People Too Busy to Serve? Teach Them to Steward Their Time

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Lewis Center Staffer Ann A. Michel says people who think they are too busy to serve at church should be challenged to reexamine their priorities and make first fruits commitments of their time. Helping people steward God’s precious gift of time can free them from chronic busyness and allow them to experience the joy of serving.


These days, it seems nearly impossible for some people to commit their time and talents to church. They juggle heavy workloads and family responsibilities. Long commutes and frequent travel eat into their schedules. They struggle to squeeze in even a little time for fun or fitness. It’s tempting for church leaders to just throw up their hands and say, “That’s just how life is these days. How can we possibly expect overly busy people to take on even more?”

A question of priorities

But what If you asked someone to make a financial offering to the church, and they said, “Sorry! I can’t. I’ve already spent all my money?” You’d quickly realize the need to educate that person about the importance of honoring God through their offerings and prioritizing generosity. Faithful giving requires that we adjust our spending patterns and reprioritize our budgets. Yet we rarely challenge people to apply that same logic to how they spend their time.

I learned this lesson myself years ago when I finally joined a weekly Bible study group after years of thinking I was too busy for such a heavy time commitment. But once I’d committed to the group, somehow my other responsibilities fell in place around it. And when the year-long study was over, I was ready and eager to re-up. It turned out I really did have the time, once I made it a priority.

First fruits

This is, of course, exactly how people who don’t think they can afford to give become sacrificial givers or tithers. Rather than giving what is left over after all other possible claims on their resources are satisfied, they give to God “off the top” and adjust their other spending priorities in light of that commitment.

Asking people to make a first fruits commitment of their time is more than a way for the church to meet its volunteer needs. It’s an invitation to really consider how they spend the gift of time God has given them. Learning to steward this precious resource is every bit as important as learning to steward the material and financial resources God entrusts to us.

Putting things in perspective

When we prioritize giving — whether it’s of our time or our treasure — we learn to put our own wants and needs into perspective. It can lead us to discover that we really don’t need to spend $5 or $6 dollars a day on coffeehouse beverages or yield to the temptation of yet another online purchase. And we might also learn that we don’t need to be spending so much time going to and from that coffee shop, shopping online, monitoring social media, watching sports or cable news … or whatever other hidden time thieves steal your life away.

People who don’t know better might imagine that tithing and first fruits giving are merely clever gimmicks for funding the church. But when you adopt these disciplines, you discover they are instruments God gives us to reign in our tendency toward selfishness and overconsumption. In this same way, learning to steward our time can free us from the tyranny of endless societal time pressures. When we help people put into proper perspective how they spend their time, we help them step away from a self-destructive pattern of chronic busyness and experience the joy of serving God and others.


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About Author

Ann A. Michel is associate director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary and teaches in the areas of stewardship and leadership. She is also the author of Synergy: A Leadership Guide for Church Staff and Volunteers (Abingdon, 2017), available at Cokesbury and Amazon.


Adult Education Studies from the Wesley Ministry NetworkAdult Education Studies from the Wesley Ministry Network

The Wesley Ministry Network brings the best of contemporary Christian scholarship to your congregation’s small groups and adult Bible studies.These video-based group study courses encourage the energetic discussion and personal reflection that are keys to a life of informed discipleship. Courses are designed for use in small groups in a wide range of denominations, but they are also appropriate for individuals seeking self-study opportunities. Learn more now.

Ecumenical studies: Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes SenseJourney through the PsalmsDevotion to Jesus: The Divinity of Christ in Earliest ChristianitySerious Answers to Hard QuestionsReligion and Science: Pathways to TruthIn God’s TimeA Life Worthy of the GospelWomen Speak of God
United Methodist studies: Methodist Identity — Part 1: Our Story; Part 2: Our BeliefsWesleyan Studies Project — Series I: Methodist History; Series II: Methodist Doctrine; Series III: Methodist Evangelism