When and How to Say “No” Graciously


As pastors, we may feel called to say, “yes” to everything. A congregant needs someone to chat with? No problem! Someone needs some sound advice? You’re there! A wedding ceremony? You’ll plan it! Someone needs a visit at home or in the hospital? Of course! But then, someone needs a couch moved and you stop for a second. Your day is full and you can’t make time to help without sacrificing time that would otherwise be spent with someone who has a spiritual need. In this instance, you need to say, “no.” But how? Here are some thoughts from PastorResources.com contributor Karen Whiting on saying that little, two letter word:

We cannot help every beggar in need, but may find ourselves weak when voicing our “No.” Look at times Jesus said, “No.” He refused to perform miracles for mere show (Matt. 16:1-4). Jesus retreated from large crowds when his disciples needed rest (Mark 6:30-31) and supported Mary’s “No” when Martha pleaded for her sister’s help.

Know your purpose, mission, and time commitments. Decline if the time investment doesn’t match your calling or glorify God. Use a simple statement, “This is not within my purpose or calling. I’ll pray that you find the right person.”

Refuse choices that would glorify you. These people need a stronger answer. Be willing to say, “No, I’m not willing to be exploited or to exploit God.”

Lovingly respond. Acknowledge the person’s concerns. Jesus said Martha’s name twice to calm her and then let her know he understood her worry. Say, “I understand you’re worried or feeling overwhelmed.” Explain your time is committed to your best choice for now. Suggest that the person simplify activities to lessen the load or suggest someone who might be a better match.

Support family members who are drained and need rest. Give them freedom to say, “I’m sorry, but my spouse (or parent or God) already made plans for my time.”

Understand that sometimes you must walk away from worthy causes. Be honest enough to state that you are overcommitted or need of time with God or family. Agree to pray for the Lord to send workers. Let the person know that you would fail them if you could not perform the task well.

Pray for God’s wisdom and seek his direction.

Karen Whiting is an international speaker, former television host, and the author of eighteen books, including Stories of Faith and Courage from the Home Front. For more on Karen visit karenwhiting.com


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