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.”


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


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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5 Spiritual Benefits from Journaling (God’s Spiritual Cross-trainer)

Athletes understand that quality equipment helps them perform at their peak. A baseball player likes a broken-in glove. A basketball player prefers a leather ball. A tennis player wants a well-balanced racket. Although equipment varies from one sport to the next, every athlete requires good shoes. Since many people enjoy several sports, shoe manufacturers created a shoe style called a cross-trainer for use in multiple sports. Journaling, writing down our experiences with God, can serve a similar spiritual purpose.

Man writing down thoughts in journal

Richard Peace describes journaling as a spiritual cross-trainer that helps as an “aid to other spiritual disciplines” (Spiritual Journaling: Recording Your Journey Toward God). It becomes a powerful tool the Holy Spirit can use to develop Christ-likeness when we exercise spiritual disciplines such as prayer, Bible reading and fasting.

Although the Bible doesn’t command us to journal, several of its writers modeled this practice. Many of the Psalms represent David’s journaling as he wrestled with deep spiritual issues. Job struggles with the question of evil in his journal, the book that bears his name. Jeremiah’s journal, Lamentations, records his agony over Jerusalem’s fall. And Solomon pens his search for happiness in his journal Ecclesiastes.

Journaling’s simplicity and profound potential to create spiritual change eludes many Christians. If journaling is new to you or if you’ve tried it and become discouraged, consider these practical benefits.

1. Journaling softens our hearts.

Every farmer knows he must till the soil to soften it before he plants the seed. In the same manner we often need our hearts softened. Hosea said, “Plow up the hard ground of your hearts . . . “ (Hosea 10:12, NLT). When softened, our hearts respond more readily to the Spirit’s promptings.

 2. Journaling sifts truth from error.

As a child I remember helping my mom bake cakes. She let me sift flour through her aluminum can-like sifter. When I rotated the handle the sifter removed the lumps from the flour. Just as lumps were interspersed in the flour, sometimes we unintentionally mix “lumps” of lies in our self-talk such as, “I’m a rotten person,” “God is mad at me,” or “I’m worthless.” When we journal and put these thoughts on paper, it’s easier to sort out truth from error. Then we can counter them with God’s Truth and experience a more biblical outlook on life.

3. Journaling slows our pace.

My first driving experience at age nine on the Model-T ride at Six Flags disappointed me. Expecting to burn rubber when I floored the gas pedal, I barely reached 5 mph. My dad later explained that a device called a governor kept the engine from running at full capacity. Many Christians run their lives at full capacity with life’s “gas pedal” pushed to the max. Journaling acts like a governor to slow our frenzied pace and force us to listen to the Spirit’s voice.

4. Journaling builds faith.

Few of us will remember what God taught us last week, much less last year unless we write it down. Journaling builds our faith when we record God’s faithful acts. Then we can refer back to that record to remind us of his continued faithfulness. Psalms 77:11 says,I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.” (NIV)

 5. Journaling releases pain.

I still remember the staccato hiss from my mother’s pressure cooker when she cooked fresh green beans. After she locked the main top into place she placed a small metal cap over the pressure release valve. This allowed the pressure to slowly release. Similar emotional pressure can build up inside us to the point that we want to explode at others. Journaling provides a spiritual pressure release valve for our pain that can prevent that explosion. David encouraged this when he wrote “. . . pour out your hearts to him . . .” (Psalm 62:8, NIV).

Journaling, God’s spiritual cross-trainer, offers many spiritual benefits. If you want to try it, consider these six practical guidelines.

  1. Get a notebook.
  2. Set a consistent time in a quiet place.
  3. Make a commitment to stick with it.
  4. Date each entry.
  5. Write from feeling, not from fact. Don’t just record what happened in your life. Write down how your experiences affected your heart and emotions.
  6. Periodically review your entries to discover spiritual trends in your life.

How has journaling helped your walk with Christ?

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10 Ways Porn Damages your Brain

I just finished the message I will bring to our church in two weeks entitled, How Porn Changes your Brain (for the worse). It’s part of a larger series on sex. With my prior interest in the brain and my recent research on the brain and porn, I’m amazed at how deadly porn can be not only to marriages and our walk with Christ, but to the brain. Consider what science is now telling us. 

Until recently the research on how porn impacts the body and brain have been correlative. That is, from a scientific perspective, studies did not show that porn use directly caused these problems (although common sense told us otherwise). The correlative evidence, however, is quite damning in itself. The problem has been that researchers have had trouble finding college students (the most often chosen group for guinea pigs in research) who have not used porn. And, even if they did, it’s questionable the ethics of introducing someone to porn.

Dementia Disease

However, new research is now showing clear causal relationships of porn use to damage to the brain. In fact, the variable (use or non-use of porn) is now becoming more available as a large number (over 75,000) of former porn addicts have formed an on-line community called NoFab. Through surveys, they are posting how their lives have changed for the better after getting off porn. Also, a recent German study has shown a clear causal connection between even moderate porn use and damage to the brain.

Here is what research now indicates that porn does to our brains and bodies.

  1. It becomes addictive. Overstimulation of the brain system that releases the pleasure neurotransmitter dopamine (which internet porn spurs in massive amounts) results in the buildup of the molecular switch protein called deltaFosB, an ingredient common in most addictions.
  2. It impairs memory and concentration.
  3. It numbs you to other pleasures of life and real sex in marriage (called desensitization). You develop a tolerance and need for greater and greater stimulation because real sex has become dull.
  4. Sensitization. Because your reward system has been hammered, you have an amped up attraction to porn that can tempt you to view it through even simple cues like seeing your computer monitor. Your brain goes into autopilot and your reward circuit says, “Do it now!”
  5. It diminishes impulse control and willpower. The fight between clear thinking and temptation is heightened and you have less willpower to say, “No!”
  6. It increases sensitivity to stress. Even minor stresses can lead to cravings and relapse because they activate powerful sensitized pathways.
  7. It literally shrinks your brain. Studies actually show that even moderate amounts of porn can shrink grey matter in areas associated with cognitive function related to our ability to focus. Porn users report pervasive brain fog.
  8. It causes depression and low energy because it interferes with normal dopamine production and signaling.
  9. You become more susceptible to risky behavior. Since porn addicts need a bigger and bigger hit they gravitate to more degrading kinds of porn and risky behavior to get that hit with diminished fears of experiencing negative consequences (i.e., getting caught).
  10. Erectile dysfunction. Porn users become less sensitive to real sex with their spouses and need more and more stimulation to get aroused. Ex-porn addicts report that porn created significant sexual problems, specifically ED. 

That’s the bad news.

The good news, however, is that because the brain is plastic, porn users can break free from porn and change their brains back to a healthy view of sex and sexuality. With Christ’s power, men (and women) can find freedom from the devastating effects of porn.

In my Tuesday post I recommended a great site that offers help. Here’s the link again. If you struggle with porn, please check out that web site.

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