When I was 16, I joined a youth committee because I believed I had the skills for it.
I was immature and knew nothing about service. I also joined other committees just because I thought it was fun (and my friends were there).
While there’s nothing wrong with serving alongside friends doing what you enjoy, I’m sure you’ll agree that my motivations for serving were rather questionable.
Having started with such a shaky foundation, I naturally fell into some pitfalls while serving over the years.
Pitfall 1: The comparison trap
If we’re not careful, serving can turn into a competition or a popularity contest.
When we start to compare who’s more popular or “devoted”, we either fall into pride, thinking that we’re super good, or insecurity by believing that we’re not good enough.
I was once trapped in this constant race to be the best. But God opened my eyes to see that we are not children building sandcastles, competing to see whose is the tallest and “most worthy of God’s approval”.
We are children of God, building the same kingdom with the same goal: that Christ be magnified in our lives and in the lives of those we shepherd and serve.
This is not a competition!
Whatever you do in ministry, I encourage you not to compare your service to others.
Remember that all glory belongs to God; it is He who establishes the work of our hands.
So, don’t be fuelled by pride or insecurity. Rather, let all we do stem from a love for God and for His people.
Pitfall 2: The commitment trap
Do you find yourself saying yes to every opportunity to serve in church? Or maybe you’re always refusing to serve.
Either option isn’t healthy.
When we serve our brothers and sisters in church, it is a mark of love. Moreover, servanthood pleases God because it is in His very character (Philippians 2:5-8).
You don’t need a title to begin serving because service doesn’t begin with a position. Service begins with the posture of our hearts.
We need God’s wisdom to manage our commitments.
If we’re saying yes to everything for the wrong reasons, not only will we be headed for spiritual burnout, we will also strain relations with our friends and family.
It’s also important to consider our reasons for serving. Are we serving because of a special someone we hope to get closer to?
On the flip-side, are we not serving because of someone we low-key dislike?
We need to let God examine our hearts (Psalm 139:23-24), and let the Word reveal our motives (Hebrews 4:12).
Pitfall 3: The identity trap
Somewhere along the way, I’d begun to associate my worth and my identity with my service at church.
If my service was “perfect”, then surely God was more pleased with me, I reasoned.
But when my service didn’t meet my own standards, I would feel utterly lousy.
I first realised this identity confusion when I didn’t know how to spend my free time other than doing ministry work.
Thank God He brought me back to my sense – to first be a daughter instead of a doer!
As I laid my burdens before Him, He gently revealed to me that my worth is not in what I do, but in who and whose I am.
I am a beloved child of God. I am wanted by Him.
A friend who’d gone on a sabbatical also shared how she learnt her identity was defined by who she was in God, instead of her ministry portfolios.
Pitfall 4: The people trap
Serving means working with imperfect people, who will praise you at times and offend you at others.
Compliments and encouragement can indeed build us up and spur us forward.
But when we begin to crave the praise of man, we are no longer building God’s kingdom but serving for our own profit.
Jesus says this of the Pharisees who practise their religion to be seen by others: “they have already received their reward in full” (Matthew 6:2).
Solomon also warns us that the fear of man is a snare; we should fear God instead (Proverbs 29:25).
On the other hand, offences can stop us from serving and cause us to leave church.
It’s a bait by the enemy, who wants to destroy the unity of the Church and kill our love for one another.
But one thing I’ve learnt is that offence is a choice. It has no hold over us unless we allow it to fester into resentment and bitterness. We need to guard our hearts (Proverbs 4:23).
I’m not dismissing our hurt and pain, or even the need for church discipline if necessary. There is always room to grieve and heal.
However, if we find ourselves always getting angry over small things, we should ask ourselves which do we want to hold closer – God or our offence? We cannot hold on to both.
May God soften our hearts to forgive as we have been forgiven, and help us to be slow to anger (James 1:19).
If you’ve fallen into the same traps I did, know this: God is a God of grace. He can restore you to joyful service with Him!
Just start by walking with Him once again. He desires that you draw near to Him just as you are, without titles or expectations, because He welcomes you.
Asking the big why
At the end of the day, we should really consider our motivations for serving in church.
Serving God, our hearts must hold no room for self-seeking agendas or the praise of man.
Instead service should mould us and produce humility and holiness. It can be the place God sharpens us, if we are willing to learn.
May we always serve God from the overflow of a grateful heart. It may not always be easy or joyful, but Jesus is definitely worth it.
Take heart, for He never forgets a single act of service done for Him!
- Why are you serving in your church? Have you lost sight of what’s important?
- What pitfalls have you fallen into?
- Are you close to someone who has fallen into such pitfalls? Pray for them, and if God directs, speak to them about it in love.