In ministry, we’re often in a position where we want to please others and make them feel cared for and valued. That’s not a bad thing.

However, if you agree to every request for your time and energy, you’ll burn out fast. Whether your title includes pastor, worship leader, church business administrator, or another role on staff, you’ll often receive requests for your time including:

  • Providing counseling
  • Officiating weddings
  • Adding a new ministry program or event

When you receive these requests, you probably feel somewhat conflicted.

  • Your to-do list is already a mile long.
  • Your spouse has gently (or not-so-gently) mentioned how many evenings this month you’ve worked late.
  • You don’t have any margin in your schedule as it is and can’t imagine squeezing it yet one more thing.

In spite of those issues, you don’t want to disappoint the person asking for your time. The decision becomes even more difficult when the request isn’t unreasonable and sounds like something you’d enjoy doing. Regardless, you know you don’t realistically have the time.

So, what to do?

Many times you will need to say "no" even to valid, healthy requests.

Here are four reasons why you should say "no"

1. You don’t have time to add this to your schedule.

This requires you to establish boundaries.

You need to decide, with your spouse (or if you’re single, with a mentor), when you’ll be home (and not working).

That’s the easy part.

The challenge is sticking to those boundaries.

This means not checking email or text messages 24/7.

This also requires you to manage your calendar. Include appointments on your calendar to perform your main tasks — preparing sermons, worship team practice, writing thank-you notes to volunteers, thinking and planning for the upcoming quarter, etc.

When someone asks for your time, check your calendar before replying. You may need to say, "I’m sorry, but I’m booked solid during that time frame"

2. You’re not the best person to fulfill the request.

Just because you’re the senior pastor, doesn’t mean you’re an incredible marriage counselor. This is why you have a team of staff and volunteers who can provide ministry to the church body. One person can’t fulfill all requests. You’re in the ministry, but you’re still a finite human being.

If you have another pastor or staff member who God gifted in that area and who has received training, refer the requestor to that individual.

"I’m glad you’re seeking help to restore your marriage. I want to make sure you receive the best counseling possible, so I’m going to refer you to Pastor Smith. He’s provided counseling for several years and has been able to help many couples. He’s the best person to help."

3. The requestor hasn’t offered to help.

If someone comes to you with an idea for a new ministry program or special event, ask if he/she is willing to develop a detailed plan for implementing it.

If not, stop right there. If this individual isn’t willing to do some of the work, then they’re not invested in the idea. It’s just something they think the church should do…not him. That’s not a healthy way to begin any new ministry effort.

However, if this person is willing to present a detailed plan and play a significant role in making this idea happen, consider whether this aligns with the vision of the church. If not, you may have to decline and explain why. If it does, then consider asking him to prepare his plan and let you know when it’s ready. That puts the responsibility back on him for this idea to have a chance at moving forward.

4. The request isn’t for a service your church has agreed to provide.

This is a great reason to have a church constitution and policy manual. Your church leadership team (board, elders, pastors, etc.) should decide what programs and services your church will offer (and what you won’t offer).

For example, you may decline a request to use the church facility for a local businessman’s lunch meeting. It’s not a bad thing, but you’ve collectively decided not to rent out (for free or otherwise) your church facility for others to use. In this case, your "no" response is fairly straightforward. "I’m sorry, but we don’t allow anyone to use the church building for non-church-related activities."

Saying "no" isn’t always easy. You want to serve and meet the needs of your congregation. However, you will need to say "no" at times so you can say "yes" to what you’ve already committed to do.

Consider this the next time you receive a request, "What will I have to say no to so I can fulfill this request?" If that’s your family, your health, or other responsibilities at the church, then your “no” should be a bit easier to say.