Read the entirety of Ephesians 2:8–10. We are not saved by works. But we are saved to do good works. And this last phrase is key: “. . . which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.”
You see, God already has a plan for our service, our plan for our works in the church and beyond. Our salvation is free and unmerited; but that salvation should result in our works for Him.
So what do these verses have to do with church burnout?
We burn out when our motivation to do works is for anyone else but God. Let me return to my story of Bob Hand to illustrate.
Bob saw that I was saying “yes” to everyone in the church. I was a deacon. I was a Sunday school teacher. I was a boys’ mission leader. I taught a first grade training class. I was in a 5:00 a.m. prayer group. I led a Saturday church work crew. I served on three committees. I was an usher.
You get the picture.
None of those ministries were bad choices. I just had said “yes” to everyone. I got to the point where I was doing so many things that I was doing none well.
Bob intervened. In his own gentle way, he told me stories. Those stories pointed to my motivations for ministry in the church. I’m slow; but I finally got it. My motivation for what I was doing was primarily to please people. My pastor asked me to lead the missions group. A good friend asked me to teach the Sunday school class. A church member who was my bank customer asked me to be in the morning prayer groups.
All were good ministries. All had incredible purposes. But my motivations were not always right. I was more of a people pleaser than a God pleaser.
Look at Ephesians 2:10 again: “For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.”
The “good works” that we are to do are those that God has prepared. Those are places where we should “walk.” We are to serve as God has showed us. We are to please Him. Our motive is to glorify Him, serve Him, and please Him. If we do that, we will serve gladly and never burn out.
Of course, volumes have been written on how we should serve God in our church. Resources on spiritual gifts, in particular, are invaluable to help us understand our passions and giftedness for service.
For now, we will focus on this simple truth. Church burnout will not take place if we are seeking to please God in our service rather than to please people.
Thom S. Rainer, I Will: Nine Traits of the Outwardly Focused Christian (Nashville: B&H, 2015).
I have just completed a series of lessons based on Thom Rainer’s book, I Will. They are available as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription service. For a medium-sized church, lesson subscriptions are only $10 per teacher per year. Lessons correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines as well as the International Standard Series.