Articles of Faith: Leaders – Just Say NO!

Just Say No

This post is part of our Sunday Series titled “Articles of Faith.”
We investigate leadership lessons from the Bible.
See the whole series here. Published only on Sundays.

How does saying “no” effect your leadership ability?

We who are “servant-hearted” leaders have a hard time saying “no” to demands of others.  We truly want to help and know that God has gifted us to help others.  Yet, we wind up unintentionally over-committing ourselves and being much less real help to the masses than we’d like to admit.

This impacts us as leaders no matter what our vocation.

Clarity of Vision

At it’s root, leadership is making tough decisions

As I grow in my leadership I am learning that even the toughest decisions become easier when I have a predetermined set of core values and clarity of vision.  It’s much easier to say “no” when you are sure of what or to whom you say”yes”.  I’ve found that Christian Leaders have real problems saying “no” when they are unclear on their own vision.

Show me a pastor who is unclear on vision, and I’ll show you a pastor who can’t say “no.”

This also translates to Christian business leaders as well.

Somewhere along the way I think we’ve equated saying “no” to others requests as being a negative thing.  As if we’re saying to them that the important task they are asking us to help with is not worthy or of value.

This is incorrect thinking, and I have a feeling it is one of the major reasons pastors/ministry leaders burnout so frequently.

Let Mission Drive Your Decisions

By nature, most pastors begin their ministry as optimists, and sadly they leave it extremely jaded and pessimistic. Possible reasons for this is that we like to say “yes”, and we are placed in vocation where we must say “no” to many good things, in order to say “yes” to God’s best for us and those we lead.

The question often becomes this:

How can a pastor, a spiritual leader, say “no” to anyone’s requests and it be a positive thing? 

Well, I have found at least three positive things about saying “no” that I’d like to share with you.  This list is not all inclusive, nor exhaustive by any means.  However, I do pray that it will be helpful to you.

These principles are applicable to any leader, even if they are not in ministry.  It seems that anyone who truly wishes to serve and care for others as a leader has an issue with saying “no” in a positive way.

3 Positive Things About Saying “No”

1) Saying “no” to good things can help you say “yes” to the best things.

Johnny Hunt, former President of the Southern Baptist Convention, went through a burnout period during the last year and had some insightful things to say about his experience (go to 9/19/10 Sermon Notes).  One of the most interesting things he said was that he came to a place where he “couldn’t say no to anyone…except his wife, the one person to whom he should have been saying yes.

One reason that ministry marriages have an even more difficult time is all the demands made on the ministry leader are falsely made to seem so spiritual that nobody who wants to follow God would say “no” to them.

We cannot continue to believe that saying no in these situations is a negative thing, when the most positive thing we can do is say a “yes” to God’s best by saying “no” to anything that distracts us…even if it is a “good” thing!  Perry Noble is another prominent pastor who experienced burnout recently and talks about it here.

2) Saying “no” allows you the freedom to follow God more fully.

When Abraham was told to take his son and sacrifice him on an alter to the Lord I would imagine that he had to say “no” to many of the alternatives formulated in the mind of a loving earthly father in order to follow the Heavenly Father fully.  He was spared from having to do the actual act of killing his own son, but because he followed fully, he knew God on a deeper level than any other.

He knew the heart of the Father because of his refusal to say “yes” to his own desire.

Jesus also said “no” many more times than you can imagine, and he said the word to many legitimate requests.  Why?  Because He understood that to follow fully, you must say “no” to anything that distracts or detracts from God’s plan.

3) Saying “no” shows confidence. 

When a pastor or ministry leader has the ability to respectfully say “no” to certain requests it gives confidence in two ways.

  1. It allows the leader to gain more confidence in his own awareness of the God-given vision
  2. It gives those who are following the leader’s vision confidence in knowing that the leader is committed to the vision allowing nothing to distract him.

My friend and business coach, Jeff Brunson, says that his job is “Building Confident Leaders”.  Confidence is one quality of Leadership that is very attractive to those who want to follow the vision, but can be very upsetting to the crowd who wishes to control.

The confidence level of a leader/pastor will determine the level of true commitment of those who profess to follow.

I follow Jesus because he does what he say he will do and he doesn’t change his course of action because I may disagree or be offended.

  • Imagine the freedom if you, as a pastor, lead from a place of true calling and mission.
  • Imagine if you had the confidence to say “no” to anything that distracts you from your God-given purpose.
  • Wouldn’t it be the most positive and freeing experience of your ministry?

What is one thing that prevents you from saying “no” and how is it affecting your leadership and your life? How does the inability to say “no” negatively impact your vocation?  Your organization?  Your family? How could these “saying no” principles apply whether your leadership role is in ministry or business or another vocation?


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Keith Glover
 is Head Coach at Pastor2Pastors

He helps Pastors & Ministry Leaders take care of themselves to better serve others
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Web | Blog | 423-343-4335

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6 responses to “Articles of Faith: Leaders – Just Say NO!

  1. Let Mission Drive Your Decisions … this is very powerful Keith! This is the wonder of Focus. This is the very reason I’ve begun to put much of my energy into Strategic Story for my Clients – latching onto the Story that makes our individual and collective missions real. And … one very powerful skill along the way is knowing how and when to say … wait for it; “NO.” Oh yes, and saying it with the love of our focus and the focus of our love!


  2. Pingback: Heart To Heart With Pastor Ed Bowen – #15 | The Working Pastor·

  3. Pingback: Intentionally Unintentional·

  4. Pingback: Articles of Faith: Intentionally Unintentional « Linked 2 Leadership·

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