saying No for people who can’t

Yesterday someone asked me how I work out what to say No to and what my limits are when it comes to Christian ministry.

I’d like to spend the next few posts trying to untangle the matted ball of issues this throws up.

But to begin with, it’s worth saying that I’m no expert. In fact, I’m really not sure why I seemed like I might have any wisdom to share on this question (just ask my wife).

Whether it’s because I crave acceptance and fear saying No will mean people reject me, or just because I’m chronically allergic to an anxious boundary-policing approach to time- and self-management, I just can’t seem to say No.

I’ve been down the path of keeping strict track of my hours on a timesheet. Although I still do it for tasks when I’m juggling competing deadlines, I haven’t found it that helpful for ministry work with people.

For me it not only tends to promote a toxic boundary-policing mentality (which I find saps at least as much emotional energy as overcommitting and over-stretching myself in investing time in people). It also tends to leave me comparing myself with others — either proudly puffing myself up (“Look how many people I’m catching up with”) or, more frequently, crushing me with guilt and shame (“Why can’t I be as fruitful and productive as that ministry colleague?”).

My hunch at the moment is that I need to start not with working out my limits but with focusing on the centre. That is, I need to figure out what things I need to do to make it possible for me to do the work of ministry with people — preparation, admin, prayer, and things that will feed and sustain me emotionally and spiritually — and lock those in. Then I can freely take on whatever else fits in.

That’s the theory at least.

Of course, this approach is likely to be complicated by the fact that ministry is always open-ended and never finished. Because, as people often say, good ministry will generate more ministry. But that’s the topic of my next post…

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