How do we decide when to say ‘yes’ and when to say ‘no’?

As a pastor, I frequently get asked to do lots of things. Many of them seem worthy things to be doing, though a fair amount probably aren’t. Nobody has enough time to do everything and at some point the questions must be asked, ‘what do I do?’ and ‘to what do I say no?’ I think there are some reasonable questions we can ask to help us discern the answer.

Does Jesus expect me to do this?

The first question we should be asking is this: does Jesus demand this of me? If Jesus calls us to do whatever it is, we have no business deciding not to do it. If Jesus tells me categorically not to do whatever the thing is, then I shouldn’t be thinking about doing it. We can rule some things specifically in or out like this.

But, of course, most apparently worthy things to do don’t fall into this sort of territory. The Bible may not specifically tell us not to do it. That is, Jesus doesn’t expect me to do it necessarily. But nor does he tell me not to do it, making it something I am free to do if it seems sensible. But this question is still helpful because if Jesus doesn’t expect me to do this thing, then I am at liberty to say that I won’t do it. After all, you don’t have to say ‘yes’ just because someone asks.

Does my church expect me to do this?

Jonathan Leeman recently said, ‘Just as the Bible establishes the government of your nation as your highest authority on earth when it comes to your citizenship in that nation, so the Bible establishes the local church as your highest authority on earth when it comes to your discipleship to Christ and your citizenship in Christ’s present and promised nation.’ Just as that is true for church members, it is true for pastors too; church elders are answerable to their churches. If your church expects you to be doing something – especially if you agreed to be doing it when you were appointed – then chances are you should be doing it. If your church are deeply uncomfortable with you doing something, chances are you should think seriously about not doing it.

Assuming the thing being suggested isn’t anything Jesus expects of you, but you are free to do, the next question is whether it is something your church expects of you or not. If they are clear you shouldn’t be doing it, then don’t do it. If they are clear they expect you to do it, then you probably should do it. If they don’t expect it but are not saying don’t do it, then you are free to do it. Again many things may fall under this latter category.

Will this take me away from things I’m expected to do?

You may be faced with something that is valid to do, and nobody is saying you can’t do it, but it will take you away from other things you are expected to do. So, for example, you might decide that running a daily podcast for your church would be helpful. Jesus doesn’t tell you not to do that (I’m led to believe he’s fine with them) and your church, whilst maybe not expecting it of you, doesn’t mind you doing it in principle either. However, if doing that means other stuff Jesus or your church expect of you – preaching, visiting, evangelism, whatever – then you probably shouldn’t do it. It isn’t appropriate to say yes to something, that is fine of itself, that will lead you away from things that you are supposed to prioritise.

Does using my time to do this, or something else, glorify God most?

Assuming we are talking about something that neither Jesus nor your church specifically expect of you, but they are not telling you to leave alone, this next question helps us judge how to use our time. We want to try and judge between which things we are thinking about. If A, B and C are all valid things to do, we need to ask which will make the best use of our time and resources for the kingdom. It goes a little beyond the previous question too. The last question asked whether it took you away from things you should be doing. This one wants to judge between valid things that are both credible, but ultimately cannot all be done.

So, as far as we are able to judge it, we should ask what would be most helpful for the gospel? What would serve the church the Lord has put us in best? Which things would serve the advance to the gospel in the world and the upbuilding of God’s people in our church? If one thing clearly achieves these things more than another, then perhaps do that.

Can anyone else do this?

If there is something we think we could do, it always pays to ask whether anyone else can do it. If there are lots of other people able to do this thing, it might make more sense to let them do it, freeing you up to do those things that only you can do. So, you might decide that you would glorify God more by running an evangelistic outreach, but there may be half a dozen other people who could run that instead. In which case, you might do better to allow them to do it so that you can take on something else that none of those others would be able to do.