Lay off grammar police, it's Monday.
But beyond the awful structure of that title, it's a helpful reminder of one of the most important words a leader can learn to say: no.
I get it, we don't like saying no. We like validating people's ideas and passions. We don't like conflict. We like seeing new things start. We don't like stifling creativity. But we can't say yes to everything. We can't jump at every opportunity, even if it's a great one.
Leaders have to say no when it doesn't fit the mission/vision/purpose/strategy - You cannot do everything you want to do. That's something you have to recognize quickly or else you'll burn out and overstretch yourself. Neither can your church. You don't have enough time, volunteers, money, facilities, or resources to do everything. So you have to funnel ideas and initiatives through the filters of mission, vision, purpose, and strategy. Does it fit with what you're called to? How you're doing it? Where you're going? What you're doing? If not, say no. Don't force a fit where it's not supposed to be.
Leaders have to say no when it requires more than you can give - Jesus told a parable about two builders, and the wise one was the one who counted the cost before beginning. Many times churches fall into "new puppy" syndrome with new ideas. Just like a kid promises to take of the puppy, new ideas spark short-term interest and excitement. But after that fades, mom is left picking up the chew toys, and the church is on the hook for a commitment they didn't really want or could handle. What are the short term (and long term) costs? What people needs are there? Do you have strong volunteers who can fill the gaps?
Leaders have to say no but try to find a yes - It's hard to say no, but when we do we should try to find a yes somewhere. Not every idea is a terrible one. You'll get those too. But most of what people bring to consider are good ideas from a good heart. The idea might not fit the filter, and it may be more than what you think the church can provide. The response then is to try to find a way to make a yes:
1. Existing - A lot of times we need to say no because it already exists. Is there something you can direct the person to that's already happening?
2. Redirect - Maybe there's a ton of zeal for door-to-door evangelism, but you live in an area with a lot of deed restricted communities that forbid soliciting. In something like that, redirect their focus towards one-on-one evangelistic training, towards equipping people to serve and share with their neighbors. Don't stifle their passion, but find a way to make it work if it fits the filter.
3. Accommodate - Accommodation isn't bad on its own. It becomes bad when it morphs into enabling bad behavior. But sometimes we need to accommodate an idea for it to work. It's possible that with some wiggling and adjusting, a new idea can spark existing ministries and provide a catalyst for impact.
Leaders have to say no, and hold their ground loosely - I don't think leaders have to put lines in the sand and not budge when they say no. When we die on our hills, we need to make sure they're worth dying for, and not anthills we've staked our flags on. It's hard to say no--you'll hurt people's feelings, you're going to disappoint them, and you might even face criticism or backlash for it. But leaders have to make those hard decisions. All that said, hold the ground loosely. Don't dig in unless you have to. Take a step back, pray, think, ask around, and don't be too proud to give back ground.
What do you do as a leader when you have to say no?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.