Living life is all about making sacrifices. Almost any decisions that we make involve giving something up in order to have something else. In order to stay healthy, you may have to give up eating whatever you want, whenever you want it. In order to get the degree you want, you might have to take out some student loans. If you want to get a good grade on a test, you’re going to have to give up time and likely sleep in order to study properly. If you instead want to hang out with your friends all night, you might end up sacrificing some of your test grade to do so. The examples are endless. Even though we want everything to always work out and for us to get everything that we could possibly want, as if that is the new American Dream, we still do realize that every decision in our life involves a sacrifice of some kind.
Working in the church is no different. There are always sacrifices that we have to make. In order to support a youth at their sporting event, you need to sacrifice some evening family time. When someone comes into your office unexpectedly for a counseling appointment, you may need to sacrifice some of your prep time in order to minister to them. If you’re leading a mission trip, it involves giving up a lot of sleep and energy. These sacrifices are decisions that anyone working in the church has to make on an everyday basis, and sometimes it’s hard to know how much to sacrifice and where that line is. If we can’t navigate that line, we’re setting ourselves up for problems down the road. So we see church workers that have poured themselves into their ministry at church, to the detriment of their ministry in their own home as a parent and spouse. We find pastors and youth workers that are burnt out from just giving too much all the time. All this is a byproduct of sacrificing the wrong things.
How do we avoid this? Are we to stop sacrificing anything and just be selfish? Absolutely not, because that would be also sacrificing the call that God has given us to care for His people. With each decision that we make, we need to ask ourselves one question: is this sacrifice worthwhile? I truly believe that if we ask ourselves that question with each decision we make, then we become more aware of what we are giving up and can balance it out as we go along. For example, if a youth approaches me about attending their basketball game on Thursday, I know that’ll involve sacrifice of some family time. So now the question is asked: is that sacrifice worth it? Well, if I’m already out of the house 4 other nights that week at various church meetings and activities (even if it’s just for church league softball), then giving up one other evening is not worth it. But if I can take my family with me or I don’t have any evening meetings that week, then it is a worthwhile sacrifice. There’s a number of other factors at work here like have you seen that youth in a while, is that a family that you need to connect with more, are there other games in the season that you could attend, etc. But the main thing is being intentional about thinking and talking about what is being given up by a decision and if that is worthwhile. Not every scenario can be perfectly navigated by this cost-benefit analysis way of processing, but it is certainly helpful in keeping the balance in our lives.
At the congregation I am blessed to currently serve at, we’re working to focus more on building an intentional ministry to families. As part of this effort, I started leading a Bible class on Sunday mornings geared towards the application of the faith in the home in various topics. I was really excited about this opportunity, but in order to be able to teach this new class, I would have to stop teaching the youth Bible class and sacrifice some of my time with the youth here. That was not an easy decision to make, and I have to try to and make up some of that time with those youth in other times in the year, but I knew that the long-term impact of equipping parents as disciple-makers in their own homes was worth that sacrifice. While that decision was hard to make at the time, it is becoming an even easier decision in hindsight thanks to the blessing of volunteers. We are blessed to have some great volunteers that love our young people and want to work with them, and our Sunday morning Bible class volunteer is one of the best at this. While I have been teaching the family discipleship class, she has been leading the youth class again and I serve in a more overseer and advisor role. Over the past few months, the youth have been each taking turns leading the Bible studies each week, have organized a college care package service project, and started up a mentor program with our younger Sunday School kids. All of the things that we have been working towards with our youth have all happened, all while I was spending my actual teaching time with a different group.
Through this experience, I am again reminded of something very important about the nature of sacrifices in ministry. Just because you have to give up one thing in order to do something else doesn’t mean that one will go well and the other won’t. If that is the case, then we as the church worker are holding everything together instead of equipping others for service in the church, and that’s not a good sign. What sacrifice in ministry oftentimes gives us the chance to do is to let go of direct control of a program, event, or idea and let others in the church use the gifts that God has given them to build up the body of Christ (1 Peter 4:10). If we can do that, then our sacrifices are worthwhile.
This idea of making worthwhile sacrifices is not just about us balancing our own lives or equipping others for ministry, but it’s also something from which we can view the programs, events, and opportunities that we offer in our church. Are they worthwhile sacrifices for our families? Is it worthwhile for a family to give up an evening together for yet another weekly social event? Is it worthwhile for a student to give up a week of work in the summer to go on a trip with the youth group? Is it worthwhile for families to take the time to come to a worship service that is all about personal preference and entertainment? The answers to any of these questions rests on what the focus of each opportunity is. Do you offer chances to grow in Christian relationships with one another, learn more about God and their faith, have adults who care for the youth and interact with them, teach the youth skills and help them grow in leadership, experience the real presence of God through the Sacraments, or serve the Lord together using the gifts He has given you? If so, then that is something that is worth the sacrifice of time or money. But if all we offer is just another form of entertainment or another event to add to an already busy calendar, then it really isn’t worthwhile. Ministry that equips the saints for service, builds up the body of Christ, and focuses on teaching and living out God’s Word is worthwhile for church workers, parents, volunteers, and youth.
Surround yourself with people that are asking you about the sacrifices you’re making in your decisions. Are you balancing family and church work? Do you have the right focus in your programs and events? Are you equipping others to use their gifts? Have people that ask you these questions and walk through this process with you, and be that person for someone else. I promise you, it’ll be worth the sacrifice because it’ll make your family, ministry, and long-term impact even better.
Hopefully this post will give you a renewed focus on making worthwhile sacrifices, but even with all that motivation there are still going to be many times where you and I fall short, make the wrong choices, and wonder if it’s all worth it. This is when we have to remember that our sacrifices have to be made in light of the sacrifice of Christ. His death for us on the cross covers over our sins so we don’t have to be staggering under the weight of our past mistakes regarding our choices in scheduling, programming, outreach, family time, devotional life, etc. When we recognize that we have sacrificed too much family time, we repent and ask forgiveness from God and those we have hurt. In doing so, we actually have another opportunity to teach and share about all that God has done for us, by modeling a life focused on living in His grace and forgiveness. We could have the best planned, most perfectly executed, and most entertaining programming around, but if it’s not centered around Christ and His sacrifice for us, then it’s not worthwhile. Our sacrifices in ministry should all be made in order to shine more light on His sacrifice for us. In fact, our sacrifices in ministry are only worthwhile because of Christ: “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). Jesus is the one who makes our sacrifices worthwhile, and we must keep our eyes fixed on Him (Hebrews 12:2) lest we get lost in the pharisaical game of “who’s sacrificed more for the ministry” and think that we are the ones running God’s Church.
As we are making decisions in our lives, we do not need to give into despair over our past choices, nor swing to the other side and be led to pride by how good we think our deeds are. Rather, we live in the middle: allowing Christ’s sacrifice to cover everything in our lives, freely serving our neighbors in response to His grace, and being faithful to His calling knowing that our “toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).