5 Ways to Gracefully Say “No”

As a pastor, I’m constantly faced with more time demands placed upon me than I could ever possibly fulfill. As a result, I must make choices. Those demands sometimes are self-imposed (totally my choice) and sometimes they come from others. Often people in the church will ask pastors to do something that takes their time or they want to meet with them on some issue. In many cases we know deep inside that we should respond with a “No.” However, because we don’t want to disappoint, we often say, “Yes,” and later regret it. In this post I suggest 5 ways to gracefully say, “No.”

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How to Gracefully Say, “No.”

  1. Say “No” without using the word, “No.” 
    • In some settings the word no itself can come across too harsh. Sometimes using other phrases like these can soften your response and yet still convey a no.
      • “My schedule simply won’t permit it now. I don’t have the bandwidth. Thanks for thinking about me though.”
      • “I’d love to, but right now I can’t. Can you ask me again next week (or whatever timeframe seems appropriate)?”
      • “I’m sorry but it won’t work now.”
  2. Pause a few seconds before giving an answer to someone.
    • Because we don’t want to disappoint people, we often allow our default response to be yes. To avoid this, learn to pause a few seconds before responding to someone who asks you for a commitment. That short pause will buy you some time to frame your response, whether it is a yes or a no. Pausing can also give you time to consider what you’d have to give up were you to say yes.
  3. Delay your response when you honestly aren’t sure how to respond.
    • Sometimes the ask is a valid one and you should give more time before making a decision. In that case, tell the person that you can’t give him a decision now but that would like to check your calendar and think more about it. If it does become a no you will have created sufficient time to consider the pros and cons and then to frame a gracious no. And if a boss asks you for something that will cause you to push other important projects aside, explain the situation and your willingness to say yes. Then ask for his or her advice on how to re-prioritize your current commitments so that you can follow through on your yes.
  4. Ask them to email you with their request.
    • I’ve found that when someone wants me to make a decision on the spot, putting the onus back on him or her potentially creates a default no. I will often ask them to email me their request. Often they never do which becomes the default no.
  5. Simply and kindly say, “No” and if possible explain why.
    • Sometimes you immediately know you should say no. In that case, a firm but gracious no is appropriate. It may feel awkward, but that uncomfortable emotion will quickly pass. However, if you say yes when you should have said no, the feelings of regret last much longer and take a much greater toll, notwithstanding the extra time you’ve now committed yourself to.

I’m reading the book by Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. I highly recommend it. In a chapter where he writes about saying no, he describes how Peter Drucker once said no. It’s a great example of the graceful no. I’ve quoted it here.

Peter Drucker, in my view the father of modern management thinking, was also a master of the art of the graceful no. When Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the Hungarian professor most well known for his work on “flow,” reached out to interview a series of creative individuals for a book he was writing on creativity, Drucker’s response was interesting enough to Mihaly that he quoted it verbatim: “I am greatly honored and flattered by your kind letter of February 14th— for I have admired you and your work for many years, and I have learned much from it. But, my dear Professor Csikszentmihalyi, I am afraid I have to disappoint you. I could not possibly answer your questions. I am told I am creative— I don’t know what that means.… I just keep on plodding.… I hope you will not think me presumptuous or rude if I say that one of the secrets of productivity (in which I believe whereas I do not believe in creativity) is to have a VERY BIG waste paper basket to take care of ALL invitations such as yours— productivity in my experience consists of NOT doing anything that helps the work of other people but to spend all one’s time on the work the Good Lord has fitted one to do, and to do well.”

A true Essentialist, Peter Drucker believed that “people are effective because they say no.”

[Mckeown, Greg (2014-04-15). Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (pp. 135-136). Crown Religion/Business/Forum. Kindle Edition.]

What insights have you learned about giving a graceful, “No”?

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6 Ways to Keep Porn out of Your Life

I’m in the middle of a sermon series called The Bare Facts on Sex. Last week I took an entire message and dealt with pornography. You can view the message here. During the first part I approached the issue from a biblical, relational, and neuroscience perspective. During the second part I suggested a simple acronym, PURITY, that captures 6 ways we can pull out of sexual sin (porn or other sexual sins) and/or stay sexually pure. I’ve summarized it here.

Adult Entertainment

THE PURITY PROCESS TO STAY SEXUALLY PURE

Purpose to change/stay pure before God.

You must start here. If you are sexually out of God’s boundaries, you must admit it (confess and repent) and purpose to change. Don’t deny it is what it is, sin. Don’t minimize its damages nor rationalize its use. Scripture tells us to flee from all sexual sin (1 Cor. 6.18). We are to view our body as God’s temple and live in such a way that reflects that truth. We are to glorify Him with our body.

And if you are within God’s boundaries, purpose to stay pure.

Understand how porn changes your brain.

You can read here my blog on what porn does to your brain. Because the brain is plastic (malleable based on what we put into our minds) porn actually changes its neural structure. Yet, it is also malleable in the other direction. If we make changes in our lives, renew our thinking, and yield to God’s transformative power, we can create new God honoring patterns on how we relate to sexual temptation. The Apostle Paul called it renewing of our minds (Romans 12.2).

Reshape your environment.

Discover what triggers your draw to porn. By doing so you can make changes to avoid those cues and lessen the opportunity for a stimulus. Therapists use the acronym, HALT, to help clients discover when they are most susceptible to temptation. It can help you discover when you are most vulnerable to porn.

We are most tempted when we are…

    • Hungry
    • Angry or anxious
    • Lonely
    • Tired

When we discover our cues, we can then make simple changes to avoid them, such as…

    • Asking your wife to not leave women’s magazines out in the open around the house (the ones with the shapely females on the front).
    • Move your computer monitor to a different place in your home or office. Better yet, put it where others will see you when you are on it.
    • Keep the lights on.
    • Don’t keep your iPad or Kindle next to your bed.
    • Turn off chats in Facebook.
    • Block some email.

 Invite involvement

This means accountability. Find an accountability partner who will lovingly hold you accountable to your thought life and what you view on the web. Put web blocking software on your computer. This is a great web site that offers such software.

Turn when tempted

Turn your eyes when tempted. The first three seconds are key when we see an image on the screen or see an attractive woman walk in front of us. Job provides a good model with his commitment,  I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl. (Job 31.1)

The three A’s is a simple tool to help us turn when tempted. (from The Porn Circuit: Understand Your Brain and Break Porn Habits in 90 Days)

    • Alert: Pay attention when you see something inappropriate. It may only take a split-second to recognize a tempting situation.
    • Avert: Close your eyes or look away. These first two steps should be instantaneous.
    • Affirm: Give yourself a mental high-five to congratulate your effort. Say to yourself, “I saw that by mistake, and I quickly looked away. I’ve been clean for (enter number of days) and I’m going to stay that way.”

Yield to Christ through prayer and repentance

 God promises us that He will give us a way out, but we have to walk through it.

 2Pet. 1.3   His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

Porn is terribly damaging to our souls and our relationships, but by God’s grace we can be men (and women) who keep our thought lives and behavior pure before Him.

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5 Nuggets of Wisdom I just Learned from my Coach

I strongly believe in coaching, a process that intentionally invites a wise person to speak truth into another. I’m being coached by Lance Witt, founder of Replenish Ministries and author of a great book called Replenish. We meet via FaceTime each month and that hour is worth gold. This week we discussed several topics and these gems of wisdom rose to the top. I’ve put them into my own words.

Coaching concept related words
  1. Overworked schedules lead to underwhelmed souls. 
    • When we don’t keep healthy margin in our lives, our souls will shrink.
  2. When we pastors get wounded, we must own those wounds and not let them get infected through bitterness and unforgiveness.
    • You will get hurt in ministry and as an old saying goes, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” What we do with our wounds is our responsibility. Wounds need healing and to a great degree we control that healing process. We can encourage the healing or we can allow those wounds to fester. Given time, as we cooperate with the Holy Spirit, He will heal us. The scars may remain but the wounds get healed.
  3. Our current church culture sets up 100′s of pastors to struggle with pride and 10,000 pastors to struggle with failure.
    • This insight refers to the challenge pastors face when they realize they won’t pastor a large church. Speakers at most church conferences are pastors of large churches and it’s tempting to feel like a failure when we compare our smaller church to the really big ones.
  4. When you finish a staff meeting, make sure everyone understands what decisions you made and what are still discussions.
    • Often staff meetings end with fuzziness about decisions. This practice, however, can help us intentionally keep clear about actual decisions we make in contrast to ongoing discussions.
  5. When you finish a staff meeting, make clear who needs to know the decisions you made.
    • Related to number 4, this practice reinforces our need to communicate, communicate, communicate.

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12 Things that Tempt Men to Peruse Porn

Last week I began a five-week series on sex and sexuality called, The Bare Facts on Sex: God’s Best for Me. You can view archived videos of the messages at our church’s website here. This week I’m completing my message on What Porn Does to your Brain that I will teach in two weeks. I will also post a blog this Thursday on that same subject. You can sign up for my weekly blogs here. As I’ve researched the issues caused by porn, I am shocked not just at its moral consequences, but at its social costs, damage to marriages, and what it does to our brains. In my research I learned that these 12 personal issues may increase the temptation to watch porn. 

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These issues may tempt you to view porn (adapted from Wired for Intimacy: How pornography hijacks the male brain by William Struthers, Kindle E-book loc. 575):

  1. The allure of the forbidden: curiosity about a woman’s naked body.
  2. Fantasy: dissatisfaction with the current world and a desire to participate in another.
  3. The pleasure of surrender: giving in to sexual release through images on a screen.
  4. Desire to see women in ecstasy.
  5. The female body becoming an altar at which a man worships.
  6. Controlling personality: a desire to manipulate the environment to gain a sense of security.
  7. Unhealthy introversion: a loner type who isolates himself from social interaction with others.
  8. High anxiety: easily stressed from family, work, or expectations others place on him.
  9. Narcissism: a need to be admired by others around him; needs lots of admiration. See my blog on the narcissistic leader here.
  10. Low self-esteem: sense of inadequacy around other men or women; needs lots of affirmation.
  11. Depression.
  12. Distractability: difficulty keeping focused or controlling impulses; constantly wanting to move to something more interesting.

If some of these issues are often true of you, find a wise accountability partner to help you conquer porn and/or avoid its lure. If you do have a problem with it, you can’t solve it by going solo. I also recommend this excellent site for further help.

As Christians, we must remember this promise for God’s Word.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. (2 Pet 1.3, NLT)

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The Worrying and Fearful Leader

Worry and anxiety can stifle the effectiveness of the best leader. In my life when anxiety gets the best of me, my leadership always suffers. So, what goes on in the mind of a leader when he or she worries and what can we do about it? Consider these suggestions.

anxiety brain

When we feel anxious, a process in our brain starts because God created our brains to help us survive. When we feel threatened and anxious from a roar we hear outside our tent while camping or from a roar from a nasty email, it initiates a flight-fight response in our bodies.

One significant component of our flight-fight brain structure is called the amygdala, two almond shaped clusters of brain cells (neurons) that activate when we sense real or perceived threat. 2/3′s of the cells in the amygdala are wired to look for the negative. That’s why it’s so easy to get anxious, worried, or fearful. The amygdala is always looking for a problem.  

 Unfortunately, it’s not good at distinguishing between a valid and real threat.

Worry and fear show up in our bodies in several ways:

  • Our heart rate and breathing increases.
  • Our pupils dilate.
  • Saliva production slows (that’s behind dry mouth when we feel anxious or fearful before we speak).
  • Our muscles can tighten (many of us carry our tension in our shoulder muscles and neck).
  • We can feel goosebumps (think of how you feel when you hear the ‘bump’ in the night).
  • We get that ‘anxious’ feeling (norepinephrine, also known as adrenalin, is released in our bloodstream as a hormone and into our nervous system as a neurotransmitter).
  • Memory, decision making, motivation, and attention get diminished (our fear center hogs our limited mental resources).

So what can we do to minimize the effects of anxiety and fear upon leadership.

  1. Awareness: If we constantly live with low level anxiety, our fight-flight centers are more sensitive so it takes less to push us into serious worry, anxiety, and fear. The term, metacognition, means to be aware of awareness or aware of what you are thinking about. Instead of mindlessly rushing through life, often stop during the day to ask yourself these questions to become more aware of your inner world and the chatter in your mind (metacognition).
    • What am I thinking about right now?
    • What are my feelings right now?
    • Are these thoughts and feelings based upon reality?
  2. Labeling: We’ve often been told that to make painful emotions go away, ignore or suppress them. Actually, studies show that doing so does the opposite. Ignoring or stuffing them actually makes them stronger. Instead, take the power out of your painful emotions by recognizing them and naming them. Scientists have discovered that when we label them (i.e., I am feeling anxious), we actually calm our fight-flight centers.
  3. Distancing: Another very helpful way to calm anxiety and fear is to take the proverbial ‘fly on the wall’ perspective as an observer. When you experience these emotions, imagine stepping back as a third person observer and observing yourself and the situation at a distance. Distancing has proved to be one of the most effective ways to calm our fight-flight centers.

I love how Martin Laird, a college professor and writer, uses the metaphor of a mountain’s response to weather to picture how we should respond to unpleasant emotions. He bases his thoughts on Psalms 125.1. Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever.

Mt Zion symbolizes God’s power, blessing, and protection. So, when we trust in the Lord and redirect our thinking and our attention, we are like a mountain and how it responds to weather.

A mountain has weather around it all the time. The mountain does not become the weather. It simple observes it. In Christ we are like that mountain with all kinds of external and internal weather around us. Now we may prefer certain kinds of weather, but we are not the weather.

Your anxious thoughts and emotions are not you.

They are simply the weather.

The marvelous world of thoughts, sensation, emotions, and inspiration, the spectacular world of creation around us, are all patterns of stunning weather on the holy mountain of God. But we are not the weather. We are the mountain. Weather is happening—delightful sunshine, dull sky, or destructive storm—this is undeniable. But if we think we are the weather happening on Mount Zion (and most of us do precisely this with our attention riveted to the video [of our internal world, my addition]), then the fundamental truth of our union with God remains obscured … When the mind is brought to stillness (what Paul calls thinking on these things) we see that we are the mountain and not the changing patterns of weather appearing on the mountain. [Laird, Martin (2006-06-07). Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation (Kindle Locations 287-293). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition]

So, paying attention to our thoughts and emotions is essential for good leadership. If we don’t pay attention to our inner world, we become captive to it and blinded to its potential negative effects upon our souls and upon our leadership.

What has helped you deal with worry and anxiety?

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