A View from the Pew: Imagining Church Without Responsibilities

With Christmas and New Year’s days falling on Sunday this cycle, I had the unique experience of attending church back-to-back weeks where I just participated in worship, caught up with my church family, and went home.

No committee meetings. No chaperoning. No leading Bible study. No mission projects. No conducting church business of any kind.

It was weird… and refreshing.

It wasn’t lost on my wife, either, who is as involved—or more so—as I am. On the drive home we reveled in how it felt to sing, pray, listen, and connect without the burden of having to accomplish anything more than being present before the Lord.

The double dose of “just church” helped us appreciate how the spiritual dimension of our lives can be restorative rather than draining, and it provided a timely reminder that God gave God’s people the commandment to take a sabbath for a reason.

As we begin a new calendar year, I am in a reflective mode of what needs to change in my life for 2023. I have made resolutions in the past, and I like the structure a date on the calendar provides in personal goal setting and evaluation. But this year, rather than SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely) goals as resolutions, I am pulling back to look at the big picture. I am trying to give space to my imagination to gain insight into how all areas of my life can be improved by rethinking my approach.

So what am I discovering about back-to-back weeks of “just church?” I don’t think it is wise or healthy to throw out all of my administrative work in church. We are part of a small congregation in which each member has important roles to play. We can’t function as a body if members throw in the towel and do “just church” on a weekly basis.

I can, however, let go of the feeling that I need to do it all. There are plenty of gifted members of our family of faith who are willing and able to take ownership of some tasks that I have mindlessly held onto well past my ability to be creative or effective. This is a lesson I’ve had to learn over and over with various leadership roles in the past, including Cub Scouts, recreational sports coaching, and even the workplace.

There’s also a possibility that in some cases I’m “painting under the rails,” a phrase a former boss used frequently to describe attention to unnecessary details. What would happen if I just let go completely of some tasks I perceive need to be done but really aren’t benefiting anyone?

There are responsibilities I enjoy that cannot be dropped. Rather than taking an “all or nothing” approach, I think the solution for me is to schedule them so that they do not compete with worship. Rather than default to a meeting before or after Sunday worship, I can leverage the flexibility and creativity we all learned through the pandemic to schedule a virtual meeting. I’ve already implemented this with one committee I lead, and it helps us stay focused and fresh each time we meet.

If nothing else, I can honor the principle behind the sabbath and take a break from those Sunday duties on a regular basis—more frequent than every 5 to 11 years when Christmas falls on a Sunday and but not-so-frequently that important work goes unfinished. The timing of these days off can still be determined, but if they are intentional and inform my worship that day, I can adopt a spirit of gratitude in worship and free my mind from being occupied by obligations.

Those are just a few strategies that can help me avoid burnout, and I’m curious what others have employed to help them have a healthier relationship with church responsibilities. Leave a comment below and share your ideas, and together we can start 2023 with a renewed ability to worship when we come to church.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA. He earns a living in higher education communications and writes a blog at newsouthessays.com.

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