Why do pastors and churches say “no” to your great ministry ideas?
Here’s the bottom line: churches can’t do everything. The hard reality is: your passion may not be your church’s passion. Here are some legitimate reasons churches say “no.”
Finite people + finite resources = limited ministry. Sometimes it really is a great idea, but the timing is off. There are other “irons in the fire” that make it challenging to launch your idea at this time.
2. It’s not the mission of the church
For many churches, the primary mission is the Great Commission which means there will be all sorts of things the church will not pursue such as reducing unemployment or ecological efforts or promoting political movements.
3. Different strategies
Often times, we all want the same thing, but the way in which we want to accomplish that thing is different. Probably all Christians agree that caring for one another in the church is essential. But how ought that to be done? Counseling? Support groups? One on one? Small groups? Saying “no” to a means is not saying “no” to the end. Differentiating the difference between “means” and “end” is critical.
4. Limited time
I have served on staff in three churches during my 15 years in ministry. I have yet to find myself with spare time. I have NEVER been bored in ministry. It is not exaggeration to point out that saying “yes” to another ministry will inevitably mean saying “no” to my wife, kids, sleep, prayer, Scripture reading, exercise, etc. A “yes” is simultaneously a “no” - that applies to everyone. (It’s at this point some well-meaning parishioners will say, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of all of it!” I’m sorry. That’s not possible. If you need space in the building, you are using staff time. If you need it in the bulletin, you are using staff time. If you need it posted on social media, you are using staff time. If you need it communicated in some way, you are using staff time. Small asks create tasks that add up quickly).
5. No thank you, I’m not interested
This is the hardest one for me, but sometimes being candid is best. “Pastor, I’m really hoping the church will get behind a therapy dog ministry. It brings hope and healing to those who are down and out.” The honest answer is: “I hope it goes very well, but it’s not something I’m interested in.”
This might be a bummer to read, so I’ll close with one encouragement. Lots of amazing ministry takes place that is never an official ministry of the church, or on the church budget, or announced in the church service, or printed in the bulletin or newsletter. Real ministry doesn’t have to show up on the church’s website to be considered real ministry.
“If you love me, keep my commands.” - John 14:15
“Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.” - John 14:21
“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.” - John 14:23
On and on it goes. The repetition of this idea that love for Jesus is expressed through obedience makes an emphatic point. But “love” and “obedience” are not words we typically put together. Much less would we say they have a beautiful relationship with one another. So how can that be?
I would suggest we consider the idea that Jesus isn’t proposing two actions here, but one singular action that contains two parts: love and obedience. That is, they go together. An illustration might help.
Our church is engaged is a “space stewardship” project where we are moving from pews to auditorium style seats. This allows us to increase our seating capacity without knocking down walls or building new ones. When we were first exploring this idea, I met with a gentleman named Ryan who has been working with church seating for sixteen years. He came for a visit and I proceeded to listen to him talk about space stewardship for two solid hours. He was a wealth of information and stories and experiences. I was duly impressed.
Ryan loves his job. His love for his job has produced something very interesting. He has internalized the laws, codes, and principles of space stewardship. He radiates conformity to what his job does and requires. Listen to how Jesus says it…
“I do as the Father has commanded me so that the world may know that I love the Father.” - John 14:31
Jesus doesn’t obey the Father begrudgingly in order to convince the world he loves the Father. Jesus has internalized the ways and character of the Father so thoroughly that obeying the Father’s commands is what naturally comes out of Jesus.
The beautiful compatibility of love and obedience is this: love is the invisible obsession that leads to it’s visible expression, obedience.
In my previous post, I contend love has become “god.” That is, we have our self-made definition of love and we shape our understanding of God around it and hold him accountable to that particular definition. But in the final analysis, we must insist “God is love.” He himself provides the essence and definition of love. This likely means our definition of love is going to be found wonting.
Let’s press into this farther and explore the notion that God loves God.
“This is my beloved Son” (Matthew 3:17; 17:5).
“The Father loves the Son…” (John 3:35; 5:20).
“The reason my Father loves me…” (John 10:17).
“…you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).
“I have made known to them your name, and I will make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26).
“…I love the Father…” (John 14:31).
It is impossible to overstate the affection the Father has for his only Son and the love the Son has for the Father. God loves God.
Now, as one actor put it, this seems to be about “ego.” Is God egomaniacal? That assessment would work if we’re talking about another human being. To love oneself sounds like vanity. But we’re talking about God. Think about it: once there was only God. For millions and billions of years, there was only God. “I’m better than everybody else” deserves to be on his business card. The moment we stack up the infinite, transcendent, omniscient, holy God against any human character, to accuse God of being an egomaniac is going to fall short and appear just plain silly.
Admittedly, I’m still in process on this and all the implications that fall out of it, but there’s another thought-provoking idea to consider. What if God’s love for himself is his supreme love? What if God loves himself more than he loves anyone or anything else? Don’t hang up the phone, stick with me.
Let’s say there’s a good, moral atheist out there who demonstrates tremendous care and concern for other human beings. But in all his actions, he does not acknowledge God - he is an atheist. Would we not say that by caring for people sacrificially, but failing to even acknowledge God, they are stuck in idolatry? Or to put it differently, to love someone or something other than God more than God, is idolatrous. Why would it be any different with God?
If God loves any aspect of his creation more than he loves himself, would we not say he has become an idolater? “God must love and delight in his own beauty and perfection above all things. For us to do this in front of the mirror is the essence of vanity; for God to do it in front of his Son is the essence of righteousness” (Piper, The Pleasures of God, 29).
Like I said, I’m still in process on this, but if this is right, it’ll cause a dramatic shift in the tectonic plates of our understanding of God’s love.