Friday, May 8, 2015

Learn to say no

Like most people who go into the ministry, I felt part of that calling was to minister to people's needs. I believe strongly in servant leadership, and I wanted to be available to people so I could serve them well. I did not find it easy to tell someone I could not do something they wanted me to do. I'm wired to say yes, but I had to learn to say no.

As a bivocational minister, time is one of the most valuable commodities we have. I've never talked with a bivocational minister who complained he or she had too much free time. The problem is usually exactly the opposite. We typically do not know how we will accomplish everything that is expected of us. Some of that is the nature of bivocational ministry, but some of it is the direct result of we have not learned how to say no.

Time management is life management. Being able to manage our time well comes from understanding what our life priorities are. If we schedule our time around the various requests we receive from others we will quickly find that their priorities for our lives may be quite different than our own priorities. To ignore your family's needs for the third night in a row while you attend another unnecessary meeting means you have your priorities messed up. To ignore your own personal self-care while you tend to the needs of everyone else often means you won't be in the ministry long. It may also mean that you won't be alive for long.

It is vital that bivocational ministers (and everyone else for that matter) have a clear understanding of their life priorities and how they are going to achieve them. I would begin by having a conversation with your family, your church, and your employer to understand what they expect from you. You may have to negotiate with each of them to address unrealistic expectations. You also have to understand what you personally need as far as your own spiritual, physical, and emotional well-being.

Once these are understood you can begin to set some priorities built around your current lifestyle. For instance, when my son was playing baseball in the various youth leagues it was important to me and our family that we be involved in that. In fact, I coached his teams for several years. Those games and practices went on my calendar first and other things were scheduled around them. When he grew older and played on the high school team it was still important that we support him, but I was no longer coaching his team. I now had more open dates when other things could be added to my schedule.

When I was working on my doctorate I knew there was a lot of reading required. I blocked off sections of each week for reading knowing that if I didn't other things would creep onto the schedule. After earning that degree other things became priorities on my schedule.

But, in order to make this work you have to be willing and able to say no. Sometimes we have to say no to some good things in order to ensure we have sufficient time for the best things. Perhaps later we can say yes to those things when our lives change, but for now we have to be willing to say no.

Will everyone understand? No. There will always be people who are convinced you exist for their benefit. You will be accused of being selfish and uncaring. So be it. I learned a long time ago I'm not going to please everyone. I just want to be sure I please those most important to me.

Learning to say no to some things will make you a more productive leader. It will make you stronger emotionally, physically, and spiritually. It will strengthen your family relationships. It will also model to others what a balanced life looks like. Learn to say no to those things that are not a priority in your life.

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