Life is full of questions that deserve a resounding, emphatic, obvious, and instantaneous, "No."
"Would you like to sample the vegetarian-friendly cauliflower chickpea patties today?"
"Pastor, will you prayerfully consider letting us perform a Beyoncé dance number for the Christmas Eve service?"
"Mom, can I enter the Indy 500 with our minivan?"
"Sir, are you interested in the 294-year-extended-lifetime-transferable-to-the-next-seven-generations-of-your-family-bigger-than-the-Waltons-family-double-extended-hyper-extended-premium warranty?"
These are easy. No. No. No. And, for the love of all that is holy, no.
Ministry, however, is a whole different ball of wax. It's chock full of seemingly endless requests and queries that beg us to answer "yes" every single time. And the situational contexts and circumstances are not nearly as black-and-white as the ones I spewed out at the beginning of this post. In fact, they're often gray areas. The lines between what deserves a "yes" and what merits a "no" can be as blurry as that family photo your 89-year-old grandpa took with his Nokia 7650 at the last family reunion. For this reason, we feel the need to continuously answer "yes." It's easier that way. Besides, we're the ones in charge. We're supposed to be able to handle it all.
Church leaders, by their very nature, are people pleasers. It's at the core of who they are. And that's not always a bad thing. A happy church body can create a positive vibe and an uplifting atmosphere.
But, it's not your job to make people "happy." It's your job — it's your calling — to serve Jesus. And sometimes that will mean saying no to people, opportunities, or both. (Side note: Not everyone was happy with Jesus.)
Here's a reality check: You're exhausted. You've already logged 58 hours this week and Thursday is nowhere in sight. You're desperate to slow down, pump the brakes, and just catch your breath — even if only for a moment. But you're a team of one. Slowing down is bound to upset someone, right? Something won't get done. A logo/branding project will go unfinished. Daily social media management will cease to exist. That video footage won't sit there and edit itself. Weekly website updates will be a thing of the past. Graphic design tasks will be incomplete. The weekly newsletter won't happen. And Sunday's digital media will magically vanish into the Twilight Zone.
So, what do you do? You let out one more heavy sigh. You reach for that next cup of coffee. And you ignore the fact that it's five 'til midnight. After all, these are just your main responsibilities. The random requests you receive throughout the week are burning up your inbox faster than the fuse at the start of a Mission: Impossible movie.
Is any of this familiar? Am I describing anyone else's life right now? Oh. Just mine. Good.
Listen to me, fellow Church Communicator: I cannot do it all. Neither can you. You are not Superman. You are not Superwoman. You're not even Ethan Hunt. And you are not God. You cannot be all things to all people. You cannot save the world. You do not have the bandwidth. You do not have the time, energy, or the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual stamina. As much I love saying 'yes' to people and projects and opportunities, I have learned the hard way that I must balance my 'yes' life with my 'no' life. This isn't always easy. And I have not mastered it. I doubt I ever will. But I am learning.
Maybe we can learn together. Here are 10 ways to say "No" as a Church Communicator:
#1. I love that you came to me with this idea, but, in order to make it happen, I would have to devote a lot of time and energy that I'm currently giving to other significant projects.
This response acknowledges how much you appreciate the fact that they thought of you, while simultaneously making them aware of your competing priorities. By using a qualifier like "currently" and an adjective like "significant," you are professionally informing the individual that a day may come when you are free to work on their project (but it is not this day) and that your present responsibilities take greater precedence.
#2. I've spent a great deal of time in prayer about this lately and I believe that I need to temporarily/permanently step out of _____________ ministry niche.
This is the part where you fill in the blank. If you're anything like me [and most other Church Communicators], you're wearing multiple hats. In fact, Church Comms may not be the only area in which you serve. Maybe you're teaching a Sunday school class or leading a Tuesday evening Bible study. Maybe you're on the worship team or the student ministry staff. If you've spent time on your knees with God — and you feel a peace about it — it's time to take off one of those hats and lay it aside. This may be temporary. It may be permanent. It may have certain caveats. God will tell you. Leading your response with, "I've been praying..." openly reveals that you are listening to His voice and following His guidance and direction.
#3. My workload is crazy at the moment. Do you mind if we meet up for lunch this afternoon?
Honesty is the best policy. If you're slammed, the person needs to know. Casual dialogue about things that are totally unrelated to your current tasks/projects aren't going to help anyone. You need to be able to focus on your work so that you can meet deadlines and get things done. But be nice about it. Do not dismiss their concern/proposal. Schedule a mutually convenient time and place where you can connect in-person to fellowship and discuss their question/topic/issue.
#4. I definitely agree we should implement this. Unfortunately, I can't fit it onto my plate. But, I do know who would be perfect to handle it.
Sometimes the most helpful and empowering thing that you can do is delegate. If there's someone on your team, your extended staff, a volunteer, or even someone outside of your church who you believe is willing and able to handle a particular task or project, then assign it to them. This response accomplishes two important things:
#5. The timing is not looking good for me right now. [I have a lot happening with my family, personal life, health, etc.] Would you mind keeping me in the loop for next time?
Being upfront, straightforward, transparent, and genuinely authentic will go miles in helping this person believe you and trust you. If you feel comfortable doing so, tell them some specifics about what's transpiring in your world. (Who knows? You may wind up praying for one another.) When this response is sincere — as it always should be — it will let them know that, although you're dealing with a lot, you are still willing to help at a later time in the future.
#6. This week doesn't work for me, but let me shoot you my [e-mail address/Google Calendar/Calendly/Acuity/GoTo Meeting/LinkedIn/Facebook Messenger/etc.] and we will get something on the books!
Church Communicators are notorious for overcommitting themselves. It happens to the best of us. Fortunately, there are some great digital appointment scheduling softwares out there that will allow your clients/colleagues/friends/church members to book meetings with you when YOU are available. And, of course, if all else fails, just have them send you an e-mail, text, or other digital message and you can reply when it is most convenient. This response is open, honest, and closes with a very practical solution/option for the individual who is in need of your services/time. Kindly handing them one of your church staff cards is always a nice touch.
#7. If this is a priority, I'm certainly happy to dive in and start working on it immediately. But you should know that I'm currently in the middle of [project/assignment/task X] and I will have to move that to the back burner temporarily.
You cannot be in two places at once. The same rule applies to your mental capacities with large work assignments. You cannot spread yourself too thin. If the requested project is so big that you would need to devote all of your time and attention to it, then you should make your pastor/leader/client/colleague aware of this — particularly if they are the one who assigned you the other competing project. They may be assuming that you can accomplish both simultaneously. (Reality check #2: Some pastors/leaders have zero understanding of everything that goes into Church Communications and are therefore unable to relate or empathize. This isn't necessarily their fault.) Wording your response this way helps this person realize that you will have to pick one or the other.
#8. As neat as this concept is, it doesn't quite fit our branding/marketing/design model/production schedule/budget/software compatibilities/church values, etc. What if we did this instead? [Fill in the blank here.] Let's meet for coffee this week and see how we can retool it or create something new.
Sometimes saying no is as simple as offering a very brief and elementary explanation as to why the request is incompatible with your church's set-up/structure. This response leads by complimenting the idea. It gives a short reason as to why the idea is incompatible (so as not to leave the person bewildered, confused, or frustrated.) I recommend two to five sentences maximum. And it closes by offering to help bring the idea to fruition if need be. Sometimes the request will vanish on its own after the person realizes it is not beneficial and you'll be off the hook altogether.
#9. Personally, I think this will work better for one of our future sermons series/events/community outreaches, etc. Let me talk with the pastor and get back to you.
Other than God, no one knows you better than you. You know when you're hitting your limits and when your workload capacity is at red alert level. Instead of saying 'yes' and throwing on one more task that will inevitably sink your ship, you can politely defer. Use this response to create a "delay" in the system so-to-speak and to slow down your workload pace. (You should not feel like you're on a hi-speed Japanese bullet train 24/7.)
#10. I'm sorry, and I know this may be disappointing, but we have already committed to going in a different direction. [I'd still love your thoughts/input/critique of what we've produced/designed/put together, etc.]
Leading with a sincere and heartfelt apology, in addition to some empathy with their inevitable disappointment, will tend to soften the blow. Remember: You can say 'no' without using the word 'no' and you can do it with a lot of grace. If possible, include them in the project in some way — even if it's just by keeping them posted on how it's going or asking them for feedback once it's completed.
Saying 'no' does not have to be gut-wrenching or induce a panic attack. Time and again Church Communicators will leap headfirst into a project or take on an assignment that wasn't even theirs in the first place. We overwork ourselves to the point of borderline burnout despite the fact that we're already running on fumes and almost out of volunteers, resources, or manpower. Be wary of shouldering responsibilities that were never even yours. You may have the talent to create/design/produce/edit something, but it does not — in any way whatsoever — mean that you are required to do so.
Church Communications may be a complex and difficult ministry niche. Saying 'no' does not have to be.
Remember: 'No' is not a curse word.