Duty Debate Part One

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I have a debate that goes on in my head whenever the head of a children’s ministry gets up in front of church and says she needs workers. She usually adds, “Remember, the children of the church are the future of the church.” I picture overcrowded rooms and harried workers trying to lead wayward 18-month-olds down hallways. The same debate plays when I read an email about a new ESL class needing volunteers one night a week. A new women’s ministry Bible study…a six week class on the topic of grace…a missions team fundraiser lunch…the same debate rages. It’s a relief when I see a blurb advertising a community group specifically for moms of newborns–but the debate begins to whisper even there: maybe those young moms need mentors!

I think you can guess at least part of my debate because I bet the same one goes through your head in similar situations. The debate starts with Is this something I should do? It goes to Shouldn’t I do this out of duty even if I don’t want to do it? It continues with Is duty a good reason to do anything? This is followed by If I choose not to do this, should I feel guilty about it? If your debate doesn’t look exactly like mine, it’s probably pretty similar. As long as we live in this culture, and especially as long as we attend church, we will hear appeals for help, and we need to know what to do with them.

For what it’s worth, here’s how I usually handle my debate.

Is this something I should do?

When I first hear of a need, I ask myself a few questions. Have I prayed about this, and do I feel led by God to do this? If I helped, would I be using my God-given gifts? When I think of my highest priorities (God, family, community, work, and rest), do I have time to do this? If the answer to all these questions is a definite no, the answer is clear–no, I shouldn’t do this.

If not, though, I consider each one. First, I find it important to pray and ask God for wisdom about whether to commit to something or not. Prayer doesn’t always give me a quick answer. I have to wait for God’s leading and really open my heart and mind to His answer. I have to take the time to listen. He does promise wisdom, though, to those who ask with full trust in Him: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (Jas 1:5).

Second, Romans 12:6 says, “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly.” I feel especially strong about the God-given gifts. I have heard enough community group speakers and children’s church teachers who don’t have the gift of teaching (the latter of which have for a time made my children hate going to church) that I try to stay away from those areas in which I am not gifted. We exercise our gifts according to the grace given to us, not according to the grace not given to us. On the other hand, if those who have the gift of teaching don’t use it, somebody is going to have to take their place. It’s important to find out how God has gifted you (ask God, do inventories, ask honest people around you to tell you your strengths) and find a way to use that gift. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should say yes to every opportunity in your area of gifting.

Finally, time is an important factor with which I have been known to struggle. It’s not always easy for me to figure out how much I can do in the time I have every day. My family would say that’s an understatement. I make a list of all I want to accomplish in a day, and by the end, I usually find I’ve been too ambitious. Combine this with the fact that I’m more event-oriented than time-oriented (academic talk for being more focused on finishing an event than on the clock), and you can see why I’m continually running late. The main reason I stay semi-on-time is, unfortunately, my desire to please others and appear that I’m on top of things. I wish I could say it was solely out of love for those who might have to wait for me, although that is a factor, too. Therefore, when I have to decide about taking on something new, I do better when I talk to my husband and/or godly friends to help me gain a clearer picture of what I have time to do.

What if I come to end of this and still wonder the questions about duty that I mentioned before? When do we do something out of duty, leaning on God for help when we struggle with it because we have little ability or time? Should we ever do that? It would be too much for one post if I dealt with all that here, so come back next week if you’ve ever asked these questions yourself and want to struggle through them with me.

Comment if you have other ways of deciding what you should or shouldn’t do when you are asked to volunteer for something. Have you ever dealt with this issue?

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15 thoughts on “Duty Debate Part One

  1. I tend to use the the following approach. If, for example, I am “in the market” for a motorcycle, it means I have determined that I have a pre-established amount of money that I have planned to spend or borrow to pay for one. Then I start my search in earnest. If I do not have a plan to spend or borrow any amount of cash, I am not “in the market” for one.

    This also translates to my appropriation of time. If I have determined that I possess a certain amount of time to “spend” on utilizing my spiritual gifts to serve the Body (the Church) in a particular way, then I am “in the market”, and I start my search and pay attention for opportunities to serve. If I am not currently “in the market”, there is no debate in my head when I hear of a need. When I do, I can then properly employ my mental faculties to pray for someone to meet the need, or think of a person that may be willing and able to meet the need. It’s a “time budget” approach if you will.

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    • That’s a great metaphor and seems like it would work well! There’s no false guilt there, either. I guess if you did pray for the right person, and God wanted you to be that person even if you weren’t “in the market,” He would let you know. 🙂

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  2. A dear friend of mine says that my question to me should be “do I have that to give?” Whether it be time, talents, spiritual gifts, or whatever – if I seriously “don’t have that to give”, I will be doing it out of obligation, guilt, people-pleasing, etc. – and then I will resent doing it. This thought has helped me make many decisions!

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  3. Heather, great post, and a topic we all deal with. I think you hit it on the head – is this something that helps me accomplish God’s purpose for me in light of the gifts and passion for ministry He’s given me. I’ve said yes to serving in areas of the church just because there was a need, and I would feel guilty if I didn’t step up. But I’ve learned that if it doesn’t allow me to use my gifts for His purpose, then I get frustrated, and burn out. Thanks again, Heather, for this post. Very good food for thought!

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      • Yes, I do lead the WM at my church. It is hard to find the balance, but I encourage my women to serve in the areas where they are gifted and passionate – not just to fill a need. And that sometimes means sending them to serve in another ministry that’s a better fit for them.

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  4. I used to say “yes” to almost everything until I hit my wall!!!! We have to learn to discern what is God’s best for us to do. This reminds me of Lysa TerKeurst’s book “The Best Yes.” One of the things she says is we should always think “people over projects.” We sometimes take on too many projects that takes us away from loving and serving people.

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    • It’s funny that you mention that book because I’m in the middle of reading it right now! I actually wrote this post before I started reading it, but it’s right on the same topic. I’m really enjoying it.

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  5. It’s way too easy to get caught up in the “it’s important but no one else will do it so I have to” argument. I agree with Beth – I said yes until I hit my wall. I now filter everything through what I know are the gifts God has given me. Thanks for this important post, Heather!

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    • Thanks for commenting, Sherry. I think a lot of women (and probably men, too) get caught up in that argument. It’s hard not to feel guilty! Following God’s leading and not just saying yes because someone asked us is so important. Thank you!

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  6. I think the questions you ask yourself are good ones. I also think about how God has gifted me and if there are a lot of people who can fill the position they are asking for help with. Like you said, there may be a lot of jobs we could do with our gifts, but how has God called us and moved us into place? The peace of God is another guide.

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    • Good thoughts. I’m trying to put this into action right now with my writing. How much do I attempt to post and in what places? It’s not always easy–that’s for sure! I definitely am praying for the peace of God.

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  7. Pingback: Duty Debate, Part Two | Glimpses of Jesus

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