Say "No" to Ministry

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Throughout his ministry, Jesus said “No” to busyness, “No” to people-pleasing, “No” to self, and “No” to sin. Now, we learn how Jesus also said “No” to ministry. This may seem strange to say since the body of Christ needs every functioning member (1 Corinthians 12:4-14), yet the church is more effective as we learn to rest.

We also define ministry more broadly than full-time vocational work. Parents minister by discipling young children in the home. Caretakers minister to elderly parents or ailing spouses. Many volunteer in youth ministry, Sunday School, small group Bible studies, or behind-the-scenes support. Others serve as evangelists in our neighborhood and workplaces as we share the gospel with lost people. Every healthy believer serves the Lord in ministry, yet health requires also saying “No.” So, let’s learn how to say “No” to ministry and what will happen if we don’t.

First, remember the wonders of God like our Lord Jesus, who always did his Father’s will and served only for his Father’s glory: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). One might think that if the Son of God came down from heaven, he could do whatever he wanted. As a divine being, why must he listen to anyone else? Yet Jesus chose submission to his Father’s will and demonstrated his reliance by his practice of daily prayer.

Jesus often served all day in ministry (Mark 1:21-34), yet still began each day with prayer: “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (v. 35). Jesus could say “No” to ministry because he maintained this conversation with his Father. He could say “No” to ministry in one place because his Father wanted him somewhere else. When his disciples sought him (v. 36), “they found him and said to him, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’ And he said to them, ‘Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.’ And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons” (vv. 37-39). Jesus was always tremendously busy, but only busy at what his Father wanted him to do.

Application Insight: Many people make demands upon your time and those demands will exponentially increase the more you demonstrate your ministry gifting. Therefore, you must remain dependent on your Father’s will through prayer or else you will depend on pleasing others.

Jesus often got away for prayer. In fact, the more popular he became, the more he needed to retreat. According to Luke 5:15-16, “But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.” Jesus prayed the entire night before selecting his disciples (6:12) and, before his crucifixion, he wrestled with his Father’s will (Mark 14:32-42). Jesus served to show his Father’s glory (John 4:31-34) and commissioned us to do the same: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (15:8; 1 Corinthians 10:31). Then, as we display God’s glory, let us recall his wonders:

I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever. Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness (Psalm 145:1-6).

We get so engaged in the tasks of ministry that we can lose our wonder for the Lord as our reason for serving in the first place. We can start to think that ministry is all about us: “What else can I do? How am I limited? What will people think of me?” Instead, we must remember that ministry is all about God: “How can I depend on God? Why has God particularly gifted me for this ministry? Does my service bring God glory?” As Paul Tripp writes, “It is only in light of the awesome glory and holiness of God that you come to have an accurate view of yourself and the depth of your need for the rescue that only a God of glorious grace can provide.” Ministry is a glory war—a battle for our heart’s attention: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

Pastors who seek prestige in ministry, bigger buildings, or public acclaim can be dangerously drawn to earthly treasures. So, we must constantly fill our hearts with wonder for our God. Parents who treasure perfect children (or at least ones who behave in public) might treasure a nicely kept home or the trappings of materialism. We seek glory in our ministry when we exalt our children’s accomplishments above the wonders of our God. We make our home a little kingdom and cherish our possessions more than the God who gave them. Caretakers can be tempted by the want for recognition or at least a bit of respite: “I wish the rest of my family would care as much as I do.” We serve like Martha: busy and distracted and bothered that no one’s helping (Luke 10:38-42). Instead, we must serve like Jesus: washing his disciples’ feet when no one else desired that dirty, humbling task. “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (John 13:3-5). Jesus did not serve to earn his Father’s favor; He already had it. He did not serve to achieve more authority; He already had it. He did not serve to secure his place in heaven; He already had it. No, Jesus humbly served as a demonstration of his greatness.

Application Insight: Serve with humility knowing that every ministry gifting has been given by your heavenly Father (James 1:17). Then find your identity vertically in Christ instead of horizontally in every kind of Christ-replacement: Glory in your ministry; Glory in your children; Glory in recognition or man’s approval. Ministry is a war for who gets glory in your life.

Worship practically plays out in our level of contentment with God’s sovereign plan. A pastor might be tempted by the greener grass of another parish, but godly contentment keeps him serving his own church (Philippians 4:11b-13). Since God has called us each to faithfulness, we must not covet what others have been given (Matthew 25:14-30). Parents often wish our children would just grow up. Then, when they do grow up, we wish they’d just go back to being small. Let’s be content in any and every situation as we trust the Lord to minister wisely at every stage of our children’s growth. How can God be glorified in our ministry as a parent? Caretakers too, must not lose hope as loved ones grow more frail by the day. The doctors tell us of their inevitable decline and their fading health, but our care for them will not go unnoticed when done in service for God’s glory. Let God transform your heart desires as you trust him to one day transform your loved one’s body.

Application Insight: Discontent reveals that you serve yourself and not the Lord. So, the first key for saying “No” to ministry is to remember the wonders of your God. Recount his goodness in creation and his faithfulness to you. Then, as you find contentment in your God, you will stop chasing your own glory.


1/4/2023 1:06:25 AM
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  • Tom Sugimura
    About Tom Sugimura
    Tom Sugimura is a pastor-writer, church planting coach, and professor of biblical counseling. He writes at tomsugi.com, ministers the gospel at New Life Church, and hosts the Every Peoples Podcast. He and his wife cherish the moments as they raise their four kids in Southern California.
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