I received the following great question from a friend this week: Can we be too busy doing things for God? This article was written as a response to this question.
My Story of Being Too Busy Doing Things for God
As I’ve shared in one of my other articles, when Amy and I first got married, we joined a new church plant in Marion, Ohio. A few weeks later, I received an unbelievable invitation to join the church’s worship band as a singer. I couldn’t believe it! I had always wanted to sing in a church band, but hadn’t had the opportunity. So of course, what do you think I did? I accepted the invitation. And before I knew it, I was regularly leading the singing on Sunday mornings.
After seeing the way I stepped into this leadership role, the elder team of the church asked me if I’d consider becoming an elder. I turned them down the first time, but after they continued begging me to join, I finally decided to accept the invitation to become the elder responsible for developing leaders in the church. Just for the record, I had absolutely no idea how to do that.
Later that year, the treasurer of the church stepped down. Knowing my love for finances, the elders asked me if I’d step into the role of co-Finance Chair and fill the treasurer role temporarily while they searched for a new treasurer. I jumped right in to these new roles and straightened out the finances which had become nothing short of a huge mess. They apparently like my work so much that they kept me on as the full-time treasurer.
Shortly thereafter, the elder team made the decision to plant another campus of our church in Findlay where Amy and I had recently moved. Since we were already in Findlay, I became a big part of the church-planting team, spending lots of time looking at buildings, fixing up the building we selected, and developing ministry team manuals to create consistency across both campuses.
While all of this was going on, our church was in the process of working with a small congregation in the Wapakoneta area to transition them into another campus and I was also a part of that process.
In the midst of doing all this work, I decided that I was probably trying to bite off more than I could chew. So I made the decision to quit my full-time engineering job at Marathon Petroleum in order to dedicate all of my time to our church as the Executive Pastor. I only took a small salary from the church because I didn’t want to be a drain on the already strapped church finances.
Shortly after beginning to work full-time at our church, our Senior Pastor resigned and I stepped up to become the interim pastor while we searched for a new Senior Pastor. I did what I knew to do: I pulled up my boot straps and just kept trying to get ‘er done. I worked non-stop for the next few months trying to do everything I could to hold the congregation together.
But slowly over time, discouragement set in for everyone. Our congregation continued to dwindle. Our volunteers got worn out and burnt out causing them to not only quit, but leave the church altogether. And mentally, I was a wreck. The new Senior Pastor couldn’t come fast enough.
That’s not the way it’s supposed to work. When we do lots of work for God, we’re not supposed to feel exhausted. Or at least that’s what people tell us. We’re supposed to feel refreshed and energized by doing work for God. We’re supposed to be blessed if we do lots of work for God. But I wasn’t feeling it. I left my engineering job to devote every hour of every day to doing work “for God,” yet I was more burnt out than I’ve ever been in my life.
As I was nearing the end of my time in my interim pastor role, I picked up a book called Fail by J. R. Briggs. I was shocked to find that I wasn’t the only church leader feeling this way. I discovered that church leaders all over the country felt the way I did. Many church leaders have dedicated their entire lives to “doing things for God,” yet they are burnt out and worn out.
What Does It Look Like to Serve God?
We aren’t called to get busy doing things for God. Certainly we are called to serve God, but there’s a difference between the biblical mindset and the American church mindset of serving God.
On the whole, in the church, we define serving God as doing things for the church. For example, many churched people believe that when they greet people on Sunday mornings, teach Sunday school, count the offering, clean up the church building, or lead a small group, they are serving God. Those actions, by themselves, are not enough to determine whether someone is serving God. People could be serving God and their service may be manifested in those actions, but people could also be serving themselves and their service may be manifested in those actions.
The biblical mindset is significantly different. First, the biblical mindset shows us that our actions by themselves don’t determine whether we are serving God; the condition of our hearts determines whether we are serving God. The focus of biblical servitude is on whether we are submitted to God. Is God on the throne of our hearts? Do we love him more than we love anyone or anything else? Do we trust him to satisfy our longing hearts?
If we are submitted to God, then we won’t be able to do anything except serve him. If I was living in submission to money (trusting money to satisfy me), then I would naturally live out this submission. I’d take a job which paid me a lot of money. Once I got some money, I’d be stingy with it. I’d learn how to be a good investor so that I could make more money with the money I’d stockpiled in the bank. That’s what submission naturally does. I wouldn’t feel any obligation or duty to do all those things; I would do them because of being submitted to money.
Living in submission to God works the same way. If we are truly living in submission to God, we won’t feel a sense of duty or obligation to serve God. Instead, we’ll do it out of great joy. We serve God because we want to serve him.
What Does It Look Like To Serve God?
When we think of serving God, most often a picture comes to mind like the ones I mentioned above such as greeting people on Sunday mornings, counting the offering, teaching children in Sunday school, leading a small group, or becoming a pastor. Other times, we think of serving God as giving food and clothes to homeless people, building homes with Habitat for Humanity, or caring for sick and/or disabled people.
In the Bible, we’re told that serving God is synonymous with worshiping God. Forget the organs, hymnals, guitars, drums, and projector screens for a minute. Worshiping God is something we can do every single minute of every single day. Worship takes place when we joyfully obey God.
How do we obey God? By joyfully following his commands such as love him with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, love our neighbors as ourselves, pray for one another, encourage one another, teach one another, make disciples, remain faithful to our spouse, and the list could go on and on. There are hundreds of commands throughout the Bible. And if we are truly living in submission to God, then we will want to joyfully obey those commands.
With this in mind, do we have to “go to church” to serve God? Not at all. We don’t even have to step foot in a church building in order to live in submission to God. We can live in submission to God 24-7-365 no matter where we are because he’s omnipresent. That’s not to say that God can’t be served by going to a church building to attend a church service; all I’m saying is that we can serve him in so many more ways than that.
So, can we be too busy doing things for God? Yes, we can. That’s the spot where I found myself and it’s the spot a lot of dedicated Christians are finding themselves. If this is you, don’t buy into the lie that you have to do a bunch of things for God in order to please him. God is not pleased with your overly-committed schedule, even though your schedule is full of things you’re doing for him.
 J. R. Briggs, Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014). Another great resource is Michael Todd Wilson and Brad Hoffmann, Preventing Ministry Failure: A ShepherdCare Guide for Pastors, Ministers and Other Caregivers (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007). Both of these resources provide shocking statistics on church leader burnout and offer help for healing from burn out.
 The joyfully part is very important here. In Deuteronomy 28:45-47, Moses tells the people that they will be cursed not only if they don’t serve/obey God, but if they don’t serve/obey him with joyfulness and gladness of heart.
 Psalm 51:16-17.