If you’re like me, you like questions. And ministry leaders should be great at asking questions. When we stop asking questions–or if we stop letting others ask questions–then we and the ministries and churches we lead will become stagnant. However, there is one question that is very, very dangerous. Chances are, someone has recently asked you this questions in one form or another in the past month. On the surface, it’s an innocent enough question. In fact, it’s usually asked by someone in your church or ministry who has a great heart. However, this question has the ability to quietly but systematically swallow up your impact as an organization.
So, what’s the question I’m talking about? Here it is: “Why don’t we…?”
Yep, that’s it. I bet I can guess what you’re thinking. Benjer, what in the world is wrong with that question? It’s harmless. It’s cute. It’s not even a complete sentence–you left part of it out!
Sure, it seems harmless enough, but let me show you why it’s so dangerous by using an example. Imagine you’re getting ready to plan your summer calendar, and someone asks you, “Why don’t we take our high school students on a trip to Kenya to serve impoverished orphans next summer?” In all likelihood, the person who poses this question to you has a big heart for orphans in Kenya. This person probably even believes that such a trip is the best thing for the high schoolers in your church to do next summer. But unless this is a huge Holy Spirit moment, you probably already can come up with several legitimate answers to this person’s question–reasons why you shouldn’t take your high schoolers to Kenya next summer. We already have a trip in the planning stages. It would be too expensive for all but a few of our high school students. I don’t think your group is ready for such a trip. Of course, the person who really wants your high school students to go to Kenya next summer will have an answer to each of your objections. And if you run out of additional objections, you just might find yourself planning a short-term mission trip to Kenya, even though you don’t think it’s what God is leading your high school students to do.
The reason any “Why don’t we…?” question is so dangerous is that there are endless good trips, programs, initiatives, service projects, retreats, camps, and mission trips you could plan for your church or ministry. And when someone asks “Why don’t we…” in a passionate way, you might feel as though by saying “No,” you’re saying that you don’t care whether your teenagers hear the gospel or not, that there are impoverished orphans who need to be cared for, or if the local food bank is able to stock their shelves next month. What is difficult to remember when someone asks us “Why don’t we…?” is that when we say “Yes” to one opportunity, it necessarily requires us to say “No” to something else. And that something else just might be the thing God is really leading you and the people you serve to do.
Now that you see how dangerous a “Why don’t we…?” question can be, how should you answer it? Just about every leader has felt the tension between wanting to affirm a person who cares enough to bring an idea to you and wanting be discerning about which ideas you say “Yes” to and which ones you say “No” or “Maybe down the road” to. Chances are you’ve given the green light to an idea that began “Why don’t we…?” that you realized later was a mistake. How should you handle it when someone asks, “Why don’t we open a pregnancy care center at our church?” It’s a great cause and an important ministry, and many faithful people and churches engage in caring for women who find themselves in unplanned pregnancies. But how do you answer the question if you’re pretty sure it’s not something God is asking your particular church to do?
When you hear a question that resembles “Why don’t we…?” try not to address the question head-on. As I’ve mentioned, if you’re talking to someone who is very passionate about their idea, they will have an answer to almost any objection you might have to it. Instead, give this person a glimpse into your planning process. Share the vision of your ministry, church, or organization. Put down on paper the direction you believe God is leading you and the people you serve. (Note: This only works if you have actually done the hard work of developing a vision and discerned where you think God is leading. If you haven’t, “Why don’t we…?” questions will eat you and your organization alive until you do.) Explain that while it might be a really good idea, it’s just one of the many roads you believe God is asking you not to take so that you can travel the road he is asking you to take. The person who brought the “Why don’t we…?” question to you will either understand and be on board with where you’re leading and be satisfied with a “no” “not this year, but maybe in the future” answer, or they will continue to be push their idea, no matter the cost.
The bottom line: your church, ministry, or organization can’t do everything. “Why don’t we…?” questions are dangerous because the question itself assumes that if it’s a good idea and a worthy cause, your church has to act on it. But that’s just not true. If you asked everyone in your church to take 60 seconds to write down every cause or initiative your church should be involved in, you would end up with far more ideas than your church could possibly handle. Your job isn’t to chase every good idea that you hear. Your job is to lead the people you serve to do what God is asking them to do.