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When Service Gets in the Way

Some of the most exhausting seasons in my life happened to correspond with some of the most productive seasons.

But there’s a hidden cost in the long run. 


In the last 33 years of serving in the church, there have been seasons where I spent less and less time getting to know God because I was spending more and more time ministering in the name of God. It was depleting, exhausting, and in some days, frustrating. I was busy working for him but not working with him. I was trying to give away something that I was no longer growing in my own life. 


You could say that my service to God was getting in the way of my devotion to God. 


It’s a ministry paradox. The prophet Jeremiah wrote that when we do this, we abandon God and try to draw water from empty and broken wells. JEREMIAH 2:13   Not only that, it may actually damage our lives, making us bitter rather than better. And yet, if you served in any kind of season of intensity, you're probably shaking your head in agreement and wondering what to do next time you are confronted with this reality. 


I’ve found that I inevitably have to revisit two very simple approaches…and please note that it’s easier said than done: It’s all about rearranging my priorities and moving two to the top.


Priority #1: Commit to give God the first part of my calendar, resources, and energy. In the classic story of Mary and Martha, Mary prioritized her time with Jesus, who happened to be a guest that afternoon. The house was a bit sideways and messy and things needed to get done. So, Martha cleaned frantically while Mary chose to put the work aside and be with Jesus. 


Was Martha frustrated she was getting no help from her sister? Of course. Will you frustrate people in your life by saying “no” from time to time, even though there is a lot to do? You may frustrate, but the better and best version of you is on the other side of being first with Jesus and giving the rest of your busy self to others later. When we prioritize time with Jesus first, paradoxically there is more of us to go around later.


Priority #2: I cannot allow my service to God to be stumbling block for priority #1. I have to decide immediately that I won't let this happen. Think about it: we make time for our physical breakfast. We make time for coffee. Should not a full heart be as much of a priority as a full belly? The answer is a resounding “yes!”


I had to look at my calendar and make sure I scheduled time with God first. I needed to make sure I was scheduling in time to both hear from God (i.e. reading Scriptures, devotionals, being still, etc) and talking to him (i.e. prayer, journaling, etc). 


If I knew the better and best version of myself was on the other end of this investment, would it move me to prioritize my time with God more regularly?  


Plus, I could put the burden back on Jesus. He actually invites us to do it. I’m sure that I couldn’t say it better than him:


“Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”  MATTHEW 11:29-30



Paul Baldwin | The Elemental Group

Paul Baldwin is a coach/consultant with the Elemental Group and has been a pastor and leader for 30 years. He holds a degree in Sociology and Organizational Management and a masters in Education and Counseling from Cal Poly State University. Paul is the author of Devout in Doubt: Diving into Deeper Devotion about his challenge with cancer.


Every healthy organization is marked by four essential traits: Integrity, Passion, Servanthood, and Imagination. With a practitioner perspective, author Dave Workman offers common sense guidance and tools to maximize leadership. Filled with insight, humor, and reflective exercises, this is an indispensable exploration of these four universal values. Check out Elemental Leaders: Four Essentials Every Leader Needs...and Every Church Must Have.


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