Yes, I do have control issues!

There. I’ve said it (well, typed it) out loud. Of course, friends and family will not regard this as a startling admission. They are more likely to ask why I’m just now figuring this out! Actually, I’ve known it for a long time and I’ve been working on trying to control it (pun intended!) for years. But as is so often the case with self-awareness, I just came to another threshold of understanding.

During a conversation with a friend yesterday, I was hashing out how to schedule volunteer ministry orientation. In just six weeks our church will move to a new urban location. We will again be renting space, this time from a faith-based non-profit organization. There is much to do to figure out how to create a worshipful atmosphere each Sunday, organize all our “stuff,” and orient teams so that they can set up/take down efficiently.

And that word efficiently is what trips me up. It is like waving a flag at my control issues!

ducks

Because our parish is made up of people, there is a wide range of tolerance among us for messy. Some don’t mind it at all, just as long as we gather together for worship and fellowship on Sunday. Others find messy to be a distraction from that worship and fellowship, and prefer some semblance of order. (You an probably guess where I am on that scale!) Finding the balance is critical, and that means respecting the individuality and diversity of our little community of believers.

In defense of order, it is necessary for efficiency. And we live in a culture that places a high value on efficiency. Our demand for software that integrates all our mobile devices seamlessly, our frustration when technology doesn’t move fast enough or maintain a connection, and our outrage over stalled traffic are all evidences of our desire for efficiency. Our dependence on technology has conditioned every one of us to desire efficiency in at least some area of our life.

Back to yesterday’s conversation and my control issues… In attempting to work out a schedule for orientation, I was trying to take into consideration how many of our volunteers serve in more than one ministry area, how many families of young children have both parents serving, and the realization that we are entering into the busiest season of the year for most folks. I was making myself crazy trying to problem-solve for everyone! That’s when my friend posed two critical questions: “Do you expect others to problem-solve your calendar issues? Did you expect someone else to problem-solve your childcare issues when your kids were little?”, which led me to the aforementioned threshold!

God has ordained that the body of Christ be interdependent (1 Corinthians 12). That means we have to respect each other and learn to work together. We all have to be willing to give, to flex, to accommodate as needed, always keeping in mind that we are one body. (The body can’t work efficiently when the right foot heads south and the left foot goes north!)

While I need to be aware of all the variables when it comes to organizing an orientation for our volunteer ministers during the Christmas season, I also need to accept that I am not in control of each person’s calendar or family situation. My attempts at problem-solving for everyone won’t help us learn to work together efficiently. It will surely lead to frustration for all of us, and likely to burn-out for me.

Crossing that threshold is trusting that the volunteers who can make room on their calendar will attend the orientation. And it is accepting that our first few Sundays may be a little messy…and that’s OK. I’m not in control.

But I know who is.

 

Yes or No?

Your word is your bond.

Walk your talk.

Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Or, as Jesus put it:

Whatever you have to say let your ‘yes’ be a plain ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ a plain ‘no’—anything more than this has a taint of evil. (Matt. 5:37, J.B. Phillips translation)

I am asked regularly how to cope with volunteers who just don’t show up. I have no magic answer, but there are some trouble-shooting questions I usually ask which can shed light on gaps in the structures and processes a leader employs with their volunteers. But I think the problem runs much deeper than any organizational strategy.

It has become commonplace in our culture to say “yes” to something when we know full well that we won’t honor the commitment. “I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings by saying no,” is the typical excuse. But more often than not, that’s not the real reason. If we are honest, the true motivation is that we don’t want to look bad because we don’t want to give up our resources (time, money, energy, influence). We don’t want to appear unwilling to help, or blind to the need. It’s why we walk past the beggar on the street corner without looking at him. If we look, we will see the need and then be faced with our own selfishness in not responding. It’s just easier not to make eye contact. If I don’t see you, then you can’t see my hardness of heart. Sure.

Lest you think I am being judgmental, I assure you that the first person to stand in judgment on this is me! I have said “yes” when I knew my real answer was “no.” I have lied–let’s just call a spade a spade, shall we?–to make myself look better. I have refused to make eye contact with someone I knew would ask something of me that I didn’t want to give.

But here is what I have come to see: Every time I don’t keep my word, I breed distrust in someone. That distrust may begin with me, or I may be just one more in a long line of liars (ouch! such an unpleasant descriptor, isn’t it?).  Either way, I’m contributing to the fabric of distrust that pervades our society and encourages self-protective behavior, which often leads to violence of all kinds. I add to the disease of independence that eats away at Christ’s mandate to serve each other (John 13:14-15) , to Paul’s exhortation that the body of Christ must be interdependent (1 Corinthians 12).

Each time I say “yes” when my real answer is “no,” I injure the body of Christ, or place a stumbling block in the path to faith of someone who does not yet know Christ. You may think I look good in the “yes” moment, but God sees my heart and knows my lie. Just because I don’t look at him doesn’t mean he is not seeing me.

Let’s try this the next time you are tempted to say “yes” when you know you don’t mean it. Stop for a moment. Ask for time to consider the request or, if you know your mind already, just say “no” right then. In so doing, you will honor God, the person making the request, and yourself. Yes, that’s right: you will honor your self… in a healthy manner that encourages the same in others.