Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38–42)

What’s a Martha-driven church? One that is dangerously obsessed with serving. Now, we must serve. We’re both called and gifted to serve each other to the glory of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 4:10–11). But it’s possible to be serving Pharaoh and not Jesus, and not even know it.

A local church, especially one blessed with growth, can catch “Marthaism” if they aren’t careful. They can become distracted with much serving. And this distraction is harmful to the church. Distraction is subtle, and it’s almost never silent.

Martha, Martha, Martha.

There is much to be done in every local church. Someone has to do X, Y, and Z. The pastors are busy, the deacons have items to tend to, staff members are leading their ministries, kid’s ministry servants are plugging away, band members, ushers, etc. All good things. But we cannot allow ourselves to get distracted from the very point of these things, the greater portion: sitting at the feet of Jesus and learning from him.

If we aren’t careful, we can all catch the baseline symptoms of Marthaism.

Evidence of Marthaism

Martha got upside down in what is most important. Certain characteristics and actions rose to the top of her life and were made known. Pastors and leaders should take note. We don’t want to create a church culture of Martha-formed followers.

If we aren’t mindful, we might be cracking the whip and telling people to serve and make bricks without straw. Click To Tweet

I’ve heard some church growth experts teach how to keep people in your church: Get them serving and do it fast! The basic idea is to get them entrenched in responsibility and commitment, a kind of “get them on the hook, in the system, on the conveyor belt.”

Now, it’s true that serving in the local church is also a place where friends and community can be formed for the long haul. But that’s not what some experts of church growth are pointing out. They’re showing the stickiness of responsibility rather than the power of love, community, mission, and a vision for holistic discipleship in the kingdom of God.

I’ve heard from friends of mine that they were guilted into serving at So-And-So Church so much that they couldn’t remember the last time they were in the service. That’s a problem. Every church has needs, holes that need to be filled, ministries that need servants. But if we aren’t mindful, we might be cracking the whip and telling people to serve and make bricks without straw.

So, what does Marthaism look like?

  • Do you value other things (certain ministries, your opinions, etc.) more than the fame of Jesus?
  • Do you get angry at those who aren’t serving in a way you assume they should?
  • Do you crave the praise of man?
  • Do you serve for yourself or so that others can hear the words of Christ?
  • Do you complain to (or about) church leadership, or do you complain to the Lord about other people in your church, ministry, or community group?
  • Do you think everyone just needs to serve like you?
  • Are you anxious about the happenings of the church?
  • Do you make demands and assert authority where it hasn’t been given?
  • Have you forgotten that the gospel is most necessary?

Eradicating Marthaism

Back in Luke 10, Martha is so distracted that it leads her to think that Jesus doesn’t care about her. “Lord, do you not care . . .?” Oh, she couldn’t be more wrong. Tricked by her own thinking on the centrality of serving. But that’s what happens when we aren’t centered on Christ. All kinds of wonky thoughts enter our hearts and leave our mouths when Christ is not the practical, spiritual, and ecclesia center of our church.

What can rid our church cultures of this over-realized “servanthoodedness?” Robust, steel-toed alignment to the glory of Christ. Gospel-centeredness is the great defense system against spiritual drift. Theological, philosophical, and doctrinal drift can be warded off by radical gospel-centrality.

We must ask ourselves: Is my discipleship plan more about getting people to grow my church or for people to grow in their walk with Jesus? Click To Tweet

The more we’re fixated on Christ, our distractibility shrinks. We must prioritize sitting at the feet of Jesus and hanging on to his every word, just like Mary. We must encourage people to prioritize an affectionate spirituality toward the Lord Jesus—wanting to be near him, to meet with him, to hear from him, to learn from him, and to love him. We must ask ourselves: Is my discipleship plan more about getting people to grow my church or for people to grow in their walk with Jesus?

If you have members pouring their lives out for others in the church, doing informal counseling, opening their homes, and serving their communities, praise the Lord! Sundays aren’t the pinnacle of serving. When people aren’t serving on Sundays, wise leaders must not assume, like Martha, that it’s because they don’t care. It might be because they are caring about the right thing, the right person—Jesus Christ.

Jeff Medders
Written by: Jeff Medders on July 12, 2021

J. A. Medders serves on staff at Risen Church and the Risen Collective in Houston, Texas. He’s a PhD student in biblical spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also hosts The Acts 29 Podcast. Jeff is the author of Humble Calvinism and Gospel Formed. You can follow his writing and monthly newsletter at