How to Say No

Many leaders I know struggle with over-commitment. Dozens of great opportunities come our way, but there’s no way to do them all—or at least do them all well.

Most of us long for balance in our life and margin in our days. We don’t like the feeling of being over-committed, but we find ourselves there more often than we like. This is because any organization, church, or community group we choose to be involved in most likely has a shortage of good leaders. Once a leader becomes involved in the group, it’s only a matter of time before the requests to take a leadership role start rolling in.

The truth is, when we say yes to too many activities and responsibilities, we are, in essence, saying no to the people or priorities that mean so much to us. After too many years of over-commitment, I’ve found the key to keeping balance and margin in my life as a leader comes down to one small two-letter word: No.

It’s a small word that packs a lot of power in our lives if we’ll learn how to use it with consistency and grace. I know, however, that it’s not a very easy word for most of us to say.

I’ve found five “saying no” strategies that have helped me become more comfortable setting boundaries and protecting my most precious priorities:

  1. Never say yes on the spot. When you are asked to do something, tell them you will need to think about it for at least 24 hours. This gives you time to truly evaluate the wisdom of adding something to your schedule. It also gives you time to talk to God about it.
  2. Don’t feel like you need to give a long list of excuses. If you evaluate the opportunity and your answer is no, simply respond with, “Thank you so much for thinking of me, but this won’t work for me at this time.” No further explanation is needed.
  3. Commit to no more than one major and one minor volunteer responsibility at a time. A major responsibility requires weekly preparation and a more substantial time commitment such as teaching a Sunday school class or coaching your child’s baseball team. A minor commitment has little time commitment and little on-going responsibility like working in the church nursery once a month or providing snacks for the baseball team a couple of times during the season. With major/minor guidelines set, if you say yes to a new opportunity, it will require you to say no to a current commitment.
  4. Keep in mind you do not have to say yes just because you are capable. If you’re a leader, you are a very capable person. Many years ago, someone shared with me a simple question to ask myself when considering getting involved in something: I’m capable, but am I called? In other words, I can do this but is it what God made me for? Is it my passion? Is it what He’s calling me to in this season of my life?
  5. Hit the delete button when guilt sneaks in. Remember that you alone know what is best for you and your family. The person offering the opportunity doesn’t understand that. Stand firm and be confident in knowing that boundaries are essential to your emotional, relational, and spiritual health.

Limits help us to give our best energy to what’s most important. They allow us to focus well on the responsibilities we’ve already said yes to. Most importantly, saying no lets us say yes to the most valuable things in life like spending time with our spouse, playing with our kids or grandkids, and making time for our friends.

And that’s what life is really all about.

Question:  What one thing have you had to say “no” to in order to say “yes” to God’s priorities in your life?

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