4 Signs You Should Say “No”

Whether your title includes pastor, worship leader, church business administrator, or another role on church staff, you’ll often receive requests for your time.

  • Provide counseling
  • Attend graduations, weddings, and other significant events
  • Officiate weddings
  • Talk with someone’s son or daughter
  • Add a new ministry program or event

You receive the request and feel torn.

  • There’s way too much on your to-do list already.
  • Your spouse has gently (or not-so-gently) mentioned how many evenings this month you’ve been late for dinner.
  • You have a family vacation planned soon and need to wrap up a few things at the office so you can truly relax.
  • You don’t have any margin in your schedule as it is and can’t imagine squeezing in yet one more thing.


  • You don’t want to disappoint a member of your church.
  • The request itself isn’t bad or unreasonable.
  • You genuinely want to help.
  • The idea presented sounds great, but again…when can you fit it in?

So, what to do?

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

Here are 4 signs you should say “no”:

Sign #1 – You simply don’t have time to honor the request

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 hard part is sticking to those boundaries.

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

This also requires you to manage your calendar. Actually, if possible, having your assistant 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 timeframe.”

Sign #2 – You’re not the best person to fulfill the request

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

If you have another pastor or staff member 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.”

Sign #3 – The requestor hasn’t offered to pitch in

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 and to be a significant part of the team.

If not, stop right there. If this individual isn’t willing to put some skin in the game, then he’s not really invested in the idea. It’s just something he thinks the church should do…not him. That’s not a healthy way to begin any new ministry effort.

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 graciously 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.

Sign #4 – The request isn’t something church leadership 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 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 wedding anniversary party. It’s not a bad thing, but you’ve collectively decided to not 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 in order to fulfill this request?

If that’s your family, your health, or other responsibilities at the church, than your “no” should be a bit easier to say.

When was the last time you said “yes” to a request and regretted it?