This one is dedicated to all the pastors and other people who, like me, have trouble saying no.
In Matthew 5, Jesus gives the most famous sermon ever preached on the planet called the Sermon on the Mount. Let me say something that many scholars would prefer I didn’t say: we could spend a lifetime studying the Sermon on the Mount and applying it to life. It is not an easy sermon to hear, and it’s even more difficult to put into practice. But, think about this: if every Christ-follower decided to pattern their lives after Christ and give one hundred percent of their attention to what he says in this great sermon, no church would have enough seats for the worshippers and many--if not all--of the current troubles of the world may not exist.
In Matthew 5:33, Jesus turns his attention to “not swearing falsely, but perform to the Lord what you have sworn.” He goes on to say we should not take an oath at all for any reason.
In verse 37, Jesus clearly and emphatically states, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No;’ anything more than this comes from evil."
There is far more to this text than a blog post can cover, but one thing is for sure: there’s no need to swear on the Bible or take an oath to guarantee follow-through on a commitment. Jesus basically says we should simply be honest and committed to follow through on what we say we will do. He instructs us to make sure our yes means yes and our no means no.
This passage has a broad range of application and meaning. For parents, it is good advice to follow through with what you told your children you would do, whether it’s a good thing you’ve promised or consequences you promised if they crossed a line you had set. Whether you’re a business man or woman, a husband or wife, a dad or a mom, a teacher, principal, or supervisor, Jesus wants us to be known as people who will do what we say we will do.
Many years ago, I was in the process of purchasing a car. Thanks to good coaching, I was able to get the car at the price I was told to offer. The salesman even threw in a perk--one that would be very helpful to me; he ensured I would be given a free loaner car when I brought my car in for service at their dealership.
That promise was very important to me. It would always be helpful to drop the car off early in the morning on the way to the office without having to disrupt the morning routines of my wife and our three small children. It meant I would have a car to get me where I was supposed to be throughout the day. Uber wasn’t around then!
When it came time to service the car the first time, I made the appointment. When I got there and mentioned the loaner car, I was told they did not offer that option in their service department. I told them it was part of my purchase agreement. They started tapping away on a computer to find my contract.
Their answer? “I’m sorry, sir, but there is nothing in writing about an agreement to provide you a free loaner car.” They then proceeded to tell me they have a shuttle van that would take me to a car rental office so I could rent a car for the day.
Whatever happened to the days when you could count on people to do what they said they would do? If a promise was made, it was kept. Yes meant yes.
I have a confession to make. Historically, I’ve had trouble saying no, which also meant I had trouble following through with a yes. In my 37 years in church ministry, I’ve gone from saying yes to everything to saying no to a lot of things.
From a practical standpoint, I can’t do all the things I actually love to do as a pastor of a growing church. I can’t be with all the people I’d love to be with. The time is not there. The ability of multitasking is not as easy as it once was for me. That may be attributed to a growing inability to “multi-focus.” It may be attributed to simply putting too much on the to-do list or having more on my mind than a brain has capacity to process. I’ve expected a great deal of effort from my brain through the years. All of this has a direct link to the inability to say no often.
The confession continues. I’ll just shoot straight here: when I do say no, I find myself dealing with some degree of guilt. For a moment, I have thoughts that may surprise you, such as:
“I wish I could do this because I really enjoy being with this person.”
“I do care about this person and really hate to disappoint them."
“I wish I could say ‘yes’ and meet with this person, because I do think I might be able to help them.”
“If I don’t meet with them, they may leave the church.”
“I hope people don’t view me as a megachurch pastor who seems isolated and unavailable.”
“I recall accusations people have made that I only meet with wealthy people who give large sums of money to the church.”
Please keep in mind, the thoughts above reflect my own misguided thoughts. It is rare that someone in the church would say such things about me or to my face. The situation I’m describing gets worse. There are times I know I should say no. There are times I know I need to keep my focus on the most important things on my plate or times when I know there are other pastors on my team who could handle these things. I say yes anyway, sometimes knowing I probably won’t be able to keep my word.
Does this mean I actually lie?
Not long ago, I shared these thoughts with one of my elders. This man is a very trusted friend I knew would be honest with me. In that moment, I was bemoaning the reality of not knowing most of the people who attend our church on a typical weekend. He quickly replied, “Well, it doesn’t seem to be bothering any of them, so I’d suggest you get over it.”
Wow! Ouch! But he was right. Thank God for friends who see things we can’t see and give us direct answers when needed. These days, I can walk through our Atrium on my way to one of our auditoriums and not recognize anyone. And it’s okay.
It is okay because I have over forty pastors and leaders who serve the people of this church. They serve them well. I’m so thankful for my team!
One more wake-up call. At the end of our weekend services, we invite our prayer teams to stand across the front of the room and be ready to pray with those who come forward. When we first started this, I joined the prayer teams right after I closed the service. Early in this endeavor, one of our elders stopped me as I took my place in front of the stage. Once again, this elder is a trusted friend and advisor. As I took my place next to him, he looked at me and said, “Marty, if you are standing here, no one will want to pray with me. Besides, you need to go sit down, gather your thoughts, and get ready to speak two more times.”
He was right. It still pains me to walk off the stage at the end of each service and disappear backstage, but it’s exactly what I need to do to speak well three times before noon on Sunday.
I’m learning that it is far better to say yes when you know you will follow through and do what you’ve said you will do. There is never an upside to saying yes to anything you know you may not be able to do or even need to do.
Jesus calls us to make sure our yes means yes and our no means no. There’s treasure in knowing what to say, how to say it, when to say it, and enjoying the result. Sometimes I say no for the sole purpose of a night at home with Kim. There are times I say no because I need some time with my kids and grandsons. Hanging with that bunch somehow fills my soul like nothing else can.
I’m learning to let my yes be a solid yes and my no be an honest no. As I focus on the things I must do as the pastor of this awesome church called Crossings, it seems I’m free from guilt, inspired by what I see happening day after day in our ministries, and far more relaxed in the process of leading this church. Oh my, how I wish I had learned this lesson many years ago! But at least for now, there’s a good chance I will finish strong, whenever that may happen.
I’m going to keep letting my yes be yes and my no be no. I hope you will, too.