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Saying "No"—The Hardest Part of Ministry

I am an ordained pastor, serving a rural congregation. I lead worship and preach most Sundays. I sit at hospital beds. I conduct weddings and funerals and baptisms. I talk with people who are struggling with their faith. I lead meetings and help the community discover its vision. I celebrate with people, I rejoice with people.

When people talk to me about what I do, they often focus on those aspects that deal with death. Most Americans don’t spend a lot of time around death—our culture has largely sanitized the experience of death. Because of this unfamiliarity, most people assume that dealing with death is the hardest thing about being a pastor. It’s not. 
The hardest part of being a pastor is saying no. 
Not just saying no when asked by someone to do some task, but saying no to yourself and limiting the amount of work that you do. The work of ministry is not a finite task. At the end of the day when I go home, I can’t point to some finished product and say, “That’s what I did today.” There is always more to be done in ministry. 
There is always more to be done. No matter how much you have done in a given day or week or month: 
  • You can always spend more time visiting with people who are sick and homebound.
  • You can always spend more time talking with people who are grieving or hurting. 
  • You can always spend more time at community events. 
  • You can always spend more time reading, studying and praying. 
  • You can always put yourself in charge of one more project or program. 
  • You can always spend more time crafting and sharpening your preaching and worship leadership skills. 
Short of the return of our Lord Jesus, there will always be more for those in ministry to do—some task will always be left unfinished when you stop working for the day. 
There is a great satisfaction that comes with knowing that tasks have been finished, knowing that everything is complete. And for most people, it is uncomfortable to know that things are unfinished. But that is precisely the nature of ministry—unfinished. 
But while the tasks of ministry aren’t finite, those of us in ministry most certainly are!