Written By Cassandra Yeo, Singapore
It was around 9.00pm when my Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) leader called for her monthly check-in. After the usual pleasantries and sharing of prayer requests, she asked, “Actually, I would also like to ask if you would be keen to become a BSF group leader.”
I was taken by surprise as I was not expecting the question. There was a long pause on the phone line. She continued, “There are lot of girls in the waiting list for our center. We are short of leaders and hope more will step up to the role. Would you be interested?”
While serving is a privilege, work has been busy, and my weekends are taken up with church commitments—so I knew it would be hard for me to take it on. But the thought of rejecting the request when it was a valid need made me feel terrible. Several thoughts rang in my head: Was I being selfish? Would I disappoint my leader if I said no?
Unable to give an immediate answer, I told my leader I needed time to mull over it. She happily scheduled a call with me a few days later, and hung up shortly after. Yet, in my heart, I knew that I wanted to decline, and I was just buying time. The thought of saying “no” was uncomfortable and awkward.
Over the next few days, I was torn between obligation and my desire to continue attending BSF as just a lay participant. So I turned to these three principles to guide me in deciding how I should respond to her request.
1. Know Why (or Whom) You’re Serving
While serving involves working with the body of Christ, we should always look to the one who placed us in ministry first when deciding whether or not to serve. If we rely on other people to guide our decisions, we may feel obligated to say “yes” to several commitments in order to please these people—resulting in pride, self-reliance, and discouragement.
That was exactly what happened when I was asked to facilitate group discussions for teens during a church camp. Though I had been hoping to treat the camp as a time for personal retreat, I decided to help because I felt bad saying “no”.
Unfortunately, the experience didn’t go down well. The teens either found a way to skip some sessions, or if present, were withdrawn and unresponsive. By the third day, I was upset that they were not finding the sessions meaningful, and regretted my decision to help out. Upon some self-reflection, I realized that I had served with pride in my own abilities, and an intention to please others. Moreover, I had neglected looking to God for help and guidance throughout the process—relying instead on my prior experience to tide me through.
As Colossians 3:23-24 states:
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
When we labor and serve, our motivation should stem from a desire to please Him rather than man. Keeping our focus on God will shape the way we respond to others, and prompt us to examine our hearts and why we serve.
When we remember God’s sovereignty over our work in ministry, we acknowledge that we are only a small piece in the tapestry of His plans, and can trust that God will always provide workers in the harvest field, whether we are serving in that ministry or not—freeing us from the obligation of serving simply because there is a need to be filled.
2. Assess Your Current Capacity
Each of us have different capabilities, depending on the responsibilities our life demands in each season. For example, I found that been able to juggle serving in campus ministry and church when I was a student, that changed when I began working full-time. At one point, I was heading publicity in an outreach event, along with youth ministry, writing for the church bulletin, and serving as an usher head while working hard from 9-to-5. It was an exciting period, but I ended up having little time for sleep, recreation, and time with God.
A well-meaning friend noticed that I had become listless and exhausted, and advised me to rest after the event was over. This made me realize that I had limitations to my energy and time, and needed to be more careful with how I balanced my schedule.
While it may sound attractive to be the “yes man”, being too agreeable may result in us serving on too many fronts at a time. With our time divided and spread thin over several ministries, this may end up in burn-out, which reduces our effectiveness and ability to serve in the long-run.
As Isaiah 40:30-31 states, “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men fall exhausted, but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.” As we serve, may we remember to wait on God to discern when we should serve, stop, retreat, and rest. While this may involve saying “no” at times, it protects our well-being, the people we are serving, and our walk with God.
3. Seek God First
During university, I was active in the Varsity Christian Fellowship, and figured it would be a good time to take a break from serving in my final year to focus on my studies and work towards finding a job after graduation. However, God had other plans.
When the annual year-end camp was approaching, He orchestrated events such that I kept crossing paths with one of the committee members, which gave us opportunities to have conversations about our ministry plans for the year.
Those unusual but timely catch-ups led her to ask me about serving in the camp. I decided to pray over a week about the matter, and sought counsel from family and friends. In addition to encouragements from loved ones, God spoke to me during a devotional via Isaiah 41:10, which writes “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
That promise gave me the assurance to say “yes” to serving, as I did it not out of fear, obligation, or guilt, but as a response to a calling from God in that season. As a result, I experienced much joy during the planning, even if it involved meetings during critical exam periods, or commuting an hour for early morning meetings over many Saturdays.
When the camp came to fruition, I felt that I had gained community, closeness with God, and the fulfillment of seeing other campers enjoying the activities. Ever since, I have understood the wisdom of seeking God first in my decisions, trusting that He would place me where I am meant to serve when the time is right.
It’s Okay to Say “No”
As I reflected on these three fronts, I felt a sense of peace even if my decision was still to decline the invitation to serve in BSF. For one, I did not feel a distinct call from God to serve in BSF in this season, and I was reminded of my commitment to the youth ministry in my church, which required a bulk of my spare time over the weekends.
While I could tell that my leader was disappointed when I returned her call, I assured her that He will provide for her, and that He may call me back to serve in another time and season. As we continue serving and building the kingdom of God wherever He has placed us, I pray that we’ll continue to labor with joy, knowing that God orchestrates and moves His people for His plans and good purposes.