Overcome Ministry Burnout By Learning to Say ‘No’

Hand up saying "No"

By Karl Vaters

I can’t do it all. Neither can you. Even though I love saying ‘yes’. Yes to God. Yes to people. Yes to crazy ideas that might turn out to be great ideas in disguise. But I’ve learned that saying ‘yes’ means more when it’s balanced by the proper use of the word ‘no’. In fact, a well-placed ‘no’ may be the most liberating word missing from many leaders’ vocabularies. Not just saying ‘no’ to others. We’re usually good at that. We need to learn to say ‘no’ to ourselves, too.

If the massive response from last week’s post about ministerial burnout is any indication, there are a whole lot of pastors who need to start saying ‘no’ in small ways now, before they run into the big ‘no’ of ministry burnout and failure later.

Saying ‘No’ Isn’t a Lack of Faith

For years I’ve been told by well-meaning preachers and teachers that if I have enough faith, I can do anything I want to do. But it’s not true. Or biblical. Sometimes I’m limited by my abilities (or lack of). I’m 6’ 6” tall, but no matter how hard I work at my ball-handling skills, I can’t play in the NBA. Sometimes I’m limited by physics. I can’t flap my arms and float up into the sky like a bird. Sometimes I’m limited by mutually exclusive choices. I can’t walk and not walk at the same time (even if the confused traffic signal at the start of this post seems to think I can).

Saying ‘yes’ in those situations isn’t faith, it’s denial – and maybe a touch of schizophrenia.

When ‘No’ Is Good News

It’s a simple fact of life, built into the fabric of how God created a logical world. When we choose one option, it always means saying ‘no’ to other options – sometimes to several other options. And no amount of prayer or faith is going to change that reality. That’s not bad news. It’s good news.

The truth is always good news, even when we don’t like it. Because it’s real. And acknowledging reality is always the best first step to accomplishing anything of lasting value.

Saying ‘no’ isn’t a lack of faith. Sometimes it’s a necessary first step in narrowing our focus and strengthening our faith. We have to say ‘no’ to some things so we can say ‘yes’ to better things.

People who are frozen into inaction are making the same mistake as those who are frantically trying to do everything. Neither one has learned to narrow their focus. Once we know what we’re called to do, it becomes easier to say ‘no’ to what we’re not called to do. Whether it’s my momentary desires or someone else’s demands, saying ‘no’ is often a necessary first step in saying a faith-filled ‘yes’ to what God is calling us to do.

I’m Not God’s Only Option

Most Christians are good at saying ‘no’ to bad things. To sinful things. But we’re still not reaching our God-given potential because we’re spinning our wheels doing empty things. Things that God never called us to do. Some of this comes from pride. We convince ourselves that if we don’t do it, it won’t get done. But we’re not the only tool in God’s utility belt. God can do anything. But I’m not him. What I can’t do, God can do through someone else. I’m not an eye, I’m a hand.

Let Go and Say ‘No’

Are you, your church or your ministry paralyzed by indecision? Flaming out because you’ve been burning the ministry candle at both ends? Feeling guilty for the promises you meant to keep before you ran out of time or resources to do them?

Start saying ‘no’.

Now.

Seriously.

Take a deep breath and tell yourself this truth: I can’t do everything. Don’t you feel better already? Stating the truth has a way of doing that. Let go of what you’re not called to do. Grab hold of that unique, faith-filled idea you are called to do. Then be awesome at.

Click here to read the original blog on ChristianityToday.com

Karl Vaters is the the author of The Grasshopper Myth and the owner of NewSmallChurch.com. He also writes the Pivot blog for Leadership Journal at ChristianityToday.com/Karl-Vaters.

About Ron Cook

Ron and his wife Rodetta have been married 39 years. They have actively served the Lord together in ministry during the entire time and are co-founders of Care for Pastors. Ron ministers to hundreds of pastors annually through mentorship, counseling and by phone. He has been a Pastor for 39 years and understands the stress of ministry, and wants to share his longevity in ministry with other pastors and help them finish well.

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