Jan 25, 2016


If You Don’t Say No…

Chase Abner writes about what you risk when you don’t say no to good things in order to pursue great things.

I recently read an article from campus ministry guru Arliss Dickerson titled “What are the Non-Negotiables for Your College Ministry?” In the opening, he tells about the time a student from their ministry was selected for homecoming court. This opened lots of doors for them to build relationships on campus. After that, they were invited to participate in a number of events on campus. There were lots of things they *could* be doing, so Arliss had to remember what was the “main thing” they *should* be doing.

This principle has become more important to me than ever. I have the privilege to serve a growing ministry at a growing university. Collegiate Collective continues to expand. Before all of those things, I have a wife. We have three kids who are growing up and starting to be involved in sports and activities in our city. Needless to say, I have a growing number of tasks and opportunities before me.

And although I believe God has grown my capacity to lead people and manage more tasks, I can’t say yes to everything and expect to do an honorable job. It doesn’t matter how much I care about the thing… the people… or the task. Those things all demand that someone show up well and not just care about showing up well.

All of this thinking has led me to this conclusion, which is an admittedly bold generalization:

The inability to say no to good things is the reason many of us are struggling to have greater kingdom impact.

I think this principle plays out in our personal discipleship and our ministry strategies. Sometimes, if we don’t allow others the right to say no to a good thing, we end up destroying relationships with our partners. Let me flesh out how that works in those three areas.


For most of us, the call to collegiate ministry is closely linked to the personal discipleship we received as college students. Someone invested the gospel in you through a personal relationship and you want to spend our life seeing that happen for others. So, the moment you encounter a student who is spiritually open to Jesus, you immediately try to squeeze weekly one-on-ones with them into your calendar. The problem is that, soon enough, your relational capacity is stretched so thin that you aren’t able to truly invest in all of those to whom you’ve committed yourself.

If you don’t say no to some students, you could actually end up discipling no one. You’ll have a calendar full of appointments, but you’ll not actually be able to spend quality time with any of those students. Sure, you might get them through a workbook, but will they get to experience life with you?

Alternatively, you might actually invest all the necessary time in those disciples, but fail at other aspects of your life and ministry. Is your family receiving enough attention? Can you give enough time to preparing your talks for the large group? Are you keeping up with your supporters and other partners?

Ministry Strategy

Like Arliss, you too probably have a lot of good options for things your ministry could do. You probably even have well-intentioned students who dream up new activities by the week. However, if those opportunities all cost you effectiveness in your primary mission, then are they really all that good?

Last fall, our ministry cancelled a program that involved 250 freshmen in the previous school year. It was a program that had grown and grown. The students loved attending. It did some very good things for our ministry as a whole, but it wasn’t a key component to our main thing.

We discovered that it wasn’t actually helping us connect with non-Christian students on our campus. It provided a great venue for Christians to gather and grow in their commitment to Salt Company, but it wasn’t effective in reaching beyond our bubble. And those students were already coming to our large group anyway. Plus, it was requiring about eight hours per week for four full-time staff. We discovered that time would’ve been better spent discipling small groups of students and in evangelistic conversations. Additionally, we found less resource-heavy methods to accomplish the same ends and freed our staff up to do more intentional evangelistic work among students.

In other words, if you don’t say no to good things, you could soon find that you lack the resources to tackle the most important things.


If you are going to allow yourself the freedom to say no to good things for the sake of the great things, then you must allow others to do the same. A student who attends your ministry may decide they need to leave your ministry in order to invest more time into their local church. Some of your donors may cut their giving in order to concentrate their money on something more central to their life’s mission. A missions partner may cancel a student intern program so that they can invest more heavily into another ministry area.

I’ve experienced all of those things at one time or another. Admittedly, my initial reaction was usually to take it personally. Over time, I’ve come to realize that when others pursue their great things, they sometimes say no to good things… and sometimes that good thing is me or my ministry. Yes, it’s okay to be saddened by those decisions, but it’s not okay to be bitter about it. Choose to trust that God is guiding them and that he still knows exactly what your ministry needs.

To what should you be saying no right now?

What good things are keeping you from the great things?

Whom should you prioritize with your time and energy?

about the author

Chase Abner

Chase is the Lead Church Planting Catalyst in Iowa with the North American Mission Board and music geek.