[O]ne of my favorite movie quotes comes from the 1993 remake of the Disney classic “Freaky Friday.”  In the movie, Tess’ (Jamie Lee Curtis) body is taken over by her daughter, Anna, (Lindsay Lohan) and visa versa.  This relationship is not built out of mutual admiration or respect.  Anna (in Tess’ body) says that it will be easy to be Tess; all she will have to do is “suck the fun out of everything.”  When Tess protests, Anna calls her a “Fun-Sucker.” I’ve know plenty of Fun-Suckers in my time.  If the truth be told, I’ve been one once or twice. 

When it comes to serving, the emotion I feel most is joy.  So those who suck the joy out of serving I refer to as Joy-Suckers.  There is almost always one Joy-Sucker at every serving opportunity, although it might not be obvious right away who it is.  Those are the people who I just want to ask, “Why are you even here?”  The Joy-Suckers I’ve come in contact with seem to belong in one of three categories. There is also a lot of crossover in the grouping.

As I see it, there are three components of service or stewardship that are biblical.  As Christ followers, we are expected to give of our time, talents, and treasure. It doesn’t need to be all three at all times.  In fact there seems to be a divide between the time/talent people, and the treasure people.  Those who give and serve with their time and/or talent don’t always have the means to be givers of treasure, and those who share their treasure don’t always have the desire to give of their time or talents.  There are those few who are able to, and do, share all three, and they are a blessing to any ministry.  This is not to say that one is better than the other.  In God’s economy, helping a neighbor is helping a neighbor. (Just like sin is sin, but that’s a topic for another book)

The thing is, when we give, we are expected to be joyful givers (2 Corinthians 9:7).  This is the first category of Joy-Sucker that I’ve come across:  Someone who freely gives of their time and talent, but is bitter about also giving up their treasure.  They are usually at an event helping to set-up or are giving their time to help a ministry, but they always have to let others know how much the service is costing them or how much their time is worth.  (Time is the new dollar bill) I am reminded of the Pharisee in the temple exclaiming to God how much they were giving, standing next to the woman who gave her last two cents. That kind of attitude just gets under my skin.  It drains me of the joy I feel.  It could be because I don’t have a lot of treasure to give.  It may be different if I did.

Another category of Joy-Suckers are those who see service as an obligation.  They don’t like it, but they feel it will make God happy to help others.  As the old saying goes, “misery loves company.”  Their biggest desire beyond pleasing God is to make everyone else who serves alongside them just as miserable as they are. Talk about your spiritual wet rags.  They can bring down even the most spirited volunteers.  The problem is that they can’t keep their misery to themselves. Yet they are sure that their misery is their key to God’s good graces.  How wrong can they be?  God want us to be cheerful servers who spread joy, not suck it up like a vacuum.

The next category is probably the biggest joy sucker for me.  It includes those who happily give of all they have, but they think what they do, or how they do things, is the only way to do it.  They are the control freaks of the world.  Just as God has created us all with different talents and desires, He has also given us different passions that drive our service. These are also the easiest Joy Suckers to find.

So many people are joyful servers and just happy to be there. The control freaks of the world bring others down by making people around them feel that they are not serving to their potential because they are not “doing it right.” (A subset of this is the passive aggressive control freak: “Well, that’s not how I would do it.”) I have served alongside the “lunch Nazi”, a person who had the only correct time, the one person who knew how to wash dishes, someone who “taught” me how to boil water, and so many others.

I am not saying that as servants we should not have standards, but it is all in the presentation. At Mary’s Kitchen we have a way to show those who receive sack lunches that we care.  We call it “folding with love.”(© pending) We could easily demand that everyone learn the proper was to fold a lunch bag with love.  We have instead made it a fun by mocking our own need to control. I guarantee that if nothing else, the one thing a first-time volunteer remembers after a day of serving is how to fold a bag with love.  One of our greatest pleasures is hearing a rookie volunteer showing a newbie how to fold with love.

My problem was that I could easily point out a Fun-Sucker, but I didn’t know how to deal with them.  I always let them get the best of me.  I was very excited to find a kindred spirit in a book of devotions by H.B. London Jr.  In His book, Pause Recharge Refresh, he even calls them Joy-Suckers too.   I was pretty much stuck in my situation until I came upon his list of how to deal with these negative volunteers.

“(a)You try to understand the cause of the negative spirit.  Why do these people act the way they do? (b) You consider their family situations. (c) You gauge their level of spirituality. (d) You monitor their influence in your church.  Is there a big family connection? (e) Have you done all you can to talk through the concern with them? (f) Do you pray for them? (g) Do they have a history of this kind of behavior? (h) What will it cost you to confront them? (i) Does leadership understand your challenge? (j) Is the contention severe enough to render your ministry ineffective?


“Every church has Joy-Suckers, and we all must develop our own method of dealing with them.  If you let them run free, your visit this church will never be all that God intends and your ministry will be defined by negativity.”

When looking at the list above, I usually begin to fail around letter (e).  It is not easy dealing with difficult people, but what I have learned is that if you ignore them, they will NOT go away.  If I may, I’d like to add a new item to the list:  (k) Have you examined your own heart to see why this person sucks the joy from serving?  Is there something that you don’t like about yourself that you see in them?  A little self examination is always helpful.  And I find reading Psalm 139 especially helpful when I am looking inward.

Bottom line here is that we all need to serve one another. That’s part of loving your neighbor.  That’s what Jesus asks us to do.