"I understand how to tell people that I can't meet with them soon," I said to my pastor over coffee several years ago, "but how can I possibly tell them I can't meet with them ever?" I was experiencing my first round of influence-itis, the toxic, nagging feeling of being needed by too many people.
The first time I asked this question, I was a volunteer women's director with three children under six. Now, I'm on a church staff, but the demands of the role and my family continue to make it impossible to reach everyone. I struggled then (and still do) with understanding how to care for so many needs with such limited time.
So when Andy Stanley spoke directly to my influence-itis at the Catalyst Conference, I listened. His message was simple:
Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.
He unpacked his message with examples: Instead of meeting ten couples with marital difficulties for a couple of hours each, pour yourself into one couple. Instead of trying to solve the homeless crisis in your city, help one struggling family. Look for intentional relationships that you can give your life to, rather than reacting to every need that comes across your doorway. So clear and simple, but so hard to do!
If you, like me, struggle with saying no, if you feel pressured to meet with too many people, perhaps you need to hear this message. You can't do for everyone. You become ineffective when spread too thin. But what can you do for one? Or two? How can you evaluate your current capability for ministry and then live that out with all your heart?
Years ago I asked Alicia Britt Chole, a popular author and teacher, about her mothering and mentoring balance. She laughed easily. "I used to mentor a dozen women. Then it was eight, and then three. Right now, in this stage, it's one." And she seemed fine with it, because she believes in the power of intentional relationships versus need-based reactions.
I'm still processing how to live out this mantra, but already I find myself practicing it in small ways. Rather than one meeting with a student who already has relationships with other staff, I'll get busy planning a birthday party for my "one." Rather than another "let's connect" coffee, I'll spend intentional time with another "one," I have to relinquish the desire to be everything to everyone, and pay attention to the one (or two or five) that God's given me in this season.
If you're suffering from influence-itis, step back and ask yourself, what can I do for one this week that I wish I could do for everyone? And watch how God blesses your effort!
Nicole Unice is a contributing editor for GiftedforLeadership.com. She is raising three kids and working in Family and Student Ministry at Hope Church in Richmond, VA.