Concern & Responsibility, Loads & Burdens

Mark Driscoll
One of the most important skills every Christian, especially a ministry leader, must learn is the distinction between a concern and a responsibility. The younger the Christian or ministry leader, the more likely they are to lack the skill of discerning concerns and responsibilities. In my own pastoral ministry, failures in this area have contributed to extreme overwork and exhaustion. I was recently reminded of this important distinction when I read the simple and helpful book Leading on Empty by Wayne Cordeiro, a fellow pastor whom I have greatly enjoyed the few times I have met with him. As a Christian, we should lovingly and sincerely have concern for many people and their many circumstances. Our hearts should ache for the pain and trouble that others experience in life. This concern should compel us to speak truth into their life, which can include everything from pointing out sin to giving wise counsel, and intercede for them before God in prayer. Still, as a Christian we cannot take responsibility for everyone and everything for which we have concern. As finite beings, there is only so much we can do and we must discern whom God has called us to help and how God has called us to help them. When we take responsibility for people and things we ought not, we are sinning by taking off someone’s shoulders a load God has called them to carry and sinning against our own health, family, and priorities by offering to carry it for them. I envision that everyone has a backpack with responsibilities that God has given for him or her to carry. Some people’s backpacks are big, and others are small. Nonetheless, God has called us each to fill up our pack with specific responsibilities. Some people are lazy and try to take things out of their pack and get others to carry them instead. Examples include the able-bodied man who lives with his mom, making her responsible for his housing and food; the lazy employee who cannot keep a job and expects his or her friends and family to always give him or her money; and the irresponsible young woman who assumes the government, her family, or a wealthy boyfriend will pay the price for her foolish life choices. Tragically, for many, the whole definition of someone being loving, godly, and spiritual is that they are willing to carry the loads God has called others to carry. This is not ministry. This is co-dependency, co-idolatry, and sin. Scripture, of course, says it perfectly. Galatians 6:2–5 admonishes us, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. . . . For each will have to bear his own load.” At first glance, this Scripture passage seems contradictory but it is not. It says that everyone, by himself or herself alone, should carry whatever load God has placed in his or her backpack. It also says that Christians should take some burdens out of the backpacks of some people and put them in their own packs and carry them out of love. In the Greek, the difference is between the words “load” and “burden.” A “load” is a light enough pack that someone should be expected to carry it alone. Practically, this means that the typical person needs to find a job, pay their bills, read the Bible, attend church, pursue Christian friends, pray, repent of sin, share their faith, watch their diet, exercise, and look after themselves and their spouse and children if applicable. A “burden” is a heavy load that is simply too much for one person to bear without the loving help of Christian friends. Practically, the person with cancer or another debilitating ailment, the mother of young children who is abandoned by her husband, the poor elderly widow who cannot pay her bills, and others like them should not feel guilty for seeking reasonable help nor should they be chastised for doing so. Rather, the church exists in part to help lessen their burden by taking some of the financial, emotional, and practical weight out of their pack and carrying it for them. One key to ministry is discerning what is a load someone else has to carry (in which case we show concern) and what is a burden we and others need to help carry (in which case we take some responsibility). Are you someone who is expecting too much time, energy, money, and/or investment from the leaders in your church? Which loads do you need to just buck up and carry without whining until someone else does your job? Have you manipulated others’ concern for your load to get them to take on your responsibilities as their burden in the name of loving Christian community? Are you a Christian leader who is weighed down by all the loads you are carrying for others who need to carry their own load? How have you sinned by allowing concerns to become responsibilities and others’ loads to collectively become your burden?
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