When Women Start Saying “No” to Church Activities

Saying No to Church Activities

On Fridays I usually publish some opinion pieces. I used to publish my columns, but I quit my weekly column a few weeks ago. I am, however, the female columnist for Faith Today, Canada’s largest Christian magazine, and I thought I’d publish my first column for them, about how overburdened many women are by church activities.

I hate it when someone from our church family dies.

I’m not talking about hating grief. Grief is a normal part of life. I’m talking about hating guilt.

And when someone I don’t know from our church passes away, I invariably receive that guilt-inducing phone call: Can you make sandwiches for the funeral?

I must have missed the Sunday School lesson when they taught girls how to make funeral sandwiches, because I don’t know where to start.

I don’t like tuna or salmon sandwiches to begin with; I’m more of a soup-for-lunch kind of gal. And I hate mustard. Sandwiches at funerals always have mustard.

But it’s not the fact that my palate doesn’t suit the typical church funerals that bothers me. It’s that I have no time. I understand that someone has to make the sandwiches, but does it have to be me?

Life is certainly busy, but I think one of the biggest sources of stress isn’t the amount of work on our plate; it’s that nagging feeling that one more straw is going to cause the whole thing to come crashing down.

And for many Christian women, church commitments feel like that final straw.

If I’m super-organized and super-energetic, it is possible to keep my house clean and to get all my work done and, hopefully, to head to the grocery store before we discover that all we have in the cupboards are tins of cranberry sauce and cream of mushroom soup.

But if an emergency–or a funeral–comes up, I’m in trouble. I have no margins in my life.

I don’t think I’m unusual. Most women are pulled in so many different directions that we’re seriously in danger of burning out. Even women who don’t work outside the home are busy. Their husbands may have shift work, or the kids are in activities, or they’re baby-sitting for grandkids. When most adults started working outside the home, it affected those inside the home, too. There’s more work to go around and fewer hands to do it.

Women have become busier, but church life hasn’t adapted to this new reality. It’s still expected that women will teach Sunday School, run the nursery, cook for the potlucks, and supply the funeral sandwiches. That’s what a church community is all about, right?

Now most churches do have a dedicated army of older women who have given selflessly over the years to create community. They’ve cooked more casseroles than President’s Choice, they’ve decorated for Christmas and Easter longer than I’ve been alive, and they’ve made church homey and inviting.  We couldn’t function without them.


Unfortunately, there aren’t very many of them left, and my generation isn’t exactly clamouring to fill their spots.  And so these ladies, who have given tirelessly for decades, have even more thrown at them. They “overfunction”, as Peter and Geri Scazzero, authors of The Emotionally Church Church say, filling in the gaps so that other people–including many of the men–can get away with underfunctioning. Churches tend to take advantage of those who consistently say yes, instead of telling them, “You’ve done enough.”

And this dysfunctional system can’t right itself until the over-functioning people start saying no.

Looking around, I think we’re just about at that point. Women are just too tired, and few men will willingly take on the jobs women have been doing in the background for years. If churches want to support the women in their midst, then, they will start adapting to the new reality.

We all still crave a vibrant community life, but let’s think outside the box about how to create it.

Host community events that don’t require work, but just let us put our feet up and relax. Hold more family games nights–after the dinner hour, so we don’t have to bring food. Invite women to simple scrapbooking and craft get-togethers where we can relax doing things we long to do–rather than organizing a big women’s day that requires a ton of volunteer hours.

Instead of focusing on church programming that adds “extras” onto our lives, incorporate things we already do. Host homework clubs on Saturday morning where parents can pool their knowledge, or host once-a-month freezer cooking days where parents can all gather together and cook meals to last a month. And, please, ask people to throw money into a pot to have the funeral catered, rather than requiring women to make sandwiches. I’d much rather give $20 than an hour of my time.

In other words, meet us where we’re at. And don’t expect me to buy any mustard.

UPDATE: I’m getting some push back in the comments, and I want to just state that I DO run a whole ministry in our church–I run our youth quizzing program which meets for two hours before the service every Sunday, and then has four out of town tournaments every year. So I am serving! I’m not saying we shouldn’t serve. What I’m saying is that many of the things we are asked to do aren’t necessary and don’t serve to build community, and maybe if we focused more on the real needs we’d be more effective. I don’t have room to say everything because I have a tight word count, but read in the comments for more thoughts!

It’s kind of ironic that I would write this, since I actually make a fair amount of my income speaking at women’s events. I know that the occasional “big” event is really helpful and necessary. But I still believe that what most women crave is fellowship, not teaching, and if we could design women’s retreats less around making crafts and more around letting women just talk, we’d get a lot further ahead (and need far fewer volunteer hours).

Comments

  1. I agree with everything you say here, Sheila. My husband asked why I didn’t want to go to the annual women’s retreat, and I told him it was because it was only one night, and every hour was planned. I never come back refreshed from events like that. They’re always held in these lovely locations, that I never get to just BE in, and I come back tired and hitting the ground running again.

    Mandatory “volunteer” work in the nursery is also a source of frustration. In small churches, it means that as a mother of young children, I must volunteer very often. In the large church we attend now, it is only once/quarter, but I don’t understand how, in our ginormous budget, we can’t include a budget line for nursery workers. It doesn’t seem right that when I’m suffering from PPD, as I was after baby #3 for quite a long time, I’m required by my church to spend an hour and a half with fussy babies.

    • Yes, I’ve never been a women’s retreat kind of person. I’ve started to realize that if I need a retreat, I need to take one by myself–some time that I can just pray and listen to God. I still crave female companionship, though, and overscheduled events don’t really give us that!

      • You know the best part of the last retreat I went to? The car ride there and back; I connected more with the women in the car during the 3-hour drive than I did with anyone during the scheduled events. The second best part was watching a ridiculous movie with my roommate when we should have been sleeping; we laughed and chatted about it and just had genuinely fun time. Not to say the events weren’t good — they just weren’t a good way to connect. If I were in charge of a retreat, it would be twice as long with half as much scheduled.

      • Same here. I never go on these retreats. To be totally honest, I have a very hard time to be in a roomful of women. Seriously! I prefer guy company or my own family. lol! For me a retreat is going to Cincy to the great homeschool convention. I am in control of what I want to do there. :) I do have some of the kids with me but I enjoy being with them. :)
        I also prefer to go somewhere by myself for a day if I need to get away. :)

        Holly

      • I have to admit, this year’s women’s retreat was by far my favorite! The reason? There were two:
        1)There was a lot of interactive activities that engaged everyone during the sessions and split into teams that were playfully competing all weekend brought many of us together.

        But even better than that?

        2) Our schedule included a 4 hour free time in the middle of the day. There was opportunity to do crafts that had been set up for those who are into that kind of thing at any time in there, there was an optional prayer walk that some went on, but many of the women just took a nap, enjoyed the hot springs or sat around chatting with other women at the coffee shop or by the lake.

        I hardly saw my roomies because I got in late and left early each day but that free time was awesome for getting the rest we needed or getting together with friends to brainstorm what we’d do for the variety show that night, or just hang out and bond. I made sure to tell our leaders how much I appreciated that and needed it so that they’d be sure to do it again. I know many others were saying the same. They also had smores the first night which was fun for those who chose to just go hang out by the campfire for a while. :)

    • Elizabeth says:

      I know this is a side-point from the article but I wanted to say that I agree 100% about nursery duty. I rarely escaped being IN CHARGE of the nursery, in fact, which I think is ridiculous since I’ve never once used the nursery at our church. I don’t want to have responsibility for a service I’ve never used. :) (Side note: until recently I didn’t even know the people working in the nursery… no way am I going to leave my daughter with people I couldn’t pick out of a line-up!)

      I would not attend a church that had mandatory service. We are supposed to give of our time and resources WILLINGLY — the church isn’t supposed to force us into doing things that the Holy Spirit isn’t asking us to do.

      FYI, I’m in charge of scheduling coordination and getting meals to people in need (new moms, people with medical issues, funerals, etc.). I just ask for volunteers. I don’t know what’s going on in people’s lives so I certainly wouldn’t make giving a meal required! Many times I’ve been told to provide something that I realistically can’t do — bringing a certain side to a dinner that I don’t have the ingredients for and no money to buy them with, for example. I just say that I can’t really do something that specific and suggest an alternative. Usually I only have to say it once. The next time someone approaches me, they usually ASK instead of TELL. :)

      Another thing to consider is thinking of the family as a whole. Example — I do the above things (schedule volunteers and make sure special needs are met). My husband does the audio/visual AND the setup/cleanup for the church. That’s why I feel fine about saying “no” to nursery-duty. If I wasn’t doing anything else, then sure, I’d probably sign up… but there’s nobody else to do my job, whereas pretty much anybody with the heart for it is wonderful in the nursery!

      • In our church, only members who have had a full background check can be with or work with the children. I mean a full fingerprinted background check! It’s not mandatory to work in the nursery or with junior church but those who truly want to teach God’s word to these young ones take part, as scheduled, to be involved in teaching the gospel, on the kid’s level, through workshops, games and story-telling – we get a feeling of accomplishment from serving in this way. Even when working with the littlest ones.
        I also lead the songs in worship now so I’ve had to say no to serving with the little ones all the time but I do enjoy it when I’m there with them.

    • Can’t you just go to the retreat and opt out of the scheduled events? It seems to me like we all need a beach retreat with nothing scheduled…and someone to clean our homes while we’re gone!

  2. I also would hate to make funeral sandwiches, but I would also feel guilty for saying no. It’s a tricky thing to balance the Biblical mandate to take care of our church family and sanity. But if everyone would do just a little, everything would get done. Sort of like tithing. I think you are absolutely right about making events more relaxing. I just want to relax and have fellowship. I have been thinking about organizing a card-making evening for ladies in my church. Thanks for the push.

  3. Samantha Dingwall says:

    I would like to encourage you to read proverbs 31. If God didn’t design us women to be busy, I don’t believe he would have included proverbs 31 in the bible.

    • That’s a good point, Samantha, and thank you. But I don’t think it’s a question of being busy. It’s a question of “what are you busy WITH?” And I just believe that many of the ways we “do” church exhaust women rather than rejuvenate them. So let’s figure out how to build community without requiring a ton of effort for stuff that doesn’t rejuvenate. And for people who are already busy in ministry–sometimes these extras that churches ask are just too much. None of us is supposed to burn out; with the way church is run, many people do. And that is not the Proverbs 31 model at all. She was strategic in what she was busy with, and we should be strategic, too.

      • Sarah Mueller says:

        The Proverbs 31 woman also delegated some of her work to servant girls. She was wise with her resources. Samantha D. probably wouldn’t be sympathetic if I told her that I am pregnant with #4 and I decided to hire a housekeeper to help me. But that isn’t gospel-mindedness. The gospel is for those who have decided they can’t do it all on their own.

        • Sarah Mueller, I am totally sympathetic to your hiring a housekeeper. I think women are too prone to think they can do it all and we’re usually unwilling to ask for help and feel guilty about saying “no” to things. Good for you getting your priorities right by making it possible to love and serve your children, family, and church by spending less time cleaning!

  4. Sheila, I love your blog and often find it really encouraging! However, this post doesn’t sit with me very well. If I’m not mistaking (and correct me if I am), you have written other things before about how we need to cut some things out of our busy lives so that everything doesn’t completely fall apart if one thing does not go according to plan or schedule. In this post you said “I have no margins in my life.” And then went on to say, that you are not alone, that many women are in the same situation. And I would agree with you. That is certainly the case most of the time. But it shouldn’t be. If we do not have time in our lives to occasionally say “yes” to church activities/commitments, then maybe we are doing some things very wrong in the rest of our life.

    I will agree that there are some people who don’t know how to say “no” and can burn themselves out on commitments, but maybe they have to say “yes” too much simply because there are too many people will never say “yes” and say “no” all too often. No one would get burned out on anything if we expected (and asked) more people to step up to the plate every now and then and not expect the older ladies who have always taken care of everything to always be around to always continue to take care of everything. I think there should be a good balance in how many times we say “yes” and “no.”

    And yeah, maybe we shouldn’t be asking mothers of newborns to teach for a quarter, but those parents with kids that are just a little bit older, please please step up and teach every now and then. Even if its one quarter every year or two. There are too many parents at the church I attend that will refuse to teach a class because they “have to deal with their own kids all day every day. One hour a week for 13 weeks with 7 of someone else’s kids is just too much.” Bologna.

    And death happens. Funerals happen. Maybe some congregations can have a better system as far as that goes, but we can all help out with that every now and then. Our church has our city broken down into sections and if someone dies, the other people who live in that area are called to help if they can. And if someone can’t that week because of prior engagements (“I have kids” is not an excuse!), someone else most certainly can. This happens not very often….maybe a couple times a year. (God forbid its much more often than that). If you are asked to do sandwiches and don’t really feel like doing it, offer to do dessert instead, or just take on the sandwiches and pay your grocery store to make them instead if its really that big a deal.

    The other line that rubs me the wrong way in this is “In other words, meet us where we’re at.” What? It seems like I am hearing a similar thing when it comes to why we are losing our young people as they leave for college. Instead of a message of getting them involved more instead of making them so separate as a youth group and then expecting them to automatically fit in with the rest of the congregation, its the congregation that should become more like them and make it more entertaining for them so they will stay. While I know this is not exactly the same thing, it comes off to me with kinda the same attitude—the rest of the church congregation needs to change and do things that fit my lifestyle instead of my changing my lifestyle to give the appropriate amount of time and commitment to my church family.

    ***Please understand that the “you” in this comment is not specifically, Sheila, but all of us (myself included) who can so easily come up with excuses on why we cant do things to help out our Christian family occasionally. Maybe I am wrong in thinking this way, I just didn’t get a great feeling from the overall message I got from reading this post. Again, maybe I misunderstood something. And if that is the case, I apologize.

    • I know what you’re saying, but I also know that all around me are women who are just simply exhausted. And I think one reason more people don’t get involved more in church is because we are all so exhausted.

      I’ve been thinking more this morning, too–perhaps the reason the older ladies help more is because they have more time? Maybe it’s a function of being older. My mother, for instance, is much more involved serving in church now at 70 than she was when she was 45 or 50. So perhaps there’s a generational thing that’s normal. I don’t know.

      But I do think that finding alternative ways to do things is still really necessary, because we are tired. When someone from my serving team or small group at church needs something, I’m there. That’s what real community is. But the calls to bring food to an event that won’t even be fun, or to help organize something that I know no one really wants to go to, or to serve in Sunday School when I’m already running a youth program for the two hours before church begins every Sunday–these are just exhausting. And I do think that the church needs to meet women where they are at to an extent. If we’re all exhausted, but what we really yearn for is community and fellowship, then start hosting women’s events where we can simply sit around and talk, rather than events that require a ton of planning. In other words, figure out what the needs are and plan to meet those needs, rather than running events “because this is the way the church has always done it.”

      If the women in your church need help figuring out the new math homework with their kids, then instead of hosting a huge kids’ night, why not host a homework club?

      That’s what I mean by meet people where they’re at. I think too often we think about “what do churches do? What programs do we run?” And that’s our starting point. Maybe our starting point should be, “what are the needs that our church families have? What can we do to create meaningful fellowship for the families we have?” That would be more useful, I suspect.

      • Ok. Fair enough. I understand that. Maybe I just misunderstood. Our church congregation does not have a ton of extra activities like that. Our “extra” things include small groups that get together about once a month which are either a potluck or something where each family brings one part of the meal (Smiths bring bread, Johnsons bring meat, Crawfords bring cheese, etc). Super easy…not too much coordinating except for picking a date and letting people know about it. We do have a ladies retreat once a year, and a marriage retreat couple times a year that are structured. I am sure those who are coordinating those do put in a lot of work and effort.

        The things that we have a problems getting people to help with are finding teachers for our children’s classes for a quarter, men to serve communion for a month, a couple to prepare communion for a month, etc. These are things that are not extra things, they are things that are very important to the education of our children and our worship. But, if you are the person teaching every single quarter, serving communion every single week of the year, etc, because no one else will do it, then its easy to get burned out on those things too which is too bad. I will agree that if you are serving in some other time consuming capacity, such as running a youth program such as yourself, then you shouldn’t be expected to teach also. There are so many other members who can do this who, for whatever reason, simply wont.

      • Kathy Falat says:

        As I read the comments to your post I know I have to reply. This past year I found myself needing to go to a christian therapist because of fear that I was going into depression because a desire to go to bed in the middle of the day every day. I had trouble dealing with some people in my life and was crying very easily. The counselor I went to was one that knew how to teach me who God created me to be.I am 53 years old and am just now learning this! I found out I was not depressed..I was tired…tired from years of trying to be what I thought I was supposed to be. Tired from trying to be what I thought others thought I should be. God made me a specific way with specific gifts. I found out I am an introvert that thought I was an extrovert which explained a lot of the struggles I was having. I thought there was something wrong with me that I didn’t enjoy being around a large group of people at certain functions..I thought I was being lazy when I would need to have down time after being around people too long.After learning so much about how God created me this way for a reason and learning so much of what I thought were weaknesses in my life are really strengths that God can use in ways I never thought. So.. in saying this I have realized that just because something is a good thing does not mean it is for me. I am learning to pray for God to show me what to say yes to and to use wisdom. I wish pastors and leaders in the church would understand how to recognize the gifts and strengths in people and to place them in the right areas that are needed. This not only would fill the need but also strengthen the gifts that God placed in us.

        • http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/introverted-church

          My husband is very introverted and in ministry at our church (discipleship pastor and music leader). I am the executive director at a christian non-profit, nursery worker, president of the board for a different non-profit, mother of 2 under the age of 8, home school mom, young adult event organizer, bible study leader, and mentor. (Don’t ask me how many of these I do well). I am somewhere in the middle of the extroversion and introversion. Learning more about this has helped me know how to help protect and support my husband has been very helpful for me. I have recently made the decision to quit my job in order to be more involved in my calling to be wife and mother. I am going to work from home in order to make this happen, trusting that God will honor my desire to better minister to my family and AS a family. Of course, I am scared. I am giving up my career and job security! I am scared that being at home will make me crazy or that my schedule will fill up again. (So, the trust thing is still a work in progress).
          I think the saying that 20% of the people are doing 80% of the work is pretty true in my church. My desire is to do ministry without it killing me. My hope is that I will have more emotional energy at the end of the day in order to serve my community; but I know I must protect my time and energy. There are people that will gladly let the 20% keep giving. I don’t know the solution to this though. I do know that even though I have struggled with burnout, that God is enough and has blessed me and taught me so much. One root of the problem for some of us (me) is trying to please others. This is dangerous thinking. Another danger is that our worth is determined by how much we do.
          Some days, I don’t want to get out of bed. Once I hid under my desk at work! The thing that keeps me going on really tough days when I feel I have nothing left to give is simple. Jesus loves me. He loves me just because. Not because of what he can get from me. Not because I have to earn his love. Just because He loves me.
          I do think that we need to be smart about how we minister to one another. I know a lady at my church that is shy; but she writes the most encouraging and beautiful notes. One church provides paper products and coffee instead of food. I also know left to our own sin, we are very selfish people. Maybe we all need more accountability. Someone to say; “You are too busy!” or “Get in and help!” If you are tired remember that Matthew says “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” But also, remember he promises to Give us wisdom.

          • Kathy Falat says:

            It’s not that I was tired from doing too much…it was that I was doing too much of what I was not meant to do.I believe if you are doing what you are meant to do God will give you the energy and grace to do it.

      • I agree with what you posted.

        I am a Yes Mom. I always want to help. I want to serve. I don’t want people to go without, things undone or a need not met.

        However, I can’t do it all. I cannot. When I said yes to one thing at church, I was asked to do another and more and another and more. Burnt out.

        I am not even attending church right now. Not because I don’t believe, not because I don’t think that I should go, or take my children, but I can’t just go and be. I have to go and be the (Fill in the blank). I am tired, worn out, burnt out and by not attending church, I get a day that’s not structured, scheduled or where I am not being needed or asked to give, be, do more than I already am for everyone all day long, all week long.

        When I mentioned to a friend going back to church, she immediately said, “Oh great, we need help with the Sunday school classes.”

        I understand that people are needed to serve in these capacities, and often times I feel that if I am using them, I should be serving with them. But, I am not good at it, I do not enjoy it. I look at the clock when in the nursery or when I with the children and pray the entire time that I can have the ability and patience to deal with it. It’s not fair to me, it’s not fair to the children in my care and I know it can’t possibly be what God had in mind for serving others.

        I am also learning to say no to more activities and really want for church to be a part of our weekly routine again, but right now, I need this break and I don’t feel badly about taking it.

  5. craft get-togethers

    I ran one of these the whole of last year, and while it was great – ie everyone else loved it and cant wait for it to start again- it was completely draining for me.
    I spent a lot of time getting new crafts together every week, buying all the supplies, supplying snacks and tea, arriving an hour early working for 3 hours(I never got to do the fun stuff as I am the teacher). Everyone wants to join and get free stuff (teaching and supplies) and when I decided to charge this year no-one is interested.

    I still had to clean my house, do the laundry, teach Sunday school, look after my children, make lunches, make sure there was a meal on the table every night, be a good wife, listen to everyone’s problems…. you get the picture.

    I would much rather make a plate of sandwiches. plain old cheese sandwiches.

    • I hear what you’re saying–but I mean a craft get together where everybody JUST BRINGS THE CRAFTS THEY’RE ALREADY WORKING ON. So I bring my knitting, you bring your crocheting, someone else brings their scrapbooking, and we all just sit around and talk while we do our own crafts that we’re always trying to find time for. THAT would be my idea of a fun and relaxing event!

      And I totally hear you about people being exhausted by all of this. Totally.

  6. I could not agree more! It has taken me almost 24 years of marriage to settle into what is truly my ministry and what is just busy work. Certainly funeral meals are necessary but that type of thing is easier to manage when you are not already worn out from all manner of other busy work, even under the heading of “ministry.” I giggled just a little bit at the idea of funeral sandwiches. Clearly, you do not live in the South! We Southerners do love us a good funeral, if only for the food and we go all out! There are no sandwiches around here… we have recipe names like “Funeral Ham” (that one has Coke poured on it while baking… YUM!) and Funeral Potatoes. My best friend (who happens to live across the street) oversees the bereavement meal ministry at her church. She tries to keep a few dishes prepared in her freezer just in case. I crawled home so exhausted from vacation one time I wailed into her cell phone, “If you don’t bring me a funeral dinner tonight, I fear you will be serving it for my actual funeral.” What can I say? Dinner was served! :-)

  7. This breaks my heart on more than one level. We all know the old adage that at churches, 10% of the people do 90% of the work, and that needs to change. We’re a body, and all the parts of the body have something to contribute.

    But I think a bigger issue here is what you said earlier on – having no margin. And when we have no margin, what gives?

    Oh Shiela, I agree with you that lots of activities and ideas are outdated and need to change. They’re top-heavy – they require too much planning and preparing for what we get out of them. By all means, let’s fix that! I like your ideas of alternate events! One of my favorite activities at my church is a once-a-month pottluck and game night (some play games, many just visit.) Sure it requires bringing some food, but it doesn’t have to be fancy or even home-made. I’ve seen several pizzas, and once I even stopped by McDonald’s, bought a big bag of cheeseburgers from the dollar menu, cut them in half, and they disappeared like lightning. I love relaxing and having fun together.

    But what breaks my heart is the loss of the attitude of those older women who would sacrifice to make the church events homey and inviting. I’m concerned about MY priorities when I’m too busy to contribute to the life of the church.

    Julie
    Julie recently posted…Yah, Sure, It’s Your Lefse RecipeMy Profile

    • Yes, I know what you mean. I probably should have said in the article that I DO serve in the church–I run one of our youth programs. But that’s just it–it’s the people that already run something that gets asked to do even more. And I find that I’m already contributing, but more keeps getting thrown at me, and it’s tiring.

      My aunt had a great adage that I’ve always lived by: if you’re too busy to volunteer in ONE thing at church, you’re too busy. And my whole life I’ve always volunteered at ONE thing at church (and quite often two or three at the same time). But then when the calls come to help in the nursery or to help with the funeral sandwiches it just seems like so much–because I’m already doing my bit.

      If everybody did their ONE thing we’d be better off. But maybe one reason people don’t want to do that ONE thing is that the one thing often doesn’t look like it’s useful. That’s why I think they need women’s events that are easier to manage. They’d be fun!

      • Amen to that!
        Julie recently posted…Yah, Sure, It’s Your Lefse RecipeMy Profile

      • I love your aunt’s adage-a wise woman indeed!
        I think the problem isn’t so much that an effort doesn’t look useful, although I agree that is part. I think it’s that they know once they volunteer, they are in the queue to be called upon again and again. You can reassure folks they won’t be called upon to do more. While the intent is most likely a good one, when help is needed, folks who have stepped up before are the best bet for stepping up again.

        I agree with the commenter that volunteerism should be just that rather than being “voluntold” as we call it at my house. However, my children attended a Catholic elementary school (we weren’t Catholic or believers at that point) and part of the package was helping out at the school a required number of hours per month. You were able to pick from a list of opportunities. :-) The nice thing was you had lots of help and participation!
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    • Julie,

      I agree with you. I wrote a long (longer than needed to be I’m sure) comment, but it either hasn’t shown up yet or isn’t allowed to be posted, but either way, I’m not trying again. But suffice it to say, I agree that this is heart breaking on many levels. Those older ladies sure seem to have a better attitude than we do now. And if other people would step up just some of the time (not even half really of what they are asked), then those 10% wouldn’t have to do 90%. The fact that its that way is really unfortunate in my opinion.

      Happy Friday, ladies!!

  8. Yes! My church has monthly activities for women. We used to do fun things like chocolate classes or sharing easy dinner recipes but with a recent change in leadership, they have turned in to an extension of church. Just another hour of gospel lessons. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the 3 hours on Sunday, but I feel I get my fill in those three hours. I would like to do something light and fun where we can chat freely during the once a month activity. Not have some speaker(s) or study group where half the women cry.
    Michelle recently posted…Mom of Boys: Comic Relief for Moms of the Male Variety {round 8}My Profile

    • I think churches underestimate how much women just yearn to talk to other women. It is a genuine need. I hear you.

  9. “what most women crave is fellowship, not teaching..” – huge light-bulb moment for me here,Sheila! :)

    On a personal note I am learning I should “yes” to more things..things that I think I am too busy for but yet are the things God wants me involved in. Which means I must start saying “no” to many other things that are taking my “yes”-time. Don’t know if that makes sense :) I think so often it’s about seeking the God kind of balance, where we don’t say no (to community, church, others e.t.c) because we think we lack margin..but really it’s cos we’ve busied ourselves doing things we really shouldn’t be doing in the first place. (And I am not talking about family or home commitments and obligations, but things outside the home that take our time)
    Great post!
    Ngina Otiende recently posted…Purity Before Marriage Does Not Guarantee Perfect Sex Life in MarriageMy Profile

  10. Wow. I could not disagree with the whole of this story more. Should men work? Absolutely, yes. But give up things like ministry in the nursery so you can feel more rested for a craft get-together? What? When did church become a place where I should be served more than serving others? I know what it means to be overused in the church setting and I have had to say no or refer someone else for the job but this disturbs me greatly!

    I want to share my story. My husband used to travel a lot. Once while he was away and our firstborn was about two years old, I was feeling completely overwhelmed and wanted/needed to sit in a room with other believers and worship my Savior who is beyond all of the circumstances. I went to our church nursery and waited until church began and no worker came. I gathered some books and crayons and went back to the sanctuary. My child made so much noise and I had to spend so much time trying to entertain that I was unable to concentrate and did not want to disturb others. I walked out of the service and cried the entire way home.

    I believe our attitudes about our service to fellow believers needs to change. Does it inconvenience you to make sandwiches for a funeral dinner? Maybe, but are we talking about once a month? Once every few months? What does it mean to that family who is laying their loved one to rest to be ministered to after the funeral?

    You have to sit in the nursery once a month? What about that parent who is able to sit in the presence of the Lord because you are willing to serve Him in the nursery? Isn’t that worth your inconvenience?

    I am NOT suggesting that women who are burning wicks at both ends should pile more onto their plates and break themselves in the process. I work two jobs, have a husband and two children. I get it. Get it well but if something is going to give, it is not my ministry in the church.

    If you don’t like making sandwiches then say no and offer to go buy some chicken. What I mean is, find your gift area and then do it as working unto the Lord. All IMHO.

    • Thanks for your comment, Jennifer. But maybe this is really the crux of the situation–we need people to serve at stuff that actually matters, not at stuff that doesn’t. I run a youth program, for instance. That matters. But with the funeral sandwiches, I’m not given a choice. I’m told, “bring a bag of funeral sandwiches.” Not chicken. Not desserts. I’m on the list for sandwiches because of my last name. Funeral sandwiches don’t matter, because it could be catered just as easily and the funeral would not be negatively affected at all. But if someone doesn’t show up for nursery, it matters.

      So maybe we just need to ask: what are we doing at church that tires people out for no purpose? What actually goes into making a healthy community? I don’t think funeral sandwiches do. I don’t think a lot of events that require a ton of food and a ton of decoration and a ton of planning do. I don’t think a ton of separate events for men and women and kids, while having nothing for families, do.

      We all need to contribute, but let’s make sure that we’re doing it in a way that builds people up, not just exhausts us. And let’s think outside the box about how we can serve better.

      In the nursery example, for instance, I totally understand young moms not wanting to serve in the nursery. They need a break! That’s where the older women need to come in and serve, or the teenagers. But I do think it’s okay for young moms to say no. Likewise, I don’t think it should always be the moms of the kids in Sunday School who get called to serve in Sunday School. They need a break, too! So let’s use our College and Careers groups or our older people–and especially our older men. Too often Sunday Schools are entirely run by the moms who have kids in them, and that’s not healthy, either.

      So let’s concentrate on what’s necessary, and leave behind the things that aren’t, and get more people involved rather than always phoning the same people. That’s really the issue to me, I think.

      • Elizabeth says:

        I don’t want to get hung up on the funeral thing ;) but I do think that the community coming together and serving a grieving family is very important! It’s so much more meaningful to do something with your own hands than it is to throw money at a problem.

        I am totally on board with simplifying things, though. :) Stick to what really matters to the people you’re serving! It’s different for everyone. I used to go to a church where people would be HORRIFIED if you tried to take away their coffee and doughnut time. At other churches that hasn’t even been on the radar as something that anyone would take the time to do in the first place. :)

      • Alexandra says:

        Sheila, you hit the nail on the head with this. Let me tell you, the college and careers would love to help! That was what I loved about the church I attended in college, they were so excited when school started again and all the helpers came back. I worked in the nursery/children’s church. It was two months out of each semester. Working with the kids was great; the relationships and pure joy on their faces gave me so much. Also knowing that my contribution made it so that a mom could be in church meant a lot (because I hope that there will be people who can can do that for me when my little one arrives).

        However, we never had to plan or do any of the prep for the lessons. There was a children’s ministry coordinator (part-time with slight compensation) who planned the lessons so all we had to do was arrive and go through the lesson, craft (depending on the age) and coloring page with the kids. That is the part, in my opinion, that makes the difference. Making it so the teens/college age can help will mean that someone needs to do all the prep. While they are capable of doing it, (I know I would have been), it really isn’t feasable for them between everything else they have going on. A career who absolutely loves the children’s ministry may have time but depending on their job/commute time, it could once again be difficult because they have to cook/clean/maintian their home/sanity too.

      • I love the idea of doing freezer meals together! What a blessing that would be. You could even use them for funerals. :)
        Work smarter not harder.

      • Sheila I totally agree with you. I think there are many people willing to help out.

        In addition, my church is very traditional, and this bothers me. I would love to see some of the men take up service jobs that are supposedly “for women”. There’s no reason it should always be the same ladies called upon to make sandwiches or whatever the need. The bible calls us all to serve others above ourselves and I’ve noticed a large discrepancy in the jobs done by each gender. I have no children, and am tired of getting the call to do nursery, babysitting, “female-type jobs” etc. Yet my offers to use the gifts I have go unnoticed or are given to men in the congregation. It’s frustrating to get looked down upon because I’m a woman. God doesn’t give spiritual gifts based on gender! (i.e. whoever’s gift is teaching, let them teach. whoever’s gift is serving, let them serve- Romans 6)

  11. At the risk of engaging in age-stereotypes, I have always thought that funeral ministries like this are best served by retired people than by younger men and women, particularly those who are married, working, and have children.

    I figure that I will serve in these ministries when I retire and I would have little guilt about saying “no” to them now. I recognize that gender is relevant and part of the whole point is that women are often asked to do these types of ministries rather than men. My point is that the person asking you is picking the wrong demographic and you should feel little guilt in declining.

    Many people are uncomfortable with such stereotyping based on age or “working status” but we should strive to be practical in life and it just does not make sense for young, working people raising children to be serving in end-of-life ministries unless they volunteer to do it (rather than being strongly recruited) :-)

  12. The problem solver in me is dying to write about our system for funerals. I have been in charge of four funeral meals in the past 7 months in our church, ranging from 25 to 175 guests (though only 100 actually attended that one–hello leftovers!). I love the system we have in place. Someone in our church handles a church email system, so all the women who want the news or requests for help or whatever can be on that email list. Not knowing how to approach people to ask for help individually (not knowing who had means or time), I decided to turn to the email system.

    I was absolutely humbled and overwhelmed by the responses I got from sisters willing to provide food for the funeral meal (which is typically only for family/extended family, after the funeral and graveside service). Doing this, women who can afford to help are free to do so, whether it’s buying rolls or bagged salad, or spending the time making the potato casserole (affectionately called “funeral potatoes,” of course). Several women will offer to do multiple things–potatoes and cake, or two pans of potatoes. Some women have even offered to MAKE ALL THE ROLLS. I know the women enough to know it is still a sacrifice, but having the request come to all gives each person the freedom to not respond if they are maxed out or strapped financially or just don’t feel like they can do one more thing. I LIKE THAT.

    I know your post is not just about funeral food help, but I have been so greatly blessed by how this system works for us, I had to share.

    • Great system! I much prefer email anyway. Thanks for sharing!

    • This is similar to how my church does it. There is an email sent out, or someone calls people who have already signed up. We have lists for meals after babies The church tries to provide at least 3 meals within the weeks after a baby is born. This is great and most of the moms reciprocate. I’ve had 3 kids and taken at least 6 meals. There are also lists set up when illness strikes, like cancer or heart attacks, and then of course, funerals. Everyone is free to bring whatever they want. I think the church orders sandwiches from a supermarket for funerals, I could be wrong. People chip in when they can, and if they can’t, then we know there is someone to fill in. I’ve never heard of someone being told to bring something specific, except maybe A-M bring a salad, N-Z bring a dessert.
      There are seasons in life that are busier than others, and its ok not to help out in those times. You can always help out at a different time.

  13. I have always been one of the people who always said yes. Until a couple of years ago. I had just had my third baby, was going to college part time, working part time and thoroughly overwhelmed. In my church they just pass around a sign up sheet for help with funerals. So I was sitting in the women’s class, enjoying the lesson, when a sign up sheet got handed to me. I was looking at it, trying to figure out what I could do, and the woman sitting next to me took the sheet and pen out of my hand and said something about me not needing to help this time.
    That helped me so much I started crying. To realize that I didnt need to sign up every time was very liberating.
    Now when the sign up sheet comes around I think about what is going on that week and sign up if I can, but not when i have too much that week. Often I will tell the person in charge that if they dont have enough signups to let me know. And sometimes they need me, others they dont.
    I’ve also been known to have some extra funeral potatoes in the freezer that I can pull out when needed.
    Great post.

    • Okay, I’m really going to need a recipe for funeral potatoes! :)

      It is liberating to be told it’s okay to say no, isn’t it?

      • Here are 2 different recipes for funeral potatoes. there are MANY variations.

        My Mom’s Cheesy Potatoes
        10 medium potatoes, peel, slice, boil till tender, drain.
        1 medium onion, chopped
        ¼ cup butter
        Saute onion and butter together.
        Add 1 can cream of mushroom or cream of chicken soup. Add 1 can milk, Add 1 teaspoon salt. Mix till smooth over Medium heat. Add 2 cups grated cheddar cheese, one handful at a time, mix till smooth between handfuls. Add ½ cup sour cream. If desired add 1 cup diced ham.
        Pour sauce over potatoes in 9×13” pan. Can sprinkle with cheese and bake for 15 minutes if desired.

        Easy Funeral Potatoes.
        1 bag frozen hashbrowns (either shredded or cubed)
        1 can cream of mushroom soup.
        1 can milk
        1-2 cups grated cheddar cheese
        Mix together in 9×13 pan. Sprinkle with corn flakes. Bake until cooked thoroughly at 350 degrees. Approx 45 minutes.

        • Oh, now I’m hungry! Funeral potatoes are comfort food (not health food, darn it!)

          Here’s mine:

          1 2# bag frozen cubed potatoes (O’Brien are extra good, with the onions and peppers)
          2 C sour cream
          2 cups shredded cheddar, plus 1/2 C for topping
          2 cans cream chicken or mushroom soup
          small bunch of green onions, sliced
          2 C corn flakes – crush (a little – not to powder)

          Mix sour cream, shredded cheese, soup and onions in a bowl. Add hash browns and mix thoroughly.

          Mix remaining 1/2 C cheese with 2 C cornflakes, save.

          Bake 350F for 35-45 minutes, top with cornflake/cheese mixture, and bake 15 minutes more.

          Comfort food at its finest ;D
          Julie recently posted…Yah, Sure, It’s Your Lefse RecipeMy Profile

        • Awesome! Thank you! :) Sound yummy for dinner, too.

  14. Here’s a paragraph that didn’t make it in the column because of space issues, but I really did want it there.

    When my uncle was serving on an elders’ board in the 1980s, they were busy assigning tasks to each elder that were quite onerous. My uncle, who was a busy physician, asked, “I just don’t see how I’ll have the time to do all of this.” The other elders replied, “just get your wife to do it.” My uncle pictured my aunt, who was raising two kids in elementary school and juggling her job as a prominent research physician, too, and asked, “And where does Alison get a wife?”

  15. Sheila

    I totally hear what you are saying in your article and I agree. I am in a place where I don’t know what to drop because I feel so guilty if I do. I’m involved in a leadership training programme, i head up the decor team, I lead the worship ministry and currently work alone in the design department for the whole church. I’m married with a 2 year old who doesn’t sleep too well and I work full time as well have my own bath and body business. I am one of those women who suffers from the guilt. I feel like I’m letting others down if I say no because there will be no one to pick up the slack. I believe that the things I do are important. If I quit worship the team suffers. If I quit design there is no one do it. The church would have to pay a whole lot of money to get someone to do it. If I quit academy i’m not moving along with my peers and missing out on training. So essentially i’m stuck. But it’s unsustainable. I know that. For now I pray for God to provide the strength to continue. I want to serve but of late I just wanna hide in a dark room somewhere for week until I feel normal again.

    • Michelle says:

      Pray about which things you are truly called to do at this time. There may be someone who will be blessed by serving in one of the positions you currently hold. Until the position opens up, there is no position to be filled. As for the guilt, the enemy wants us to feel guilty, to be burned out, and no longer be able to give our best to our families or our other commitments. Guilt is debilitating…it is not what God wants for us. Let go of something and be free of the burden of guilt. Then, you will truly glorify God in the things you choose to do with His leading. “This is my prayer, that your love will grow more and more in knowledge and depth do insight, so that you will be able to discern what is best…”

  16. Vicky McPhail says:

    Thank you so much Sheila – this is so timely for me. I got home last night from running a ladies night at our church and collapsed on the couch. I have a hard time saying no due to guilt from seeing all the older ladies continuing to help, some going on working at our church for 50 years and still going (I’m in my late twenties). I think between my husband and I we are involved in 10 (!) different roles or ministries – and with two young children at home who I am getting ready to start homeschooling, I am going to have to start saying no more. I told my husband last night that I haven’t even really started into much of homeschooling yet for my 4 year old, and I am already feeling burnt out. I will have to do some praying and asking for discernment about when it is right for me to serve and when it is right to step out of a role or say no – you just gave me the push to take this more seriously. Thank you!

  17. Hi Sheila, I think I get what you’re saying. You’re not saying that we shouldn’t serve. You’re just saying that we should direct our efforts at the big picture. Does God’s Word say that we should throw a huge elaborate event in order to be a blessing to our church family or community? No. I think the picture of being a blessing from Jesus’ own life is what we should follow. He invested his time in quality fellowship with his disciples and followers. Not all churches host these huge to-dos, but my former church did all the time! Let me tell you, the women at that church were (and still are) burnt out from all of these “outreaches.” The time when I felt God’s love the greatest from my new church family was after I had my baby, and women I hardly knew brought me meal after meal. Yes, this involved women making food (granted, not funeral sandwiches), but it was a means to be a personal blessing. In my opinion, it was effort well spent. And since then I volunteer regularly to make a meals for new mothers, and I do it eagerly (not out of debt or for fear of guilt) because I know what a rich blessing it was to me.

    • Yes, exactly! And I could easily bring a meal to a new mom (I have quite often), because that’s something I’m used to making. I just double whatever I’m making my family! But somehow the church food always has its own menu, and I’ve never quite mastered it. :)

  18. I have been going to a new church for about a year and a half. After spending years doing music ministry and children’s ministry (on top of working at a professional career in education), I completely burnt out, not only because of the time and energy required but because of church politics (including destructive favoritism) and egos that got in the way of God’s purposes and plans instead of facilitating the movement of the Holy Spirit. Although our new church’s primary ministry is an outreach to children and youth, I just can’t bring myself to volunteer, although I’m sure part of that is being in a different season of my life, including almost two years of health challenges (at least in part because of running at high speed for years). (I do help out with our monthly women’s speaker series.) Thankfully our whole church has undergone the “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” course by Pete and Geri Scazzero and we all recognize the importance of resting in the Lord and not taking on too much. I don’t feel pressure or obligation from leadership to do anything I don’t specifically feel God is calling me to, or I feel able to do. That is a gift from our pastors. I prayerfully do what I can and continue to make spending time with the Lord a priority while juggling a music and writing career.
    Sally Meadows recently posted…CHRISTMAS IN MARCH CONTEST!My Profile

    • I have to read that book! I’ve only read Geri’s Emotionally Healthy Woman, but a good friend picked up that other one and I’m going to borrow it soon.

  19. I totally agree with you that ladies need to keep church functions simple. But I would like to comment on one line at the end. You say, ” I’d much rather give $20 than an hour of my time.” This is how my church does it. It is very helpful to the professional full time working ladies in our church. Sadly, it tends to exclude the large one income families.

    We have a fellowship dinner Wednesday nights, only $7 dollars per person. Great deal, unless you have a large family. We can’t afford to attend. My kids also can’t attend the $200 church soccer team, the $400 per kid youth group trip, the $45 per kid paint ball games, etc… Because we are a single income large family, we are excluded from most church functions, except the service ones, of course. What has happened is this. Stay at home moms serve in the church, and professional ladies throw money in the pot to *be* served. If the stay at home moms mention this, they are kindly pointed toward the deacon’s charity fund. Now, our church didn’t do this all at once. Different money pots got added in slowly over time.

    The reason I’m taking the time to comment is that most professional ladies seem oblivious to this problem. They’ll ask, “Why weren’t your kids in soccer?’ I’ll remind them that $1000 dollars a month for soccer is just not a budget priority, especially since we just paid for the $450 choir trip. They are flabbergasted. They never multiplied $200 per month times 5 kids in their head before asking. So my point is this. Be thoughtful for asking for people’s time, yes! Also, be thoughtful when asking for their money. Simple and frugal.

    • Brandie, that’s an excellent point. In the church youth program that I run, for instance, it’s $150 a year, but if you have more than one child, each subsequent child is drasatically reduced. The fourth and fifth are free, so if you have 5 kids, you’re really only paying for 2. I also know all the parents well, and arrange subsidies if I know it’s a stretch for some families (even if they don’t ask).

      As for the $20 for funerals, I think if they just gave you a choice that would be great. Make a dessert, or kick in some money and we’ll have the main course catered. Something like that so it’s easy for everyone to contribute the way they best can.

      But thanks for bringing up an important point! I do think that large families need to be given a break because those kids deserve to be in activities, too!

  20. Hi again, Sheila,

    At the risk of missing the forest for the trees… the nursery has come up a few times, so I thought I’d throw out a couple scenarios. As you’ve said, the nursery IS meaningful ministry – not busy work :D

    At a church we used to attend, if you had a baby/child in the nursery, you were put on the nursery schedule. My memory may be skewed, but it seemed like I was in there a lot. At least every other month. We occasionally pleaded with some of the older members of the church to volunteer for nursery duty, but I think they were so glad to have “graduated” (escaped) we had very few takers. As a parent of three high-energy little boys I found this EXHAUSTING and resented it. I wanted to be in church, being refreshed myself!

    At our current church, everyone who is able is on the nursery schedule. Everyone. Parents of little kids. Parents of older kids. Grandparents. College students. Everyone helps. And since we all help, we don’t rotate through nearly as often. And there are times I’ve seen those who don’t have little kids volunteer to take the place of those who do, so they can be in church.

    To be honest, the scheduling system is only part of what makes the difference. There’s a completely different attitude toward children at our current church that is much sweeter and more inclusive. We view ourselves more as one big family, thus we are all responsible for the children. But the schedule alone would’ve made a huge difference at the church we used to attend.

    Rather than a small group of people doing all the work (in that particular ministry), more people are involved and it’s less work for everyone. I think one reason we feel like saying NO when we’re asked to do things is that it’s a big commitment.

    Again, this is kind of a rabbit trail, but it’s the principle of getting everyone involved, rather than overworking the minority.

    Julie
    Julie recently posted…Yah, Sure, It’s Your Lefse RecipeMy Profile

    • Man I would love it if everyone able on our church was on the nursery schedule! I would love it even more if we could get more people teaching Sunday School and Children’s Church. Just because teaching is my spiritual gift doesn’t mean I need to be doing it 24/7!

  21. Very interesting article. I totally understand your frustration. Over the years, because of various moves I have attended churches of many sizes. And it does seem that regardless of how many large or small the church is there is a small group of people doing all the work. I’ve heard it said that something like 5% of the people do 95% of the work. And that isn’t right or fair to those working so hard, nor to those who sit around and choose not to do an important function of Christianity which is to serve. Now I understand there are phases in life, when we are simply busier. When I was single and attended a tiny church I was super involved and sometimes even volunteered to come in and clean the bathrooms. Now with 2 small kids and I’m going to college, I barely have time to volunteer in the nursery once a month. And its OK that we adapt, and the rest of the church needs to step it up. I think it was in one of Dr. Kevin Leman’s books that I read that it is important that we don’t become so overburdened with church activities that our families specifically our marriages are burdened. That it really is OK to say no.
    Another thought is that it is still rare to see men helping out in the nursery and with Sunday school. I think part of it is we still have these archaic thoughts about only women being able to handle babies. How many men have we turned off from serving because we make them feel unwelcome? One time I was sick and didn’t want to cuddle the babies to risk getting them sick, so we asked the lady in charge if my hubby and I could trade, and he would go to the nursery and I went to the Kindergarten Sunday school class. Leadership was fine with this, but the other lady-volunteers gave him the strangest looks and made him feel very unwelcome. Keep in mind to work with the Sunday School program my hubby had already passed an official back-ground check (not to mention he is a father and a teacher). He is awesome with babies. Are we women making things harder on ourselves by making men feel strange when they do occasionally agree to help with a typical “female” task?

    • I hear what you’re saying about the men. We do have men serving in Sunday School sometimes, which is awesome, and in my old church couples often took on the nursery. I think we all need to make it more welcoming for men–and more expected that they will be asked, too. Especially because so many of our young boys need good role models, and they don’t have them in schools where 90% of elementary school teachers are female.

  22. Yes, yes, yes!!! Thank you for this. This is EXACTLY how I feel. I work outside the home so my family can have medical insurance. I see 500 children a week in an elementary computer lab. We have 3 daughters- one of whom has Autism and another who is profoundly gifted. So, that is 2 girls with special needs. They are 4, 7 and 11 years old. For their well-being and my sanity, they play soccer and take ballet classes. I teach 2nd and 3rd grade Sunday School class every week with my husband. Every Sunday, I also lead our AWANA Sparks (K-2nd grades) and my husband leads the T&T’s. On any given day of the week, I have at least one extra girl in my car on the way to something. I also work once every 2 months in the church nursery. Plus, we have small group Bible study every Sunday night that either my hubby or I make something for. I am beyond exhausted most of the time. Believe it or not, I do say no to some things. But I feel obligated to say yes to things my daughters would be involved in. Some activities would not exist if I wasn’t there. AWANA especially. It was the best thing ever to be able to stop teaching Children’s Church a year or so ago. For once, I get to drop off my girls and actually worship with the church and hear a sermon. Every time someone asks to come to a ladies night out and bring a snack or attend a potluck VBS meeting, I die a little inside. I limit myself to one new baby meal a month. I am just so tired.

    • That is exhausting, Leisha. Sounds like you’re doing way more than your share already!

      • I should also mention that functions where we are supposed to bring food- or where food will be serve are extra hard for us and a couple of our friends. Food allergies! So, not only do we have to bring a dessert or a salad or whatever, we have to make something for the oldest to eat that does not contain gluten or casein. We have to make something for the youngest that can’t have barley, eggs or oranges. One of my biggest frustrations is when someone plans something with food and tries to guilt me into coming and just bringing the kids along because there is food provided and it will be “easy.” Or the frustration that comes when the preschool or homeschooling moms try to plan afternoon and evening activities and don’t understand that helping my kids finish their homework takes priority.

        • Oh, I can’t imagine. That must be such a logistical nightmare!

        • I completely understand the frustration around pot luck suppers when you have food allergies to deal with.
          I can’t have any gluten, and one of my kids has multiple food allergies including nuts and sesame (which hides in things!).
          We just don’t stay for pot luck lunches. The whole family leaves. For the ‘Christmas Dinner’ which is also pot luck but a big deal in our church, we have a new system. My husband takes 3 kids to the meal. My daughter and I go out for dinner just the two of us, to a restaurant where we know we can both eat safely. Then, after our meal, we join everyone else at the church for the hang out time. She loves having the special meal just the two of us, and we don’t miss out on the fun either!

  23. I am someone who used to do a LOT of volunteering in the church- when I was single and a new mom. As my children have gotten older, and the demands of my job have increased, I have started saying “no” to those things that I feel do not strengthen the church, or my family, and does not share the gospel. I have found, that when I say “no”, I get angry responses from the “overdoers” in the church- and these are not the older women who make casseroles for funerals, these are the ones that “make up” activities to glorify themselves, or to strengthen whichever church clique they belong to. I have adamantly said no to these things, mostly because, in my opinion, they do not glorify God, nor do they helps others know Christ. It surprised me at first to get such pushback from my fellow church-goers when I said no, and after a while, I just started to expect it. (I’ve even gotten the same response from my fellow church goers when I say no to invitations to go on retreats hosted by other organizations!) My time is valuable- not because “I’M” important, but because the time I give to my children, my spouse, and to God are more important to me than some self-glorifying talent show or Blasphemous easter egg hunt or emotionally charge “spiritual” retreat.

  24. Wow Sheila! What an amazing post!
    I grew up as a pastor’s kid and know well what it is like to be at everything- the pastors’ family always over functions, and without realizing it, most of the church expects the pastor’s family to over function. Now that I am an adult and married, I am a part of a church family that works hard to keep Pastors from over functioning and that has a church leadership that stops the members from over functioning. What a blessing it had been to my life! The most important difference that I have seen is that now, instead of always being at church and serving the members there, I have the time and energy to pour into the lives around me at work and in our community. Now I can invite non Christians into my home for dinner. I don’t ignore important two am phone calls from someone in need. Our church takes the time to free the members to do actual life-investing ministry by reducing events and volunteer needs Monday -Saturday (and we cater a lot!!). This has been so freeing for me and one of the most positive life changes ever!

    • Rebecca, you’ve hit on an important point. I often wonder–if the women in the church are so busy making meals and decorating and running events, then are we ever going to have any time to get to know our neighbours? Is all of our busy work focused internally? In my case, I’m sad to say, it feels as if it has been for a few years, and my husband and I are now trying to change that.

  25. I read somewhere and I can’t remember where now this quote that has helped me a lot when I’m struggling with whether or not I should volunteer more time to a specific need in the church.

    “A need does not equal a call.”

    The gist of it is that just because there is a need does not nessicerily mean that I am called to fill that need. I have to listen to what God wants me to do not what is currently on my churches needs list. And this leaves it open for God to put the right person in that position. If they don’t answer God’s call for them that’s their problem not mine. My job is to do only those things that God calls me to do!

    • Love this!

    • Thank you SO MUCH for saying this! I’m a SAHM with 3 (and one on the way) kids and a part-time job as an adjunct professor. I will tell you that I never NEVER teach children’s bible classes. Why? Because I hate teaching small kids. I teach college students on a regular basis, and I love my own kids, but I really don’t enjoy teaching other people’s kids. I will occasionally agree to sub as an assistant in a class, but I won’t lead. Is this seriously selfish? I’ve wondered that a lot.

      But here’s what I do: For 4 to 6 months of the year I work on the VBS drama, rewriting the script, casting, choosing music, working out the budget and then directing the drama for about three solid weeks of rehearsals and 4 days of shows. It’s very demanding on my time for about a month of the year, and I can fit some of the other work into whatever spare time I find throughout the rest of the year. I’m introverted and I have a master’s in Storytelling, so it’s perfect for me, as far as what needs to be done and what I’m good at. There isn’t anyone else who is willing and able to serve in this capacity at this point. I’m also very proud of the shows we’ve done, and it’s opened up a lot of conversations with the kids in the church when they see the story, not just hear it.

      I do other things as well, when needed (though I have never been asked to make funeral sandwiches) but our Children’s minister knows that I don’t enjoy teaching small kids, and I love her for her respect for my talents, and I think that’s what a church needs to acknowledge in one another. We are all different parts of a body and we all serve different functions. I’m sure not an ear, but I make a great knee! If I try to fill the “need” of an ear, I’m going to do a poor job, and I’m depriving an ear of their job.

  26. I totally get this because I help, a LOT. I’m the one in charge of the meals ministry so it would be me calling and asking folks for foods for funerals. I definitely believe that ministry does in fact matter. Unless the family specifies what they want (some just want some cookies and punch) then I would never call and say you must make sandwiches. I don’t operate that way. You bring what you want because God orchestrates those details and they always work out. Serving people in their worst, most wounded time in their lives is very, very important. But I also have a core team of folks who are wanting to do this work that I start calling first and then we make an announcement of needs to the entire church body. *I bet if your church sees this article here or in the magazine, you won’t be asked to make sandwiches :)

    The women’s retreats is one of my big pet peeves. I go to ours every year because it is a LOT of fun but it is very structured and that drives me batty. At our old church I planned the women’s retreats for our moms group. I never structured it. I want time with my friends w/o a devotion (gasp) and w/o rules and schedules. I NEED that. Starting to believe I need to find a way to rent a house on the beach and just have us do our own retreat with girlfriends instead.

    I’ve been contemplating the unstructured craft night. We used to do game nights. Bring a snack to share and play some board games. SO much fun.

    I don’t see the older ladies at our church doing all the work. It mostly seems to be us exhausted mamas doing it all. I know the pastor has a lot on his plate but sometimes I think we’d get better response if he straight up asked someone to do something. Harder to say no to him.

    When I ran our moms group, we would ask some of the older women to help with childcare and the answer we got was most often, “I did my time.” Um, wow.

    Changes need to be made but if people aren’t willing to help, what do we do?
    Melinda recently posted…It’s Just DirtMy Profile

    • Our church retreat has found a good balance. We do a few “mixer games” on the Friday evening, so that people feel they at least know each others names. Saturday morning we have a speaker, but after lunch the afternoon is “free time” – people are encouraged to bring a craft project they’re working on, or a book, or take a walk, play a board game… just time. Just time to be with each other (or nap!).
      We gather again an hour before dinner to pray for each other, and after supper we head home.

  27. berjiboo says:

    As a tip for arranging scheduling or coordinating food, a Care Calendar works well. Someone organizing the event makes a list of things needed, emails it out to everybody and people sign up as they are able. No one is stuck with something they feel inadequate about.
    As far as nursery work… I have one child that needs to sit in the service with me/ be by my side due to behavior issues. I can’t help in the children’s ministry with him along. (My husband travels out of town frequently so I would be signed up when he was out of town and so we couldn’t have my child sit with DH.) I also have learned, from volunteering in the past, that I actually don’t like teaching other children much. I don’t have a gift for it. I greatly appreciate people that do volunteer in children’s ministry.
    But I find other areas to participate and serve.
    In a previous church we attended they actually encouraged young couples with no children to volunteer in children’s ministry, not just as a ministry to the children, but also to their parents. I think they had a great idea. The same church also organized exercise/fellowship time for women. I.e. meet up and exercise either solo or together with other women.

  28. I understand what you are saying but I believe things are not even that easily fixed. As a women’s ministry leader this is an issue my co leader and I are dealing with. We created an evening once a month for women to get together and do ‘hobbies’. Those who had no hobbies were encouraged to come and just chat if they wished. I’m not a hobby person so I worked on organizing my recipe box. The first month was great, everyone had fun and said we need to do this more often. The second month fewer people came but we still had fun and lots of laughs, the third month even less showed up and the last 2, nobody came. Of course we had the typical whiners that said “That day doesn’t work for me…change it for me.” We didn’t because that day worked for those who were planning/hosting it. I think women are pulled is so many directions that unless we MAKE the time to connect, whatever the leadership of a church does will not succeed. If we want connection we must be willing to put ourselves out for it. Commitment seems to be lacking, at least in my church. Sad really, and I don’t know where to go with that.

  29. Amen, and Amen, and Amen.
    I am home with 4 kids all week. I don’t want to teach Sunday School – I need to hear the sermon and have the worship time and recharge myself.
    I am home with 4 kids all week. I don’t have the energy to also run a mid-week program, no matter how great it may be.
    I am home with 4 kids. All week. That IS a full time job, and it doesn’t mean I’m “available” all week for other things.

    I do teach Sunday School once a month, now. I do serve on the social events team, I help plan the yearly women’s retreat, I was one of the two people who “did” the kid’s Christmas service this year. I also run a weekly co-op for homeschoolers.
    I do a lot. But I can’t and I won’t do it all. My family needs me to have something left at the end of the week.

    And I don’t like funeral sandwiches either. I make squares, or I don’t help out.

  30. Here is my thought on this- with the time, talents, abilities, and resources we as women have, how can we best serve the Lord? How can we make an indelible impact for the Kingdom in the world around us? Now for some women, the answer may be ” make funeral sandwiches” but lately, God has been saying to me that there is so much more I can do outside of the church walls. I have started pulling people and resources together to fight human trafficking in whatever ways, big and small, that we can. I am a stay at home Mom of 3 small children. Time is precious to me. I don’t want to waste a second doing something I feel simply obligated to do, or worse, guilted into doing. I believe God is calling women of our day to rise up as an Esther generation- ready to invest in big things to really make a difference.if that means I have to pass on things like sandwich making, then so be it! Ephesians 2:10.

  31. Meredith says:

    First, a little problem-solving. Can you just buy a tray of ready-made sandwiches if your church expects everyone to help? We have unfortunately had a rash of family funerals and I noticed that they got big pans of lasagna and other pasta from a popular restaurant. Also, someone arranged for Chik fil-a chicken salad sandwiches and a fruit tray at the funeral home for the family during visitation. Non-traditional, but fine.

    I do agree that you need to be selective in your “yeses”. I would be happy to make your sandwiches while you ran the youth program because love to do that sort of behind the scenes helping. I don’t like being conscripted, however, especially when someone has arbitrarily deemed a job to be “women’s work”. It takes the joy out of the service when it is demanded of me.

  32. Andrew G says:

    The even bigger problem in the church of which this article highlights a side effect of is segregation. Why do so many churches believe in having male only groups and female only groups? Sure have some for those who want it but not all of us want to miss out on the wonderful situation of getting different perspectives from both males & females as well as older and younger people. When we segregate the sexes and ages it just contributes to expections mentioned in the article. It is also bad that churches don’t cater to men who want to attend a bible study during the day. As a single parent that is the best option for me. For others perhaps they can’t drive at night or they get tired earlier in the night and struggle to stay awake. Essentially in the church if you don’t fit hte norms you fall through the cracks and you are not catered for.

    I do find the claim that women are expected to help in sunday school strange as I have never seen that. In every church I have attended there were men involved in sunday school.

  33. I have to throw my 2 cents in… I have been on the receiving end of the funeral issue, and while I know it’s just an example you were using, it was hard to think how my friends may have been inconvenienced for my sake.
    I believe our church family should be just that – family. If its not, maybe we need to find one that is. If your sister needed you to make sandwiches for her baby’s funeral – would you hate it? Probably not. You might feel free to pick up some at the grocery store, but you’d forget your annoyance with the job because of your love for her! This is how jobs at church should be to us – whether they are our favorite jobs or not. What could be more lovely than a church family laying down their schedule for a day or two to stand behind someone who has lost a loved one?

    Women have different talents, sure, but there are some jobs that will be boring to nearly every person out there – that doesn’t mean they are less important. I think its too easy to pass on jobs we don’t like, be categorizing them as less important, while its really an excuse. Saving the world sounds more glamorous, but someone needs to vacuum the church and make funeral sandwiches. Are women too busy? Definitely. Maybe we should look at other extracurricular activities to cut, before we start cutting church ones.
    Kay (A Ranch Mom) recently posted…The Ranch CookMy Profile

  34. Stumbled upon your post via Pinterst and read it with great interest…I’m hearing from a lot of women that they want more depth, not less. Many are tired of the over the top themes and coordinating décor, and long for real discussions and Biblical advice… A lot of young moms just want help getting meals quickly and easily on the table. They need encouragement in their marriages…They need childcare provided…

    I think those of us in ministry need to provide a little of everything. Retreats with great teaching, but also with fun and free time. Craft/scrapbooking 1-4 times per year, balanced with regular Bible study offerings, conferences/workshops, and mentoring programs. Women’s needs are SO diverse and their schedules are SO full, it must be worthwhile to them to attend.

    One way we’ve recruited volunteers from Women’s Ministry events is to include a list of needs (food, greeters, registration, missions, clean-up, decorations, etc.) on our door prize slips. If they are interested in serving, they have the OPTION to check 1-2 boxes. We input all the contact info into a giant excel sheet and each team leader gets a copy of the list for their area. Team leaders were mindful of spreading out the work. HTH!

    Do we need to look at where our women our at? Yes. But we need to plan with an objective in mind or there will be no growth. The majority of our activities and efforts need to reflect what we believe God desires for our women – strong relationships with one another are certainly a part of that, but those can happen while participating in a service event, during a conference, etc. IF we are intentional.

    Thanks for allowing me to be part of the discussion!
    Cyndee recently posted…What area of ministry is God asking you to renovate?My Profile

  35. “I have no margins in my life.”

    Very common for women, especially with young kids at home.

    Why do we accept this situation? I don’t mean why do the women accept it, I mean what does the church accept it? A lack of margin is bad for the women, her kids, her husband, her marriage, and on and on and on. It is a bad witness and is it bad for the church. Yes we not only accept it, we pile more on their plate. (And probably server it with mustard!)
    Paul H. Byerly recently posted…A Different Kind of Sex ChallengeMy Profile

  36. This year I have said no to many things. I don’t believe we have allowed ourselves to say no, but if that is not your gifting, you should say no. Say it respectfully, and with confidence. For instance my spiritual gifts fall under serving,faith, and leadership.. teaching is craziness and stressfull. So is cooking. So I am able to go in and help at church in many areas that not only help thechurch, but i believe God blesses me for using my gifts correctly.

    I think if we can make ourselves aware of the gifts God has given us, and know that not every bodys gifts are the same, this body of Christ would be unstoppable!

  37. Amy Potter says:

    Come on girls! It sounds like you all need to get a little fresh air outside those church walls! ;) there’s a lot of life beyond the building.

  38. When my dad was in the pastorate, he pushed hard for people to be involved with no more than 2 ministries in the church, although in our case, food wasn’t specifically considered a ministry. In my opinion, the most significant point he made was that the Lord has never called anyone to burn out in service to Him. God won’t call us to do something He doesn’t also give us the strength to do. So if we’re burning out, it’s because we’re trying to do things that He hasn’t asked us to do. That could mean things in our personal lives, but in my case it usually is that guilt factor. I’m one who sees a need and automatically feels like it’s my responsibility to fill it.

    My family and I don’t attend the same church now due to distance, and last year, I was the church pianist, sang in the choir, taught the junior Sunday School class year round, served on the ladies committee, and was church clerk, not to mention bringing food when asked and working full time. It’s easy to see the problem when I write it all out, but at the time I couldn’t figure out why I was burned out and starting to dislike church. This may not be the best litmus test for everyone, but any time I have talked to my dad about feeling overwhelmed with church responsibilities, one of his first questions is always which ministries I enjoy. And when I stop to think about that, it becomes very obvious what the Lord has given me a passion to do in church and which things I feel like I need to do because it seems like there isn’t anyone else to do them. I’m slowly learning to say no to the things I just think no one else will do.

    Which brings me to another point: if there is a ministry the Lord is calling the church to do, He has also called the appropriate people to do it. If those people, whoever they are, don’t choose to step up and do them, the answer isn’t for everyone else to try to fill the gap. And since we don’t know people’s hearts and what God has called them to do, Dad had a rather simple (although unpopular) solution that I think was very biblical. If the church wanted a particular ministry but it couldn’t be done without burdening those who were already serving to capacity, we didn’t do it. Often, that involved my dad touching a “sacred cow” – that whole, “but we ALWAYS do this” thing – but overall, I have no question it was the right thing to do. My experience was that those who kicked and screamed the loudest when we didn’t do certain things were the ones who never lifted a finger in any ministries, while those in the 10% doing the work were mostly heaving a collective sigh of relief about having one less thing on their plates.

    • purplecandy says:

      I love the way your dad sees it. I definitely don’t understand why we do most things in church… Just to talk about nursery one more time, I do not mind having kinds running around or babies crying a little or being fed during church service, even during preaching. As long as we can hear the preacher, and we usually can… But I have children, and *others* are disturbed by kids, so they encourage us moms to put our kids in nursery… and then to run the nursery… well, in that case, I’ll just stay home and listen to an online sermon…

      I personally think that the biggest problem with church is that we expect it to look one way, and then put pressure on everybody to fit that picture, instead of just having a church that reflects its members. We can be a noisy church with kids playing somewhere during preaching, we can be a musically-challenged church without a great sound system, well, we even have churches with imperfect pastors ;) and so what ? Does it matter if we eat sandwiches at all ? Sometimes the best moments we have with God or with others don’t look at all the way we imagined/planned them… and its’ fine, it’s even better…

  39. My wife has this same problem. She has an office support function in our church which just about fills all of her week days. She has had to learn to say no to a lot of things. It can be particularly difficult when those who only see the church during services and on special occasions want her to become involved in their pet ministries. Going to services on mid-week and Sundays is like going back into the office for her. She can enjoy them, but it also presents the opportunity for her to be sidetracked by the well-intended needing use of the coping machine, or to schedule a function in the sanctuary of fellowship hall. Then there is also that aspect of knowing more than you would normally want about some of the members lives and trials and issues with the pastor or church as a whole.
    Dan recently posted…I Screwed Up…Big Time!My Profile

  40. Maybe all of this is a symptom of the fact that the church has become an ORGANISATION rather than an ORGANISM! Did it occur to anyone that craft evenings, retreat weekends and creches DON’T EXIST in the Bible? In the New Testament, there are several metaphors used – a body, a building, a bride. Not a business. Not a charity. Not a club. Not a child care centre. In the New Testament God’s pattern is laid out. A local church is a place where God intended every Christian to be. A place where they can learn and grow in Him, function in service for Him, enjoy the support of the Christian family around them and reach out to the world with the gospel. It is first FOR HIM, next for our own blessing and the blessing of others.

    Sorry for being a bit long winded, but I think it’s really important to note the way the 1st century Christians went about their church life. They were in each others’ homes. They prayed and ate together. They ‘had all things in common’. What does all this mean? Their church life was their TOP priority! Fellow Christians were loved and vauled as their closest friends, their spiritual family.

    I really feel that today the very essense of what God intented for His Church is being lost in ministry teams, social gatherings and age-appropriate organised activities. As another commenter noted, groups can be so segregated that teens don’t know the young parents or the retirees in the very same congregations. That’s not a body! That’s not what the New Testament church looked like. Sure, times change, but those essential purposes for which Christ formed his Church have not – and are being lost.
    So… bottom line? It’s not about the sandwiches, but it is about being so over-scheduled with our own lives that we don’t have time to function as the organism God intended us to be. If you don’t have the time or inclination to make the sandwiches, do you have the time or inclination to grieve with your brothers and sisters who have lost a loved one? To step up to the responsibilities that are left empty by the passing of a member? To demonstrate care by sending a card or visiting the bereaved?
    No, it’s not about the sandwiches, but it is about practical demonstrations of the love of Christ to our brothers and sisters in Him.

  41. I know it is not really all about the funeral sandwiches but I would like to tell you about how funeral sandwiches ministered to my un-churched sister. My parents were buried in their home town. They did not attend church their, my dad was saved only days before he died. I arranged the funeral to be at the local church that was the same denomination as mine. The ladies of that church asked us how many we were expecting and they did it all. I am sure that their act of service to people they didn’t even really know will be part of my sisters faith story. It really spoke to her that this church would do that for us. I am still grateful for their care to us at that difficult time.

  42. I agree! Really good thoughts. How have so many of our churches become social clubs (with activity after activity) withOUT being places of true community? We need real, honest, loving, selfless commitment to each other and Christ…thank you for saying this. And those are some good ideas. I agree that we need to think out of the box in order to cultivate actual, real fellowship, that refreshes instead of providing stress and guilt. I highly recommend Jerry Bridges book “True Community” which addresses that subject bionically and clearly.

  43. Mary’s comment #38…is SO true!! Thank you, Mary!!

  44. I haven’t read all of the comments. I agree with the article. (I typed a long comment and it disappeared into internet black hole so this is my 2nd time!! Boo hoo) I have seen so many couples have marriage problems when the mom/wife is over committed to the church. I see this in big and small churches. Small churches seem to be more notorious to seek out stay home moms more than working moms. One thing the church have forgotten is the wife’s/mom’s ministry is to her family. That is primary! Yes when God is head of the household this is the way it should be. I am not talking about her staying home or anything like that. This is only talking about the ministries. The church has so much more stuff they are offering to the members. It takes volunteers to run it. I have seen this in the church I used to work for as a night supervisor. I have seen couples going in and out of the church but not together. It was very weird. One couple the mom was there Mon, Wed and Thurs doing something with the women’s ministry or meeting one on one with somebody. Her hubby is there Tues, Wed and Thurs doing choir, men’s ministry and one on one. I stopped them one night (they were not together when I did this)….I asked each of them why are they here almost every night. They said they need to do ministries. I ask her how many times does her and her hubby sit and talk. Rarely she said. After talking to them (they were not together when I did this) I was sad for them. The church took a lot of their time in the evenings when they need to be fostering their relationships and their kids relationship. So sad!! Also makes me very angry. Why do we need sports, women’s ministry, men’s ministry so on….So many Bible studies. Yes they are important but not for the sake of family. Family is a ministry for the mom and dad. It should come first. I am amazed that the church do not see family as a ministry. No family ministries at all. Everybody is put in a box but separate. The church needs to realize for a ministry if there are no volunteers then they need to put it on back burner for now. There is a reason why they do not have volunteers for this. Do they do this? No they ask other people and put pressure on them. Things need to change within the church. Why are the emphasis on doing so much for the church and not for the family. Something is very wrong with this.

    There is my two cents!!
    Holly

    • Forgot to mention this (it was in my first time try and it got sucked into a black hole somewhere)…. The Bible speaks of gifts. Each of us have a gift. Each of us make up the whole of the church. If your gift is loving on babies, then you should be in nursery but do not forsake worship! This is something I see in all the churches we have been to or visited. We have to remember we do not forsake worshiping our Lord. If your gift is teaching women (if you are woman–I do not believe women teaching men but can talk in the presence of men) then host a Bible study. So on….Sometimes women or men are at a season in life where they can’t commit to volunteering due to illness, being a caretaker of their parents, special needs child, different shifts jobs (which is what my hubby and I have) so on. We have to be careful that we are not burning at both ends and not have any time with our hubby and children. What I got out of this article is not about the funeral sandwiches….Its about your time, gifts so on. The funeral sandwiches is an example of Sheila’s. :)

  45. On a total side note, last August when my son was stillborn, my church did the most amazing funeral! It was decorated (at my request) with blue and yellow. There were balloons and hundreds of daffodils, soke given by people I didn’t even know. There were cupcakes and cookies and, yes, some sandwiches. I think there was even fairybread! We also had meals cooked for a week and still have ongoing support. It was my son’s funeral and also his baby shower. It was beautiful and amazing. A couple of the teenage boys who like photography took photos.

    I think our church is very good at this sort of thing. Especially meals. We have a shared lunch every quarter too. But it is also because we don’t have a lot of extra programs. We have youth, children’s church, creche. We also have small groups during the week (for most people) and occassionally short programs are run for training. Last year this new thing was begun called “tables of 8″ which is really awesome. Four couples get together for a meal and then they split into two groups of two. Each pair of couples then choose another two couples to have dinner with, and so on. It is fun and really low stress.
    Katherine Crombie recently posted…Six MonthsMy Profile

  46. Ruthie Brand says:

    Jesus is our model. He served “the least of these.” Making some sandwiches and serving on a rotation in your nursery should not be burdensome. We certainly can’t say yes to everything. But our hearts desire should be to give freely of our time and energy and resources and consider saying “YES” to the needs that God has put right in front of us. Often times-that’s not glamorous work and often, takes sacrifice. Which-is what Jesus calls us to do.

    • and is how we grow spiritually..just the way it is..we all rest in heaven..thank God for the resources and abilities to serve Him

  47. NateInPhoenix says:

    I think this blog entry perhaps touches some the wrong way because it’s difficult to tell without any other context whether this entry in isolation is saying that the demands of church are just encroaching on the author’s “me time” and she is complaining from a place of selfishness, or if the demands are unevenly distributed across her church’s body of believers. The former, of course, is problematic and would concern me as well. We are called to serve. If our lives don’t have “any margin” to allow for service in our church, then our priorities are terribly misplaced and we need to cut out other activities to make a margin that would allow service in our church. One could also take away from this article that the author is saying only “fun” things should be pursued by churches and all else abandoned. Fellowship should be happening but that should be happening in addition to church, not in place of church. This blog as a standalone can leave a reader with that sort of vibe. However, from perusing other blog entries, I don’t think that is the case with this author.

    I think, instead, she is touching on an ongoing problem in the church that is, sadly, nothing new. That 20% of the body does 80% of the work is just not God’s design for the church. I am part of a small body of believers (120 +/- people on any given week) and it is difficult to pull off a children’s ministry team, a worship team, setup and tear down (we meet in a school and have to setup and tear down every single week) and still have people left over to sit in the congregation. The solution for many who come: sit in the congregation and not get involved, otherwise they feel too overwhelmed. The result: the few doing all of the work are, indeed, overwhelmed! We are called to serve as part of the body. We should serve in areas that capitalize on the gifts God has given us. “My yolk is easy, and my burden is light”. If we’re burning out, we may be serving in the wrong ministry and it may be time to find a ministry that energizes us instead, but utilizing our skills, talents and gifts.

    Of course, if we say, “well, any involvement beyond filling my seat on Sunday morning is exhausting and too draining, it’s burning me out” then we have a priorities problem and are over committed in our personal lives.

  48. I found this article very timely…our church is in a transition period, and one thing we are trying to figure out is exactly who is doing ministry/ies and how many/which one(s).
    I was discussing this article and what I read in the combox yesterday with a friend, on our way to a visitation for the mother of a young mum in our church. My friend made an interesting comment: her grandmother was Anglican, and back in her grandmother’s time, the church had a BIG kitchen…with 4 ovens, a huge work island/prep surface, etc. Whenever there was a funeral, the women would bring their items (let’s use sandwiches as an example…I dunno, I think it was mentioned in the article above! ;) )to the church, and AS A GROUP, would make the sandwiches, etc. for the funeral. Women weren’t doing this in isolation…they were doing it as COMMUNITY. My friend also commented that it was no wonder that such churches were used as care stations during the war, soup kitchens, etc…they had the means, the space, etc. to do it. Can you imagine if our churches had this? WHAT we could do!!! We could have a freezer full of prepared meals…ready to go at a moment’s notice to a family who has suffered a loss, a birth, a surgery…a family in need…seriously…think of what we could do, and the opportunities to bless our communities and neighbours (you know, the part about loving our neighbour as ourself? :) ).
    Fastforward to our church in the 21st century, and our church’s kitchen is NOT large enough for more than 4 people to be in it at once, is poorly laid out and hasn’t enough prep surface, etc. etc. to be able to handle this. So we do it in isolation…each in our own homes, making sandwiches and trying not to have them end up looking like an elephant sat on them. (I’m non-compliant…when there are sandwiches made, I make something else…and I don’t apologize for it. However, when sandwiches are necessary and I’ve girded my loins to make them, I make pb and js…because kids, most kids, do not like salmon or other sandwiches. Heck, even some adults like them a good pb and j…no shame in our game! I am also the one who will make cookies when pie is the requested dessert…because I have kids who would prefer cookies than pie any day…and they are not alone. No one has complained, and they get eaten.).
    Ladies, the thing is, times have changed, our lives have changed. I’m “only” 38 and much has changed in my short life. People are busier, and time is at such a premium now. We have changed the way we do certain other things at church, without changing our core (for the most part)…ie., we still evangelize, but we don’t do door-to-door…we use videos rather than puppets or flannel graph (ahem)…this can be an area where we can change too. The way I see it: we do the community thing, or we have a group of women who are the “Funeral Food Makers” as their ministry…or we have a line item in our budget to get a tray of sandwiches (or 2 or 3….) from Farm Boy. There is no shame in that…either way there is food…either way a family is ministered to in their time of need.
    This discussion is needed….and it’s great to contribute to and see other’s ideas.
    Anne recently posted…2014 DaybookMy Profile

  49. Ugh, I think you could write a book on what the expectations are of women in the church.
    My husband is an elder, and the older elders just expect that when they commit to something, so do their wives. Bless my husband, he knows to put his foot down and say “Not my wife, not without asking, she’s busy, too.”

  50. Wow I think there are some tired women out there and some ministries that would do well to heed this advice. Good stuff ladies & gents.

  51. historychick says:

    First, the funeral sandwiches issue–many churches have a better system than you have experienced. In ours, for example, they rotate who they call, and the working moms & moms with young kids are asked IF they could provide x, y, or z for the funeral dinner. Often, it’s something as simple as a 9×13 cake, but a choice is offered. If your week is crazy busy, you can ask to be called at another time and our organizer will try again.
    But that is only a symptom of the problem! I am involved in the children’s ministry of our church and I am so frustrated by my experiences! As so many have said–a small core do the work that could easily be shared by others. Our former children’s director worked herself to exhaustion trying to provide great experiences for the kids, but so many parents will not help at all. They drop kids off early, pick them up late and always say NO when asked to help. Sometimes we feel like a babysitting service! Those of us working ourselves into a frazzle to help would have liked to say no but we worried about her taking on too much and knew she needed the help. Now her health has forced her out suddenly, the core group is burned out from covering her responsibilities for the months spent searching for her replacement. Now we don’t want to help any longer, we feel unsupported by the ministerial staff, and we fear the children’s department will fall apart but we’re too worn out to step up any longer. How can the church prevent burning people out? How can we get people to step up? We can’t even get people to RSVP so we have an accurate head count! I’d love to hear suggestions!

  52. Jessica says:

    All I can say is yes, and amen! This post was incredibly encouraging to me today as I am struggling to help people in my current church understand that my saying “no” at times does not mean that I am unengaged or struggling in my walk with the Lord, or having marital issues. My husband and I currently lead a small group every week in our home and serve twice a month in our Children’s Ministry, in addition to having careers, two young children, and grad school on our plates. This is not seen as enough. My mind is blown at the expectations we put on each other in the church far too often! Thank you again!

  53. I have mixed emotions about this post. I do understand having too many ministries with too much busywork and too few people to do them and the need to adapt to current lifestyles. One of my favorite things was years ago when a group of friends got together to work on their various individual craft projects, just like you said. There was no formal program or “devotion,” we all just worked and talked (even the sisters in Little Women did this in one of the sequels when they got older and had their own families, only they brought mending).

    Our small group was having a picnic that was partly for outreach purposes last summer, and the directors wife wanted me to help organize a game tournament. I am not a rah rah game leader type of person and proposed that people just bring board games if they wanted, and whoever wanted to play could play, and whoever wanted to just sit and talk could. Everyone just sat and talked. :-)

    On the other hand, sometimes we need to minister in the ways that are needed instead of just the ways we particularly like to minister.

    Re funeral sandwiches (must be a regional thing – I’ve never been asked to make funeral sandwiches. :-) One church we were in supplied a ham and ladies brought side dishes and desserts), but anyway – for some people laying out $20 for that would be much more of a burden, plus they feel better about being able to “do” something to help. Maybe the person who doesn’t like to prepare sandwiches or whatever could buy them (we have a deli here that makes trays) while others made items. In one church we were in, some folks frowned at store bought stuff for church fellowships and such, but that ought not to be. Some people find it easier to buy, some find it easier to make, but it all gets eaten.

    I wonder, too, if the lack of women willing to serve for meals for church events has to do with the trend away from homemaking (even in the church) and the idea that we think other areas of service are more important than this. That may be why older women do a lot of this kind of thing, because they’re from more traditional backgrounds. I don’t know.

    This post has given me much food for thought. But I definitely agree with keeping it simple, whatever we do.
    Barbara H. recently posted…Friday’s Fave FiveMy Profile

  54. Amanda Edwards says:

    I couldn’t agree more with this article. Church has been a drain for so many women for so many years and no one will say anything or do anything to change that! My husband and I recently started a church and we vow to not overcommit people and to not bog down the schedule with activities that everyone feels required to attend. What we have found works best and is the most freeing way to have activities is for people to initiate them on a personal level. And as far as saying no, I do it all the time, and can’t stop to worry what everyone will think of me. I’ve seen too many church families over-extended at church and their family life is suffering because of it. It is our job to keep our priorities in order. God, family, then everything else, which includes church ministry, our hobbies, and our jobs. As a pastor’s wife, I don’t want to spend my life only doing things for other people, and neglect my own family and home. They should be my first priority of service and get the first fruits of my life and love!

  55. Tired Mamma says:

    Ok, here’s my issue. I’ve been asked every two weeks for the last 6 weeks to bring some sort of food item for a funeral for people I don’t know. The first time I wasn’t asked. I was told I needed to bring a main dish. I was a little irritated because the lady who asked was so rude. The second time the lady that asked was nice so I complied. But just got another call for someones mom who doesn’t even go to the church. Right now I feel a little taken advantage of. But I also feel guilty because its not in my budget.I feel like this giant burden is put on me. I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place.

  56. I agree to a point…on the other hand, as the pastors wife of a small church….if no women want to be in nursery, or whatever else, then guess who gets to by default? Is the pastors wife allowed to get burned out, too?

    Many hands make light work……

  57. ChurchLady says:

    I really appreciate this post. As the leader of my church’s women’s ministry, SAHM, homeschooler, and one of the worship leaders (all things I know God has CALLED me to in this season of life, based on the spiritual gifts He’s placed within me), I know what it’s like to naturally feel tired or even exhausted from ministry. I agree with much of what you say but, more than that, I believe I hear the cry of your heart beyond the words. Regardless of the “rightness” of serving the Lord (I’m gonna give the benefit of the doubt that you and others know that is a part of our walk as Christians), there still lies that reality that we humans can have weak or no boundaries, make poor choices, be people-pleasers, and find it quite difficult to shirk the crushing guilt that comes from saying (or even thinking about!), “no”. It’s one of the reasons we are left with “no margin” in our lives. But, we have choices. That is how I survive my life’s current load. My husband and children are a priority, but walking out my call in other areas in which the Lord has gifted me is a priority as well. I create margin in my life by freely saying “no” if the request is not something God has said to do. Sometimes He burdens me to accept (or even initiate) requests that are not particularly in my scope of gifting (e.g. making a “funeral sandwich”), but I those opportunities to sacrifice for the sake of God’s glory and the Gospel are not the norm. I look at any serving of others–family and others–as serving God…particularly because I tend to value “me”-time greatly. You know, the laying in bed relaxing and watching a good movie without interruption! ;-) I agree with many of the comments, this is a needed discussion about a very common issue in churches. The larger issue that continues to need discussion and change is the general tendency of women to feel guilty because they want to say no. Stop it. The church, no ministry, no activity, no event will lead to the destruction of mankind if you don’t do it. There is nothing that important in this life. Know Christ and make Him known. A “no” might glorify Him more than a begrudging, fear-based “yes”. Thanks for the great article and letting me share my few cents! :-)

  58. Elizabeth J says:

    Amen! I’m 25 and have been teaching the kindergarten Sunday school class for 5 years now. I also started teaching children’s church once a month when I was 20. The very next year I was appointed (more like coerced) into being co-head of the entire children’s church ministry with my aunt! That’s a lot of responsibility to put on the shoulders of a 21 year old college student who is about to student teach and start a career!

    I am a member of a very small congregation so I understand that everyone has to pull their weight, but it gets frustrating on Sunday mornings when I have to teach children’s church right after Sunday school and not get any spiritual food for myself. And then I look at the pew in front of me and see a mother of 2 children who participate in both Sunday school and children’s church, yet she doesn’t volunteer to teach either one. I have no children and am pouring my heart, soul, energy, money, time, sweat, and patience into this; yet she gets to enjoy the sermon every Sunday and not have to worry about her children interrupting.

  59. I have read through most of the comments, though not all of them, so don’t know if this has been said or not.. I am one of the “older women” in our congregation, and please know that just because our children are grown and we are retired, we still don’t have tons of “free” time. I’m just as busy and overextended as anyone. Plus, there are many days when the aches and pains of being older mean I just can’t accomplish what I used to. I love serving my Lord, but the ways I serve have changed over the years. And, I have come to realize that I don’t have to feel guilty on the occasion when I need to say “no, not this time”, because if I say yes every time I am asked to do something in the church, then someone else, who maybe is just learning how to serve or what their gifts are, will not be asked. And sometimes, they need a little push of encouragement to get started, but it is so rewarding when they do. I appreciate those older ladies who mentored me years ago. Thanks for listening!

  60. Elizabeth J says:

    Sarah,
    I appreciate all of what the “older ladies” have done for the church over the years. We have a lady who taught the preschool class every Sunday since my father was a boy! I don’t know if mine was a comment you read or not, but I didn’t want you to think me unappreciative. I just wish more of the “younger ladies” would volunteer to do things and help out instead of leaving it to just a few of the “really younger ladies”.

    • Don’t let yourself become “burned out” In your ministry to the church. It took me a long time to learn that “no” was always an option. Take a break or serve in some other capacity and allow yourself to recharge. Pray about each request you get to serve in the church, and allow God to speak to you. God bless you!

  61. I couldn’t agree with you more. So many people look at me like I am unspiritual because I don’t want to cook for things. I teach, serve on committees, sing, minister outside my home and work. I am not gifted in the hospitality area. But I feel judged. And burned out. And unappreciated. So I agree totally with the things you said about having things that don’t require a lot of work. That would be so refreshing.

  62. Love this post! Just discovered you today. A publisher I write for suggested I read your posts on modesty as I’m working on a piece for her September issue. So I read those, and then I read a lot of other posts as well. Then I came back here. In the last few days, I have removed myself from 2 church activities that I was sort of “guilted” into or pulled into with “this is the way we do it” and “someone will have to step up to the plate.” I handed them back their plate, as a former over-responsible person would do, and they looked shocked. Then they looked jealous, like they wish they could hand their plates back, too. Maybe my voice and boundaries will encourage other “Southern women” to stop cooking so much and doing VBS on a shoe-string budget at the last minute. :)

  63. Bridget Patten says:

    This is so lovely and refreshing and glad that I am not alone. I am currently sitting at work on a Saturday morning feeling “guilted” because I am not at church setting up for our “Spring Gala and Cent Sale”. I have felt put upon for the past 8 weeks because they weren’t listening when I said I was going to be busy and could not do much. I still received the “but you can do this though and you can do that it doesn’t take much time only an hour or so.” They haven’t been listening when I said I was working 11 hours a day 6 days a week because my boss was in hospital, my husband was working night shift for a month as well as doing his prison ministry, our daughter is also about to finish her final exams for her last year in high school and our son needs alot of care as he tries to find new directions having completed his apprenticeship and promptly losing his job. So for me it is the lack of understanding and care of those in the church community who have to say “No”.

  64. Oh girl, YES. I absolutely love this. Ironically, I found this article when I Google searched “how to say no to church stuff” in an effort to figure out if and HOW I should say no to a non-paid long term “leadership” role at church. When I was asked initially, I was working a high stress, 60 hour a week new job (childless, single, 30, unabashedly career ambitious) in addition to attending 2 weekly house churches, leading and co-leading 2 other bi-weekly ones, heading up one major inter-church event, and planning a friends surprise party. Yea. How much more must I do, especially when I’m feeling like I’m not doing everything excellently?

    But, now, things are a little bit different. As of last week, my 60 hour a week job has dissolved, I’ve decided to focus on raising money to complete a personal project and take some online classes at bible college. I can say yes to this role and I want to so that I can be the one to bring some of the ideas in this article to life, especially as we struggle to get younger men and women to replace to old guard leadership/role fillers. I am now excited to be an agent of change and out of the box thinking at my church. Thank you for this. And thank God for the room He has created in my life to be this :)

  65. Issues like this should not be a burden. Because if you love God then whatever you do thinking that you are doing it to glorify God and issues like this should not be exhausting…

    • historychick says:

      Thet, that is EXACTLY the emotional blackmail phrase people use when they continually ask you to do more and more. I don’t think Sheila is saying that everything we are asked to do is a burden, but she’s saying that in many situations the same people are asked or expected to do “just one more little thing”. Those little things can eventually become the straw that broke the camel’s back–the accumulation of those expectations and responsibilities eventually becomes too much. Because of this she’s suggesting that churches need to examine their traditions and practices so that they can evaluate whether changes would be beneficial. Could they do a potluck instead of the annual Christmas dinner? Could they do a dessert coffee instead of a meal? Could they rotate responsibility for funeral food or showers? As individuals, women must also evaluate service opportunities and the needs of our families (and ourselves) before we say yes. Even Elijah experienced a period when he needed to withdraw so he could refresh himself!

  66. I love this!

  67. I am one of those people that have left churches because I got burnt out by guilt but didn’t know how to say no. I knew when I found myself up before the sun, working the bake sale table when our church gymnasium was being used for election day, a line had been crossed. I am not a morning person and I would rather be out encouraging someone over coffee than selling cupcakes. But I couldn’t say no.

    Being pressured into things like this over and over in every church I’ve been a part of chased me out of the church for years.

    Now I have a newborn, and the 2-year-old church that my husband and I have decided to plant ourselves in long term is staying a nursery and is looking for volunteers. I am avoiding that nursery like the plague. I would prefer to ask my father or a friend to hold my son for me in the lobby if I really, really needed a serious moment in service without him. Isn’t that what community is? Asking for help of those close to you, and offering help to those you see around you whether you know them yet or not? I’m just not a “leave your kid in another room with a stranger” kind of person. Even if they are fingerprinted. And the only small child I can tolerate for 3 minutes is my son. And I’m a severe introvert. Putting me in the nursery with a bunch of kids and another adult that I don’t want to converse with would not be healthy for any member of our community.

    Details side, I have learned how important clear communication is. Communication with our leaders and with our peers. When we share our hearts, we often find that others in the community do care and want to make sure we are serving where we are meant to serve and are very hesitant to place us in ill-fitting roles. Thank God!

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Trackbacks

  1. […] over. I’ve written about a bunch of different things lately–why teenagers rebel, women getting burnt out from church, why we yell at our kids–and as all of this has been spinning around in my head, sort of like […]

  2. […] When Women Start Saying “No” to Church Activities. I have mixed emotions about some of the points in this post, as I said in my comment there. I do think sometimes we need to adapt ourselves to the need rather than wanting everything adapted to us, on one hand, but on the other hand, yes, we do need to adapt to current lifestyles and find ways of ministry that edify rather than exhaust. […]

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