That is a deceptively difficult word to say, isn’t it? When you say “no” that means you are shutting the door on something. You risk upsetting someone. You are removing yourself from something.
How does the word “no” fit into your ministry? I have been learning that this tiny little word needs to play a big role in youth ministry. I think a lot of times our ministries are built around the word yes. “Yes, I will pick you up from school.” “Yes, I will spend another night away from my family so I can hang out with you.” “Yes, I will take this phone call or text message.” “Yes, I will postpone my plans so I can do youth ministry related stuff.”
“Yes” has its own deceptiveness though. When we say “yes,” it feels so Godly, doesn’t it? We are doing the Lord’s work! We are being sacrificial servants. We are being laborers for God! In some sense, isn’t it right for me to exhaust myself for the Gospel? The Apostle Paul suffered far more, right?
But what if the word “yes” was the keyword used for feeding our idolatry—the idol of doing more ministry? The danger of this idol is that it has a ring of being deeply spiritual. But the problem is that we have elevated ministry to the level of God in our life. This is fundamentally a Lordship problem. We are letting something else be Lord over our life and not God.
When we crave the approval that comes from people in the church, when we crave the feel of being needed, when we crave the desire to stay busy, when we long for the feeling of being “tired for the Gospel,” we have an idol problem.
I have been in youth ministry now for five years. I have started to get a good feel for the ebb and flow of student ministry. However, a fairly large “game changer” entered my life about a year ago. Her name was Hayley and she is my beautiful (very fine) wife.
Before marriage I could get away with spending evenings away doing ministry. There was no one at home anyway, so it didn’t seem like a big deal. Once I got married I became acutely aware of how much time I was doing ministry, talking about ministry, and thinking about ministry. I realized that my wife took a new level of priority. My life is not centered around the church. My life is centered around God and God has commanded me to love my wife as Christ loves the church.
Yet here were so many needs I just had to attend to, right? I can’t just tell students I am not available, right? I can’t tell people, “no, I am not planning another event for this month,” right?
Sure you can.
Sometimes the most Godly thing you can do is tell someone “no.” This isn’t just for the sake of your family either. The simple truth is that ministers are prone to burnout. If we desire to have longevity and effectiveness in ministry, we need to say “no.” The simple truth is that many of the things we think need to be done, can really either be postponed or canceled.
The fact that we feel like we cannot say “no” means we either have an idol problem or a leadership problem—we are failing to raise up leaders to take some of these smaller tasks for us. In either case, our first priority needs to be addressing the fact that we cannot always be at church!
We have to learn to say “no.” Our ministries, our families, and Christ’s Lordship in our life is at stake.
Daniel Pandolph is a youth pastor at ROCK127 Student Ministries at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Taylorsville, NC (http://www.bethlehembc.org/). He blogs frequently on books he has read at http://resolvedforchrist.blogspot.com/. Daniel loves Mexican food, his wife, reading, playing Playstation 3, traveling to new places, and hanging out with students (though not in that order). Daniel hates lock-ins, caffeine crashes, and losing his keys and wallet (in that order).