Some of you are not going to understand this. Some of you are not going to appreciate this. In fact some of might even be offended but get ready: “Saying ‘no’ is the hardest thing in ministry for me.” What? Yep, I said it. “Saying ‘no’ is the hardest thing in ministry for me.” How, selfish, how self-centered, how shallow, how unsympathetic! Now, hold on, let me explain.
How can you say it’s the “hardest thing”? What about funerals? Or telling someone their spouse died? What about being there when a child dies tragically? Or having to be there when someone finds out their spouse has cheated on them? How about counseling a parent who just caught their son looking at porn, or, or, or. Surely there’s a million other things much harder than saying “no.”
Not for me and here’s why: ALL of those things ARE ministering. They are not fun, but they are part of why we (I anyway) got into ministry. It’s not a picnic telling someone they are going to have to bury a child - but helping someone through it - helping bear their grief - you carry a part of their heart and become a part of their story.
Saying “no” to ministry opportunities means NOT ministering!
We spend so much of the first part of our ministry praying for, hoping for, longing for a chance to minister! I remember sitting in my little office in Eva, Alabama longing for someone, anyone, to come by. I’d get up and sometimes just look out the door hoping (I should have been studying but I didn’t get into this to study I got into it to influence and have an effect on people!).
I remember praying, thinking dad and Jeff get all the opportunities ...but I will not. And semi-accepting that. I remember my prayer vowing I would do all I could to never turn down any opportunity to preach God’s Word if it was physically possible. I remember dad saying - do things - accept opportunities that force you to study, to prepare - that challenge you.
Now here’s why it’s hard. Saying no when you have nothing else on your calendar...arrrggg... I could drive to Mississippi where they want ME to preach the gospel to them or I could stay at home and watch “Storage Wars” (Have you seen storage wars? Wow.) I didn’t get into this to watch storage wars!
I got a phone call not long ago from a preacher who had done university teaching for years and was now working with a local church. He wanted to know how many meetings I could preach a year - when I told him - he was shocked and asked if that was standard (because it was what his elders were giving him. This after he’d had years of freedom to preach). I just got a note this morning: “... We all want to be able to be everywhere and do everything, and it doesn't always work out.” A young preacher wrote me a few days ago: “...I am doing everything I can to protect our family time during the break...it’s hard saying no. I’ve had to say no two days in a row. I’ve had to say no to things that it was pretty hard to say no to. :)”
Why and when to say “no.”
Listen - preaching does not sap my strength! Preaching is hard work. The prep, the energy poured into it. But for some reason the actual “preaching event” energizes me! BUT it might interfere with the role I have accepted in working with and under the oversight of a local eldership. But here is what makes it challenging - I can’t anticipate what might happen! I missed a birthday party for a member. I hated to, but they called me two nights before it happened. I can’t leave nights open for events that “might” happen. If I do that I can never schedule anything. But I need to step back when it distracts me from the work I have accepted.
When it is more my ego than my soul that is saying “yes.” We are not great. God is great. “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Luke 17:10). “I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psalm 84:10). Examine your own motives - only you can do that. Maybe the best way to do that is to ask: would I accept this assignment if it was a small, humble work? I am not good - but I do want to be used by God.
When we forget that we are not just preachers but in local work we are most often "hired" as ministers. Ministers must minister. Some may not like it but the 2am call to go be with a sick or hurting member is part of your work. Do it with joy. Don't let things get in the way of loving and caring for God's People.
May I offer a humber reminder to elders in general: Not letting your preacher preach seems rather unwise. You hired him to preach because you believe he can. Obviously he has a responsibility to the congregation that he receives a check from - but be delighted if you have a man who can present God’s Word in a way that others want to hear. It is not a lack of control if you let him preach when he is not preaching where he normally preaches - we live in a weird universe.
Preachers should preach. Ministers should minister.