A View from the Pew: Doing More by Doing Less

Note: After 10 years of writing “A View from the Pew,” I will be offering 12 monthly installments in 2024 to round out the collection and end this blog in December. Thank you for reading, and I hope these final expressions are meaningful and helpful.

I’m not the kind of person who challenges mission project themes, sermon titles, or special event slogans at church, but I confess my church’s missions theme for this year has proven incongruent with my ongoing issues of overcommitting.

“Do More in 2024” first started showing up in our church email newsletter in January, and from the first instance, it’s been like fingernails on a chalkboard to my weary spirit. Maybe I just need a year that rhymes with “less.”

Meant to inspire, the call to “do more” should challenge members of the congregation to look outside of themselves and serve the community, which I applaud. For the most involved in church, however, it can feed a gnawing hopelessness and the sense that no matter how much you do for and in your church, it’s never enough.

Back in January 2023, I wrote about a desire to be able to “just worship” when I went to church. It’s startling how little has changed in more than a year. If anything, I have made my situation worse by always answering the call to do more.

Among the myriad podcasts I consume is “Rethinking” by organizational psychologist Adam Grant. In a recent episode, he defined burnout as having more tasks than can be accomplished. It was simple but profound, and it described precisely how I was feeling about “Do More in 2024.”

Even though it seems we should say “yes” to every request at church because the salvation of the world depends on it, I’m beginning to believe that’s not a sustainable model for the church long term. It becomes more acute as the number of active participants in local congregations dwindles.

Our churches are asking more and more of fewer and fewer. For me, the sermons challenging us to “Do More in 2024” outweigh the call to Sabbath or finding rest in Jesus. Or maybe it’s just the way I’m wired. The calls to rest fall on deaf ears while the challenge to “do more” hits me right between the eyes.

I have friends who stepped away from church altogether because of this precise conundrum. To say they were involved is an understatement. They did everything from preparing Wednesday night suppers to Sunday morning childcare to weekday tutoring to visitation to teaching Bible study and on and on. When their burnout prompted them to step back, they tried finding peace by doing less.

Eventually one of them returned to their volunteer commitments at church while the other let go of them completely. It wasn’t long before the cycle repeated, and the yawning chasm of needs swallowed my friend again, and they literally walked out on the pile of to-dos, unable to keep up.

Jesus’s call in Matthew 11 speaks to those who need a lighter burden and rest. I do not believe the church exists to drain its members of life and threaten their mental health. I do not find anywhere in scripture where Jesus said, “if you want something done, give it to someone who is busy.”

Last month’s post argued for going through the motions even when you weren’t feeling like it. Allow me to offer a seemingly contradictory argument: When you don’t feel like it, don’t do it.

The subtle distinction here is applying this to worship. If you are not careful, you will lose the ability to worship because there’s simply too much else to do.

During a recent service in which I was definitely going through the motions, the sermon text from Luke 10 included Jesus’s admonition to Martha to stop being so busy and follow Mary’s example of being with him. That story resonated with me more than it ever had.

“There is need of only one thing” is the antidote to “Do More in 2024.” May all who are troubled by many things find the ability to focus on the one thing that can restore our us.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA, does higher education marketing and communications at his day job, and blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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