When Should You Opt Out?

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Last week, our youth director asked me to lead a midnight worship session for the youth lock-in at church.  At first I wanted to say “no”; after all, that’s normally when I sleep.  However, I thought about it more and agreed to do it.  It went well, we praised God, and I think the kids liked it.  I’m glad I did it, and it got me thinking about limits.  As worship leaders, people will ask for your help with all sorts of things, and often you’ll have to decide whether to participate.  So where’s the line?  When a request is outside your agreed-upon obligations, how do you decide?

There are a couple not-so-good approaches to which I think we are naturally drawn.  You might, for example, simply do only the things you want to do.  So if it’s Wednesday night jam with the youth or a Sunday evening hymn-sing, sure, you’re all in.  But Saturday evening for the Silent Auction, before the silence commences, of course, well… that doesn’t seem as important.  Even though you think you only want what God wants, I’m going to say this approach won’t work. It is, ultimately, driven mostly by selfishness.  Doing only what you want to do will rot you from the inside out; it’s the beginning of the end.

What about prioritizing things according to how big of a need they fill?  You could start by ranking each request from one down.  Then, keeping close track of your hours each week, you will know exactly when to stop.  Sounds fair and logical.  Except you’ll never succeed in truly assessing the priority of each non-standard thing you do.  Moreover, I’m willing to bet most of you don’t keep a tight hold on the hours you spend serving the church.  You might not even have a weekly time commitment specified in your agreement. The truth is, if it takes a few more hours here and there to do the best you can for God, you’re going to do it.

Both of the above approaches are clearly inadequate, even though all of us have probably followed them at times to varying degree, without thinking about it.  So what’s left?  I think the first thing is to talk to your pastor and elders about it.  It does make you vulnerable in a way, but they might have some good advice.  What seems like a really tough decision to you, could be obvious to them.  

Second, I would try to measure the impact an event might have on other areas of your ministry.  For instance, if the youth leader wants a midnight worship session the night before you are leading a sunrise cantata, you have good reason to opt out.  Conversely, if you can handle leading songs for VBS all week and still adequately prepare for the next Sunday’s service, you may want to just do it.

Third, some delegation might be in order.  Maybe you can’t do the midnight session, but there may be someone else on the Praise Team who can.  Yes, sometimes it is asking a lot of a volunteer team member to cover something that might be inconvenient and will certainly require preparation.  Whomever you ask can always decline, though, and if the event is worthwhile (which, again, is tough to discern), then it’s worth it to at least ask.

Above all, you need to seek an answer from God.  I know I’ve given three other ideas already; just call it saving the best for last.  There is no substitute for prayer, which you already know.  Still, in the swollen, raging current that surrounds us every day, it can be easy to get a long way downstream in the decision-making process before remembering to talk to Jesus.  So do that first.  Do it every day, even before anyone asks you to do anything.

Whether you are full time, part time, or volunteer, you are an identified leader.  That means people will come to you, often at the last minute, with all sorts of requests.  And while you are working for God, you can’t do it all.  I’m sure a lot of you have dealt with this, and there are many ways to handle it.  If you can share some insights from your experiences, there a many of us who would benefit from it.

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Thanks for the post - I like the last two and am encouraged by it to go to those first - prayer, and delegating. Both represent a healthy ministry response, knowing our need for the Lord and our need for others. In addition, delegating is a great way to empower others and multiply ministry.