How do you say No to potential leaders… or to present leaders/volunteers who need to be “fired”?

College ministers realize that No can be a great discipleship moment. It’s vital – for the campus ministry, yes, but also for the interested leader or volunteer – to hear No when it’s necessary.

But one principle of No-saying is that elongating the No can sometimes add to the discipleship process. And I don’t mean simply saying “Nooooooooooooooooooooooo.”

Sometimes a leader has to say an immediate No, removing a bad leader or simply shooting straight with a potential leader. But other times, you can take that same student on a discipleship journey that makes it less painful for you and for them, as well as deepening the discipleship you have with them.

Here are some ways to “elongate a No”:

  • In the case of a present leader/volunteer, sometimes you can meet with a student multiple times rather than just once, helping them transition out (or to another role) via what feels a little more like mutual decision. That doesn’t mean you don’t stick to your guns if a No is really needed and they don’t agree. But unless the ministry’s in jeopardy, a present volunteer or student leader has the chance here to process the issues and not just the “rejection.”
  • The same goes for anyone who steps up to lead for the first time. Treat their idea (that they should lead) like you would a big idea for a new event: Hear them out, ask probing questions, make them process related ideas (and Scriptures about leadership), etc. While this may not be as simple if you’ve got a scheduled influx of leaders once a year (for instance), even in that case, you might be able to offer honesty and transparency as you work through someone’s leadership offer with them.
  • Offer Leadership Training for potential leaders before they begin applying for leadership roles. At worst, you’ve gained some mutual language for talking about why a No might be right (for now). They might also self-select out of the leadership pipeline for now.
  • An application process that goes well beyond just asking for name and contact info can accomplish something similar. Ask hard questions, and at least you’ll be allowing potential leaders the chance to process the very reasons you might eventually need to give them for a No. Or, again, they might self-select out – and be better because of the process.
  • Elongating the No may simply involve softening the No, too… by offering this individual another way to contribute or even move toward leadership. That might include a leadership class, apprenticing under a leader, or otherwise contributing and staying nearby for more discipleship.