The Wise No

When you’re a leader or pastor, there’s a lot to think about when it comes to the direction of the ministries under your care. And that doesn’t go away when the new car smell wears off. You are constantly bombarded with new ideas, new ministries, new programs, new apps, new books, new studies, new methods, new … everything

What can I do? 

As we approach another new year, that’s the question many leaders will be asking. And it comes from a great place—a desire to reach as many people as possible. 

We’re like kids standing in front of the ice-cream counter at Baskin-Robbins. The difference is that there are far more than 31 flavors. It’s a fast food menu of ministries that goes on for miles and miles. So many options. 

Some leaders stand at the menu dumbfounded and paralyzed. Others say yes to menu items like they’re ordering for an army—choosing ministry after ministry to start at their church. 

I’ve seen both types of leaders; both reactions. One does nothing. The other does everything. The church of the first leader ends up a parked car. The church of the other ends up a car on the side of the road—engine burning and no driver in sight. 

I know you don’t know me, but can I just offer a bit of advice here? Whether you’re the new kid on the block or tenured staff, the question that matters is not “what can I do? 

The question that matters is “Where are we going?”

In other words, step away from the ministry menu. Answer the question about your destination—your church or ministry’s unique vision and purpose. Not “make disciples” or “love God, love people.” That’s everybody’s vision. I’m talking about the specific place God is leading your church in your community. 

Once you’ve prayed, fasted, collaborated and figured that out, then the question still isn’t “What ministries/events/initiatives can I do?” Now you have purpose, direction. So your question becomes … 

“What will help us get where God wants us to go?”

See how that’s a different question? 

Now you stand in front of the menu neither paralyzed nor erratic, but determined and purposeful. In fact, you don’t need to go to the menu anymore. Because you’re so furiously and fanatically sold out to what God has called you to be that you don’t want anything to get the ministry you love and lead off track. 

Let me get practical. I think leading a purpose-filled, vision-oriented church or ministry is more about saying no than it is about saying yes. It’s about laser focus. You will have the chance to do a thousand things. But you will only be able to do a few of them well. And even less will get you closer to where God is sending you. 

Basket-weaving ministry? Sounds fun, but it doesn’t accomplish the mission God has given us. 

Day care? Lots of churches do that. I get it. But not us. It doesn’t get us closer to where God is sending us. 

Sixty-seven different classes on 67 different topics that will run our staff and lay leadership into the ground? No thank you. We’ll streamline it, define the goal, and build our classes around the mission God has given us. 

That might sound harsh or difficult to do, but I guarantee you, saying the wise no up front is much easier than having to kill the unwise yes later. Every time you have to kill a ministry that you allowed to start because you were jumping on the next new thing or you didn’t have the fortitude to say no, you lose the buy-in of quality leaders who don’t enjoy wasting time and money. 

You might want to read that last paragraph again.

Guard the gate. Run every decision through the same filter: Does this help us get where God wants us to go? If it doesn’t, for the sake of the gospel … for the sake of the mission God has given your church … for the sake of your sanity and health, say no.

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Jake Mills
Jake Mills

Jake Mills is a pastor, speaker and author who is passionate about church multiplication and gospel transformation. He currently serves on the teaching and senior team at a large multisite church in Abilene, Texas, called Beltway Park.