Friday, June 09, 2006

Serving and Saying "No"

Today's Topic: Questions and Answers

After my post on Sunday about ServFest, Jim Fergusson wrote this excellent comment:
We have two very different services on a Sunday morning - one of which sometimes gets complicated, the other which is more formulaic. I play the "producer" role for the former, but this role is not really needed for the latter so I am not part of that service. But because I help with the transition between services, I'm often asked for a piece of sound gear or a lighting adjustment or something like that. In an effort to try to maintain clear lines of duty, not step on any toes, and keep the confusion about whose job is what, I will often redirect such requests away from myself.

And I find that it's important to be clear on what your role is (ie. it is not to do everything you are asked to do) in order to maintain proper boundaries and some degree of sanity. But that that starts to sound like "I'm off the clock", or "That's not in my job description". So I'm wondering what mindset is that goes along with not having the above two attitudes? How do you find the balance? How do you maintain sanity and boundaries? How do you avoid guilt from saying "no"?
I responded to him briefly to clarify one aspect of the sermon, Jesus on Serving, in which our senior pastor was challenging the "I'm off the clock" and "That's not in my job description" attitudes. He was speaking primarily to people who are not serving at all or who are significantly underutilizing their gifts. However, I think that Jim's questions are excellent ones that many technical teams face, so I'll answer them as best as I can.

Let me begin by wholeheartedly supporting specialization on volunteer teams. I believe that clear roles are essential to succesful technical teams. Positions, policies, checklists, instructions, procedures and the like are required when non-professionals work with other non-professionals to use specialized equipment and create an excellent product.

However, team structures, procedures, and policies fall into the category of "law." "Laws" exist to enforce order, direct communication, set standards, and provide accountability. The law in the Old Testament provided guidelines, so that Israel would know the righteous expectations of their God. Those righteous commands were not arbitrary, though. They encouraged lives that not only pleased God, but would serve the Israelites by providing blessing from God, social peace, and strong families.

However, the law was a double-edged sword. While it provided guidelines for righteousness and the potential for blessing, it also tempted people to do exactly the opposite (Romans 7:8). Even today, though we know that obedience to God will lead to our good, we rebel against him, incurring his wrath.

Thankfully, God hasn't left us there. He has provided the way out of eternal death by sending Jesus Christ as a Savior for sins. He has made a way for mercy to triumph over judgment. As a result, those of us who are Christians have entered into a community created not by justice or by law, but by mercy. Therefore, we should always be seeking to apply mercy as we live together in church community.

With this in mind, let's discuss the idea of "redirect[ing] requests away" from yourself.

How do you know if your redirection is the result of a wrong attitude? Here's a question that comes from this discussion on law that I think reveals our attitudes in saying "no."

When you are asked to do something, and you are thinking of saying "no"...

Are you seeking to be an extension of mercy or an instrument of justice?

Only you know your heart in those moments. If you are filled with love, joy, and peace, it's probably because you want to be an extension of God's mercy. If you are mostly thinking about the rule or procedure that your brother didn't follow, you are probably self-righteously considering saying "no" as punishment, for the sake of justice.

It is possible to be Spirit-filled and mercy-focused and still say, "No, I'm sorry I can't do that." When God's mercy is on your mind, you will desire to find a redemptive way to help and go as far as you reasonably can to truly serve the person without losing sight of the ultimate good of the church. If you respond with this mindset, you will truly have upheld the appropriate boundaries. You can say, "No" without guilt because in not doing, you are really serving.

That's easy to write. To live out? Not so easy.

If you ever have trouble remembering mercy, like I do, here are some ideas to think about if you are in a tempting situation.
  • Remember that you are a law-breaker, even though the law was set in place for your good.
  • Remember that you, if you are a Christian, are forgiven only through God's mercy.
  • Remember that you are standing alongside a sinner that God has already forgiven for any sin they've committed.
  • Remember that mercy reflects Jesus' character and honors God.
Remember mercy. Serve. And sometimes say "no."

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