Saying “No”

A key part of leadership, whether at home or work, is knowing when to say “yes” and when to say “no.” There are so many factors that flow into those decisions. We first take into account what God says. When he says “no,” that makes it simple for us to agree with God and say “no.” When we know that something is bad or harmful for us, our family, or organization, the “no” comes easy. 

But most decisions are not about good vs. bad. Most of our decisions are about good vs. great! A leader is a great leader when they have the wisdom and ability to say “yes” to great things and “no” to good things.

But why would a leader, parent, or church say “no” to good things? It’s because there are just too many good things to which we can say “yes.” If we say yes to too many good things, we’ll end up doing good things poorly as too much good crowds out what’s great. Too many good things diffuse our focus and that leads to a loss of excellence and effectiveness. The good is the enemy of the best. You’ve likely heard this. It’s become an American proverb and idiom. It’s true.

I’m in a season when I’ve hit the wall. What’s ironic, is that I’m not tired or discouraged. I don’t feel or sense the typical signs of burnout. Once you get to burnout, it’s clear that you waited far too long to say “no” to a lot of things and failed to say “yes” to the right things. I’m pre-burnout but I know that some things that are vital are being infringed upon and I can’t or shouldn’t try to sustain the pace. We just built a new building. We are in the final stages of completing a church merger which has changed most of our systems. Because of our growth, we’ve faced more and more opportunities and challenges. Everyone on our staff is being stretched, including me. More than ever, I (we) have to be deliberate in what to say “yes” to and what opportunities get a “no.” 

It is never easy to say “no” to good things. We often feel guilty when we say “no.” I do. I hate to let people down. I hate to say “no” when I know, in fact, I can do what is being asked of me well or even maybe even better than others. It’s funny that when we were 2 and 3 years old “no” was the first and easiest of words to say to our parents. Now it is one of the hardest words to use. 

So for a few months now I’ve been intentionally saying “no” to things. Some were opportunities like getting to teach a missions course in an institute I helped start in Ukraine. That was so hard to say “no.” I really wanted to do it and it could have made a huge difference. I actually made a list of things I’ve said “no” to and gave it to our elder board. But I’m still not done. 

I’ve been doing this Leading Edge blog for 18 months. After 42 years in full-time ministry, I think (I hope) I’ve learned a few things about leading and I wanted to share them with others. My motive was right – to help others lead well and see churches and organizations thrive. But this too is another thing I have to say “no” to… at least for a while. So, this will be my last Leading Edge blog for the immediate future. I might resurrect it. Someone might want to pick it up. We’ll see and I trust the Lord to let me know when to say “yes.” Thank you for reading this. I invested the time because I hoped to help a few of you lead better. 

But here’s the part I haven’t addressed yet. In order to say “no,” you have to know what you are going to say “yes” about. I’ve summarized my “yes” to these things. Now, before I list them, I must admit I don’t always live these values out as well as I want. When I fail to say “yes” to these things, it is usually because I’ve said “yes” to the wrong things or less than important or urgent things too often. Here is my “yes” list and I’ve put them in the order I prioritize them:

  • Abiding with Jesus, loving God and listening to the Holy Spirit
  • Serving my family, especially my wife
  • Leading a healthy life-giving church
  • Being a pastor to our city
  • Teaching God’s Word in a way that transforms
  • Ensuring that I’m healthy in order to be healthy for others 

That’s my “yes” list. It’s a very full list already. Of course, there are lots of details under each bullet point. And that’s why I have to say “no” to so many good things. 

What’s your yes list? Until you know your yes list, you won’t be able to say no to both good or bad things. Let your yes list lead you to what is best. Your best is that which God has uniquely designed and positioned you to do – that which you can and should say “yes.” 

Farewell for now…

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