Yes, You Can Say ‘No’ in Ministry

To say “no,” I must ask God for the grace to set down my idol of image

I’ve been both the judging one and the drowning one when someone said “no” to serving with me, and now I want to be the gracious one. The people who have graciously understood, and even encouraged me to decline ministry opportunities, have been teaching me that there really is a time and a place (many, in fact) for saying “no.”

 

We recently moved to a brand-new city, leaving a rich community after 13 years. We were involved in so many good things there, but I was often completely spent. At one point, I told some friends I was finished serving people—serving people only led to pain and suffering and I wanted nothing more to do with it.

After I said those hardened words, I began soul-searching. I found I’d been treating every need I encountered as an assignment from God. I never paused, questioned, or prayed about any of it; I just did and did and did some more. I felt broken and crushed by the weight of all the needs around me, and I often served out of compulsion, bitterness, or my own waning strength, never believing I could say “no” in ministry and trust God as provider.

As followers of Christ, we will often be “poured out as a drink offering” in our ministries (Phil. 2:17; 2 Tim. 4:6). No doubt there are times when we are called to say “yes” in ministry—even when it’s difficult or inconvenient—to “toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within [us]” (Col. 1:29), remembering that Jesus was poured out for us.

My aim isn’t to deny that there are times we will be poured out and exhausted in ministry. I simply want to question the driving forces behind our cultural norm of ministry overcommitment.

Reboot

When our family moved, we decided to try doing life in a new way. I’ve attempted to reboot my approach to ministry by being slower to jump back in and by weighing my motivations.

I’ve noticed that when people ask me to do something, and I explain my slowness to commit so I can better love my family in this transition, I’m generally met with one of three responses: the look of judgment, the look of someone drowning, or the look of gracious understanding.

I’ve been both the judging one and the drowning one when someone said “no” to serving with me, and now I want to be the gracious one. The people who have graciously understood, and even encouraged me to decline ministry opportunities, have been teaching me that there really is a time and a place (many, in fact) for saying “no.”

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