the shape of leadership

Three Times to Say ‘No’

A negative answer can yield positive results in ministry

Kathy Cannon on July 17, 2019

We have a fundamental flaw in our education system. Unfortunately, we have all learned that “no” is the opposite of “yes.” For years, our teachers told us these two words can’t exist in the same space — that one, in fact, negates the other.

As pastors, we feel a deep burden and calling to service and fruitfulness, but also a need to juggle the demands of everyday life. We may feel pressure, internally or externally, to say “yes” to as much as possible. But is this the healthiest option?

When we learn that “yes” and “no” can coexist, we unlock powerful potential. Sometimes, “no” is the most positive, affirming, Christlike answer we can give. Here are three times to say “no” in ministry:

1. Say “no” when activity is crowding out creativity. As the tasks of fruitfulness increase, we can quickly move into a maintenance mode that wears down our mental capacity for vision casting. Genesis 1 reveals that the Holy Spirit hovered over a void.

If you want to see God’s creative power at work in your life and ministry, you need to clear some space in your schedule. What can you automate or delegate to free up blocks of time so you can say “yes” to Spirit-guided study, discovery and dreaming?

When we learn that “yes” and “no” can coexist, we unlock powerful potential.

2. Say “no” when a program has run its course. Many ministries start out with great excitement and engagement from the church body, only to wane in fruitfulness and wear on the pastor.

When the natural life cycle of a program or process reaches the end and we’re left holding all the weight and responsibility, it’s time to say “no.” Sometimes, the most pastoral thing we can do is officiate the funeral for a dead ministry.

3. Say “no” when it’s time for others to say “yes.” Pastors are responsible for encouraging and releasing others into a place of maturity. Just as parents give their children increasing levels of responsibility, we must delegate and release responsibility to well-trained laity. This is not about a church family picking up the slack for a pastor; this is about a church being who God created it to be — many parts of one Body, working together.

The pastor represents one of God’s gifts to the church, but not the gift. We cannot, and should not, be doing everything. Likewise, the members of the local church cannot, and should not, be doing everything.

Perhaps God is calling you and your church into a season of saying “no.” How exciting! Remember, saying “no” is not the opposite of saying “yes.” Saying “no” is the key that opens the door to a better “yes.” Say “yes” to God-inspired creativity, a joyful ministry and life, and a fully utilized and empowered church.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 edition of Influence magazine.

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