Often I think we fall into the cycle of saying “yes” in ministry. Can you make this event work: yes. Can you stay late and do a counseling session: yes. Can you work over 50 hours a week: yes. Can you sacrifice your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health for the sake of your job and calling: yes. Will you forsake your time, time with family and friends, building a healthier or healthy marriage to meet the demands of your job: yes.
What I believe we often fail to realize is that it is okay to say no. No is not a four letter word, even in ministry. It is healthy and needed and we must find ways to utilize it in a proactive and beneficial manner. If we don’t learn to say no now, we could actually become burnt out, bitter, or even turn our backs on the the church. Learning that saying no is healthy and appropriate will help us to sustain not only our time in ministry but be better ministers of the Gospel as a result. But the question remains: how do we do that well?
Don’t say no just to say no.
The first thing we need to understand about saying no is that you don’t say it just because you can. When you say no you should be saying it for a good and rational reason. Don’t say no simply to shut down a situation or person. Instead let there be a purpose and rationale to how and why you say it. Think about your priorities and what you will or need to say yes to. As you build these priorities it allows you to say no to certain things as you focus on what you need to say yes to. What you are doing is building a balanced and intentional focus in your life which allows you to not only care about others but also to care for yourself.
Be intentional and thoughtful when you say no.
It is easy when we say no to simply just state “no” to someone and be dismissive. I think we instead need to be thoughtful and caring as we say no to someone or something. Often those moments allow for us to be a shepherd to our people as we share the heart and intentionality behind our no. Perhaps a student asks you to go to their concert but you cannot due to a previous commitment. Just saying no is dismissive and communicates you don’t care to the student. But if you are able to explain that you can’t due to a prior commitment, you can then talk about perhaps going to another event or even seeing how else you can invest in the student. This gives the person you are saying no to an understanding that you do care and aren’t just casting them to the side. It is about caring for others even as you care for yourself.
Understand the legitimacy of why you are saying no.
Sometimes it is easy to feel bad or guilty when we say no. We feel we are letting people down or not doing our job or questioning who will help if we don’t. The first thing you need to understand is you are not the Savior. Your job isn’t to be all things to all people, but to be the person and minister God has called you to be. That doesn’t mean you dismiss everyone and everything, but instead you realize that since it doesn’t all rely upon you, you understand you can say no.
When you say no, do not feel bad for doing so. In fact, saying no to some things means you can say yes to others. Saying no to working on your day off allows you to say yes to your family and friends. Saying no to working unlimited extra hours is saying yes to longevity in ministry. Saying no to trying to counsel someone in an area you aren’t trained in is saying yes to getting them the help they need from a trained counselor. When you say no it is highlighting the priorities and focuses of your life, and those areas (i.e. family, rest, time with Jesus, etc.) are valid and necessary places for you to focus your time and energy. So be willing to say no when it is needed and understand that it is acceptable to do so.
Set and keep boundaries.
Often in ministry, leaders will continue to say yes which can lead to frustration, tension, or burnout. I think we do this with the best of intentions because we want to shepherd and care for our people, but if we are not balancing our lives, time, and energy, we will not be the leaders we need to be. Instead we need to set and keep healthy boundaries. It may be as simple as saying no to phone calls on your days off or no to texts during hours you aren’t at work.
When you set boundaries it is easy to focus on what you are saying no to, but you are also saying yes to the necessary priorities in your life. But you must also make sure that while setting these boundaries is a good thing, it is entirely different to keep them. We are willing to sacrifice boundaries that protect us and our families to care for our students, but if we don’t keep our boundaries we are hurting ourselves, those we love, and our students. Our lack of boundaries and honoring them teaches our students that they don’t need them and it can hinder them from becoming the disciples they need to be.
Be able to explain why you said no.
You may have people ask you why you said no to them or a circumstance. Instead of being dismissive, look to share the rationale and the why behind what you are saying. People want to know why you have said no or turned down an invitation because they want to know you see them and care about them. Be willing to enter those conversations even though they may not be easy. Telling a student you can’t watch them in their competition will be hard and pull at your heart strings because you love them. But when you can explain the why, it will allow for them to know you still love them and it isn’t personal. These moments help you to not only develop personally but also allow for you to disciple your people and help them grow as well.