How to Know When to Say No

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash
How to Know When to Say No

A conversation with Jen Wilkin, Jen Pollock Michel, and Jackie Hill Perry


The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy. 

Jen Wilkin: So, Jen and Jackie, you guys are both heavily involved in ministry, you’re doing lots of things, traveling a lot. A lot of opportunities coming your way. A big question, I know that we’re always having to deal with is how to do you know what to say yes to? Just everything sounds like a great idea, usually, so I’d just be curious to hear. Do you have a process, you know, does someone help you?

Jackie Hill Perry: I know for me, I think saying…knowing how or when to say no is really, I don’t know, wisdom, innocence, and having my priorities in check. So, for me, it’s like, “Okay, I have all of these speaking requests to talk about the Gospel, but that’s a good thing. But is it the best thing for me to be gone from my home and my community all the time?”

No. And so I think, just considering what that yes would do, and what the no would do. What is the most profitable thing for my soul, for my family, for my local community has been one way in which I flesh out those types of things.

Jen Pollock Michel: I often, or always, I should say, talk to my husband, you know. I mean, I think he’s a much better gauge of my capacity than I am. I tend to be really overly optimistic like, “You’re going to be fine. It’s going to be great.” And he’s like, “No. I actually see you when you come home.” And when you’re over, you know, overstretched and so I talk to him, you know, I do talk to people on staff at my church, I talk to my pastor.

Like I feel like I have a community around me that can kind of help to remind me, you know, “You’ve said these things are important to you.You said that you really want to invest in your local neighborhood, and you want to be here on Sundays.So how does that fit in with that?” And just people ask really good questions which I think is helpful.

Hill Perry: Yeah, that’s true.

Wilkin: I think I’ve had to learn too, like the people who are making the requests are genuine and they do have a great offer, something that would be great to be involved in, but they can’t weigh the cost. It’s my job to weigh the costs. And that was hard. I used to feel self-conscious about saying things like, “I have to be home Saturday afternoon or evening” because it felt like a princess or something, instead, you know, “What can I do to minister to your people?” But really the cumulative effect of not being in my own church on Sunday morning is just a price tag that’s too high to pay personally.

And yeah, I think asking other people has been a big help to me. My husband’s really good at straightening me out on things, and I think I would imagine you guys have gone through this too. I do have to check my motives a lot and just be like, “Why am I so drawn to this? Why do I feel such a compulsion to say yes? Do I really think I’m that critical to this conversation?”

Pollock Michel: It’s so helpful to remember, like I love the that parable that Jesus talks about like that the Kingdom is like a seed that gets sown and somebody goes to sleep and at night, like the field has blossomed, and it’s grown and I think like, “That’s how the Kingdom’s getting done.” A lot of it is just… We go sleep at night and God’s doing his work.

God’s Kingdom isn’t fully on my shoulders. Just because I say no to this or that, doesn’t mean that… And Beth Moore has often said like, “When you say no, other people step up.” That’s an invitation to them, and that’s a really good thing.

Hill Perry: I think a lot of it, I feel like Paul a lot in the New Testament, talks about discerning the word of God and how that’s related to knowledge of God and so I think that’s a factor too is, godliness kind of helps me see stuff rightly where I am able to discern it if it’s a good thing or not. And I think the more I distance myself from the truth of who God is, the more blurry things get.

Pollock Michel: And you have to have… I feel like the only way I can give myself away in ministry is to also continue to receive from the Lord and maintain spiritual disciplines and practices. And that takes intentionality. If you’re constantly gone, or if you’re constantly over-capacity in terms of the workload that you have, you don’t have the time to just really continue to encounter Jesus because that is, I think, what we give away is our life with Jesus…

That’s what we give away to other people and we have to maintain that.

Jen Wilkin: I think I can feel too like, “Oh, they won’t understand if I need to say no.” But then I think if I were on the other side of this, and in fact, I have been on the other side of this. I’ve been the person who’s asking someone for help on something ministry related. And I want their honesty, I want to know where their boundaries are.

I’m not expecting that they’ll give me beyond what’s reasonable or healthy for them. So, sometimes coaching myself on that has helped. And I always have to remind myself, you know, God cares more about His church than you do. And so don’t feel like it’s just all resting on you for whatever you perceive the mission to be to move forward. Similar to what you were saying earlier.

Pollock Michel: God loves a cheerful giver too, right? There’s no benefit to anyone to saying…

Wilkin: And a sleepy grumpy giver is not a cheerful giver.

Pollock Michel: Not a cheerful giver. –

Hill Perry: Right, right, right.

There aren’t enough hours in the day or days in the week to say “yes” to everything comes along. We know we should say “no” to temptation and sin, but it’s much harder to say “no” to good things, especially gospel opportunities.

Jen Wilkin, Jackie Hill Perry, and Jen Michel talk about how they’ve learned to use discernment in evaluating the requests and opportunities that come their way. Each of these busy women has realized the toll that overcommitting takes on them, their families, and their local church community—and so they no longer say “yes” to every good opportunity. “If you’re constantly over-capacity in terms of the workload that you have, you don’t have the time to just continue to encounter Jesus,” Jackie Hill Perry says. “What we give away [when we overcommit] is our life with Jesus.”

Listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition podcast or watch a video.