’s lives?

God does.

Keeping God’s day holy doesn’t always look like what we presume it should look like.


Ideas for Service


We sometimes get into a service rut. For some, serving in the same way for a long time isn’t a rut at all; when our passion, giftedness, and opportunity collide, we might find a sweet spot to remain in for quite a long time. Others want to explore ways to serve but might not see the opportunities right in front of them. Perhaps one of the following ideas will light a spark that gets you started in a fresh direction.

  • Put together foster care packages. Children in foster care don’t have a lot of things they carry from place to place. Put together age-appropriate bags to ease their transitions. Also, consider the parents, who will be facing many uncertainties and challenges. Put together care packages for encouragement.
  • Plan a block party. Host a block party for people living in a housing project. Provide food and simple outdoor games. Get to know each other. Bridge gaps.
  • Invest in teen moms. Gather diapers, offer to babysit, or host a picnic in the park to get to know each other. Teen moms have a lot on their plates, while often feeling lonely and ostracized. Make connections so they know they can reach out to others.
  • Schedule a weekly coffee date. Invite someone different each week to get to know more people, or focus on one or a small group. Keep the time inked on your calendar. If someone cancels, visit the coffee shop anyway. As you develop a routine, you’ll begin to connect with and invest in a variety of people.
  • Host a dinner. Invite someone to dinner who can’t return the favor. If they insist, challenge them to pass along the hospitality.
  • Collect gift cards. Do you know a family spending a lot of time at the hospital, dealing with daily medical treatments, or traveling out of town for a family funeral? Collect gift cards for restaurants and stores you know will be convenient for them to use.
  • Share your quarters. Send a roll of quarters to a college student. Quarters fit perfectly in plastic M&M tubes if you want a creative way to store and send the quarters. Movie, pizza, and coffee shop gift cards are always welcome, too.
  • Clean up the neighborhood. Pick up trash, shovel snow, or rake leaves. Gather a group of people for maximum clean up and fun, or choose a neighbor and entire block to take care of throughout the year.

What other ideas do you have?

Giveaway: You Don’t Have to Be a Superhero to Change the World

UTF-8'en-us'9781470723637Welcome to Day Two of three consecutive days of giveaways. In the past week, I’ve celebrated the release of three books to which I’ve had the honor of contributing. Today’s giveaway is a copy of You Don’t Have to Be a Superhero to Change the World: 52 Devotions for People Who Are Making a Difference. I hope today’s excerpt encourages and challenges you. If you’d like to read more (or give this book as a gift), simply leave a comment on the blog or Facebook. I’ll contact the winners at the end of the week. Remember to check back tomorrow for one more giveaway!

Hot Service

“And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”—Acts 20:35

We put on our “Church Ladies” shirts, loaded the van with bottled water, and headed out to serve. It was a scorching summer day, exactly the kind of day we wanted. We knew there were plenty of people who didn’t have the option to get out of the heat, and if we could help by giving them a refreshing drink and a smile, we were going to do it.

We started in our small town and immediately found two men replacing some tile on a walkway. They wondered why we were out on such a hot day just to hand out water, but once we explained, they welcomed the short break…and even invited us to finish their job and let them deliver water instead!

After sharing water with others working outdoor jobs throughout our town, we decided to take the rest of the water to a nearby city, knowing we’d find more people to serve. We started in a low-income housing project where most everyone was sitting outside trying to escape the rising indoor heat without air conditioning. We made sure to ask parents before sharing with children and gave extra bottles to those willing to deliver to family members who were inside. While some might have warned we weren’t in a safe neighborhood, we were confident we were safe. We had peace as we gave and blessings as we received, hearing “God bless you!” many times. One man blessed us by flagging us down to tell us we were on a one-way street. Oops.

We continued through other areas of the city, watching for anyone sitting or working outside. We had a fun conversation with two boys on bikes who were intrigued by our efforts to help others. It was simple: We just wanted others to know God provides and refreshes. We shared refreshing sips of water with people, but we were soaked in God’s refreshment as we served.

A Prayer for Today: Dear God, thank you for refreshing me. You give me what I need, because you know what I need. I’m sorry I try to define my own needs and get impatient with my circumstances. I get frustrated instead of relying on you. Help me to take my eyes off myself and notice those around me. Give me the courage to serve them in whatever way you lead. Amen.

Excerpted from You Don’t Have to Be a Superhero to Change the World. Copyright © 2015 Group Publishing, Inc.


Full Dumpster…Emptied

As we served in Israel, we had plenty of stuff to cram into the dumpster. We cleaned the grounds of trash. We trimmed plants. We swept, cleaned, and raked. We threw bag after bag into the dumpster. By the third day, we couldn’t close the lids of the large dumpster. “No problem,” school staff said. “We’ll called for pick-up.”

Thirty minutes later…


“What? All you have to do is call, and the trash truck comes? That’s not how it works where we live!”

But that’s how God works. No matter if you are overflowing with trash, or partially full, you can trust God to pick it up…in an instant.

When we returned to the empty dumpster to throw in more bags of trash, we smelled the stench of the remnant of the messiest trash that had been steeping on the bottom for who knows how long. There were bugs crawling all over the goop. Maybe we should have called sooner. If we wait until our trash is too full, it stinks and attracts all kinds of unwanted creatures.

God cleans us up well, over and over, but we have to call Him. We have to trust Him.

Surely You desire integrity in the inner self,
and You teach me wisdom deep within.
Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones You have crushed rejoice.
Turn Your face away from my sins
and blot out all my guilt.

God, create a clean heart for me
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Psalm 51:6-10

With the Expert’s Trust

We went on a tour of the school where we served in Israel. Near the end of the tour, we walked down a basement hallway with a mural that was barely started. Most the length of the wall was filled with black lines, marking our paint areas. Later, we met the artist…and he was a bonafide artist. We thought he was simply a man who was capable of drawing good murals for kids. The last day we served, we found out he was a professional artist. We visited a website of his creations and were in awe…

…especially when we realized he trusted us enough to paint his creations.


Sure, we were basically doing paint-by-numbers without the numbers. When we finished one job, he would grab a cup from his cart, pour in some base paint, then add a little of this color and a little of that to create just the shade he wanted. He’d point and say, “Here. Here. And here.” in his thick Russian accent to instruct us exactly where to paint, then walk away to help someone else. Every now and then, we’d catch him looking over our shoulders. We’d ask, “Okay?” He’d nod and smile and say, “Yes. Yes. Okay. Okay.” I wondered if he really meant it at times. He seemed to chuckle a little as he reassured us. But his affirmation encouraged us to continue to do our best. We were creating murals for the children and school staff, but we wanted to please the artist, too. It was his vision, and we wanted to bring it to life.

Being trusted by an expert is flattering, but it also comes with responsibility.

It reminds me of my relationship with God. I am flabbergasted by His love, mercy, and generosity. I find the responsibility of faith daunting and honoring. I get to participate in God’s plan. He creates the guidelines. He mixes the colors and gives me instructions, then He lets me respond. He’s never too far away. Sometimes I feel His closeness; sometimes I don’t, but I know He is always invested in my life. He created it. He corrects and encourages me. I may fill in just a little space of color, but there are people all around me who are adding their color. I may not be able to conceptualize the big picture, but I’m glad God can.

And I’m glad He invites me to be a part of His world, His creation, His plan.

Recipient vs. Participant

How well do we provide for others?

For those who “do” ministry, we can struggle from time to time with this one. We want people to get involved, to participate, but there are so many who seem to be content to receive. We want to be generous. We want to be loving. We want to be giving. But, really? Can’t people step up and take responsibility?

Well, yes, they can. It’s not a simple if/then equation, but we need to consider what we’re doing that fosters people to receive instead of participate.

helpIt’s not just about church attendance. In fact, lets widen the circle for a moment and consider how well we serve people in need. I’m not talking about our numbers or programs, the how much and what of our service. What about the how well?

I have had this conversation multiple times at ministry events, especially among churches and organizations who are especially known for their focus on identifying and meeting needs in both short-term crises and ongoing support. But what are we supporting? Are we simply providing without equipping? Are we giving stuff and time but taking away something even more important, like dignity?

Let’s get a bit more personal. When you give away clothes or furniture because someone needs it, what is your attitude? Do you give away your best? Do you engage the person? Do you listen to their story? Do you insist on receiving nothing in return even when they really want to give something to you? Do you follow up? Do you care? Do you invest?

We like to solve problems, so if we have something or can buy something someone needs, we feel good about our generosity. We’re helping, and who doesn’t get warm fuzzies by helping others? But are we sure our giving is the best option? Have we even explored the options? Do we know the situation well enough to explore the options?

Let’s broaden the circle even wider. When we become aware of a need in another country, we often begin collecting what we think will solve the problem. We often avoid thinking about how our solutions might create more problems. For example, clean water. We want everyone to have it, right? Let’s pay for and install water pumps in every village so people have access to clean water. Sounds great, right? What if no one local is trained to fix the water pump? What if parts are not easily, affordably available? Are there other, better, longer-lasting options?

What if we donate all kinds of things because we have easy access to them, but in the process, we eliminate someone’s only way to make money in that community? For example, when we send cases of new shoes, what happens to the man who has repaired every person’s shoes for decades? I’m not saying we shouldn’t donate and provide, but I think it’s important to think through the how well of our service.

We accomplish something when we give and someone receives. But what if we focus on developing participants instead of recipients? What if we give dignity, ownership, and responsibility with our service? After all, it’s not really about us. If we care that much to invest in others, we need to make sure our how well is our best for God.