The Art of Saying No
By: Bill Easum
My coaching experiences have taught me that 80 percent of what ineffective pastors do is a waste of their time, and the sad thing is that most of the pastors I've coached agree with this observation. The reason is that they find it hard to say "no," so their plate stays cluttered with irrelevant stuff that keeps them from focusing on the 20 percent that will make most of the difference.
Think about this for a moment: 80 percent of your life is taken up with stuff…most of which doesn't matter to the Kingdom. Or, it could be done by someone else. We only get one shot at life, and we can't afford to lose 80 percent of it, so we need to start learning how to say "no."
But, most pastors find it hard to say "no." Why? I think there are at least four reasons, all of which are less than reasonable:
* It's easier to do whatever is asked than it is to say "no" and risk a friendship or job. Saying "no" to someone can hurt, anger, or disappoint the person, and that's not usually a fun task. If you hope to work with a person in the future or remain their pastor, you want to continue to have a good relationship and saying "no" in the wrong way can jeopardize that.
* Many pastors have a high mercy gift, which causes them to err on the side of being more concerned about taking care of their flock than transforming the world.
* Too few pastor's lives are shaped and driven by a powerful life-goal that keeps them focused on the prize, which makes it easier to say "no" to the 80 percent.
* Some pastors don't feel as if they have a choice when a parishioner asks them to do something. After all, they are their pastor. But, you do have a choice. I've found three good ways to say "no" without really saying the word. "I'll get back to you." "Let me think about that." "Maybe later."
So, I started making a list of the things that most pastors need to say "no" to:
Incompetent or underachieving staff
It's been my observations over the years that this is the No. 1 reason pastors find it hard to grow a church over 200 in worship. Allowing an incompetent or underachieving staff person to remain on staff not only harms the church in the area for which the staff person is responsible, it also lowers the morale of the rest of the staff and harms their area of ministry, as well. And, to make matters worse, competent staff loses faith in a pastor who allows such a situation to exist.
Long-running programs that used to work but no longer work
Things people want you to do for them that they could do for themselves
One of the saddest comments I've ever heard came from a 55-year-old pastor who said, "I've spent my entire life following other people's wishes, and now, as I look back over my ministry, I realize that I never got to do the things God called me to do because I was too busy doing other people's bidding." If I've heard this kind of comment once, I've heard it dozens of times.
Anything that won't lead to your life-goal or fit the desired culture of your church
To pure business
I know some churches that appear to have the same goal in life: keeping people busy with mindless programs that have little or nothing to do with spreading the Gospel.
So, here's an exercise you might try doing this week. Say "no" to eight things for every time you say "yes" to something. Or, if you're really gutsy, why not say "no" to eight things before you say "yes" to anything?
Pastors, you must learn to say "no." Learning to say "no" much more often than "yes" is one of the keys to growing a great church and a great people. The larger a church becomes, the more the lead pastor has to say "no" to things…in fact, to most things.
That's why I coach pastors to make a list of those things that must be accomplished in their ministry and say "no" to everything else they possibly can. If you don't put your goals first, nobody else will. Taking this position isn't selfish; it's strategic.
So, listen to these sage words from Steve Jobs: "I'm as proud of the products that we have not done as the ones we have done." Paste these words on your refrigerator where you can see them every morning and be reminded that it's not so much what you do as what you chose not to do that's important.
Bill Easum is president of 21st Century Strategies, Inc. a full service church consulting group since 1987 whose mission is to equip Christian for global impact, www.churchconsultations.com.