When Church is Exhausting, You're Doing it Wrong
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” Matthew 11:28-30.
Both Marys and Marthas abound in the church, and there is often tension between them. Sometimes this tension is expressed by exhausted Marthas spouting off the 80/20 rule: twenty percent of the people are doing eighty percent of the work. As a pastor, Martha-like curriculums often bombard me with promises to help eliminate apathy in the pews or motivate my people for more service. Much of this type of teaching comes down to guilt-tripping people until they feel forced to do more, serve more, be better. In turn, I too am guilt-tripped about not getting my people to jump on to the latest craze, join a short-term mission trip, or something to that effect.
Essential to any of this Martha-reasoning is the most malice of acts, the thievery of what we all need: Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of sins and rest for a weary soul in place of works of all sorts. What is ignored in all this material is that everyone in the body of Christ has been gifted with their own gifts, their own place, and their own function. Not everyone can be a hand or a mouth. When those who are serving joyfully and willingly are instead encouraged to complain that they are carrying the load for the rest of the body, all hope is lost. The Law replaces the Gospel. The service loses both joy and utility. Church is no longer restful but becomes drudgery, and soon, people leave. This sort of thing is precisely what breaks people.
I love my twenty percenters. At the congregations I’ve been blessed to serve, it’s these people who take real joy in attending to the business of the church. They occupy a place on the church council. They are the elders I can ask any questions I might have about the history of the congregation, the trustees I know will be there in less than an hour with a crane and bulldozer if that’s what is needed. The twenty percenters are the ladies in the congregation who will remind me that so and so hasn’t been to church in a while, and do I know why? They are the volunteer secretaries, administrators, newsletter-makers and leaders by which a church functions healthily. If I did not have these people, I would not be able to minister to the other eighty percent.
Perhaps it sounds good on paper to have a hundred percent of the congregation doing the work that those twenty percenters are doing. I suspect it would be about as effective as those man-hour models I used to find working against productivity as a Civil Engineer in the Air Force. It seemed someone, somewhere figured that if it took one man an hour to dig a hole, it would take two men a half an hour, and four men fifteen minutes. The reality is that it would take four men four hours to dig the same hole one man could dig in an hour. The other three men might have been better off doing something else completely. But sometimes those eighty percenters are doing work the twenty percenters just do not see, and it is just as important as the work they are doing.
I love my eighty percenters too. It brings me so much joy to see them show up at church on Sunday morning and find the rest their souls need. I suspect there will come a day when those eighty percent will be the people replacing the twenty percent. Right now, they are busy trying to hold their lives together. They scrape by paycheck to paycheck. They struggle to raise their children in the faith, some of them without the help of a spouse. Maybe they see the work that the others are doing at the church and wish they could join in with that sort of thing, but it’s impossible right now. Yet what they are doing at home and in their personal lives is every bit as important as serving on the council. Their time will come. Everyone serves in their own way, some of it hidden from our eyes and some of it visible.
But Jesus did not come to exhaust the weary and overload the already heavy laden. He came to provide rest for weary souls through His Gospel. And as it is poured into their hearts every Sunday so is the love of Christ. The Gospel is preached so that whatever task we do for our neighbors and Christ, we do not as another burdensome chore, but as a joy that we might all rejoice to see each other on Sunday morning and receive the grace of God together.