No. Not maybe. Not “We’ll see. I think I can do that.” Just no.


Thank you, I will not commit to doing that.


That makes me uncomfortable.


I wouldn’t have time to do that well and still meet my other obligations in a satisfactory manner.


I don’t have the skills necessary to do that job.


I’m pretty sure I’m just not going to do that, so you’d be better off asking someone else.



We, sweet, eager to please, eager to accept authority people that we are, we need to learn to say “no.” If it helps, we can explain why we are saying no, so long as we are clear that it is not an invitation for the other person to attempt to persuade us.

I was talking with a lovely relief society president last week who said that one of the things she has learned is to say is “No. I cannot do what you are asking. But this is what I can do.” And then she gives options to the supplicant, things that she can do that would be helpful. It may be “No, I cannot go buy groceries for you, but I can help you with a food order form.” Or it may be  “No, I cannot give you a ride right now, but I could help you after my husband gets home from work with the car.” (Once I did say this to a woman who called asking for a ride home from the mall a mile and a half away. She got pretty angry at me, perhaps because I also recommended a good walking route home, the one which I had just walked earlier that day with all of my children. She hasn’t called me for a ride since.)

We have got to learn to say no in a church setting without fear that we will be damned for being unwilling to serve. If you don’t know how to play the piano, and you know that there are other people who do play the piano, I think you can say “no” to that calling. Sure, there may be exceptions, like if you are in a branch where no one plays, and you are called to learn. But the option to decline must be real.

If you accept an obligation, you should do so with at least the intent to fulfill it and with a reasonable expectation that it is possible for you to do so. You wouldn’t volunteer to take meals to someone during the week that your family is out of town on vacation, would you?

And I absolutely hated it when, as a primary president, I had cub leaders or teachers who were flaky about doing their callings. I can understand that you don’t find a substitute if you suddenly come down with food poisoning, but when you don’t bother to let anyone know that you’ll be out of town for a planned trip? When you don’t make any effort to see that the children in your class will have a teacher, the same children you have accepted a stewardship over for just two hours a week, I get frustrated. And if you do it habitually, I get annoyed in a pretty unChristlike manner. I would worry and pray for you and the children you were supposed to teach, but often my hands were tied. I had to trust you to do your calling, and sometimes, even when I knew you needed out, I was prevented from releasing you immediately by the slowness of finding new people willing to accept your calling.

Perhaps you’re just trying to get released in a passive aggressive way. I hate that there is something in our culture that makes people feel that is the only way out of a calling they find intolerable. Please tell your leaders unambiguously when you are struggling with a calling. If they can’t give you the support and help you need, ask directly to be released. But continue do your job as well as you can as long as you have it or state clearly that you have no intention of doing it at all so they know definitely that they need to make other arrangements. Don’t be vaguely unreliable.

It’s not just the primary that has problems with people failing to fulfill their callings. The calling of visiting teaching supervisor can seem like a bit of inconsequential busywork, but it is possible to do a great amount of quiet good in that little calling through the real work of being sure that the sisters within your district are being cared for and receive the help they need, and on the other hand, there is also the bureaucratic hassle of getting reports turned in on time that can cause others a great deal of frustration and worry when you fail to keep your part of the system running smoothly.

I don’t think we should only accept the callings that we want to have. There is great opportunity for us to grow beyond ourselves, to learn through loving and serving people in ways that we had not previously envisioned for ourselves. Callings may be hard and frustrating and still entirely worthwhile. We should endeavor to serve. But if we know we can’t, or won’t,  it’s much better to be honest with ourselves and others about that than it is to set ourselves up for failure that will result in feelings of guilt for us and disappointment for them. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is to say “No. I can’t do what you asking, but this is what I can do.”

25 comments for “No. Not maybe. Not “We’ll see. I think I can do that.” Just no.

  1. That’s what I say whenever I’m asked to decorate for a Relief Society activity. I will never inflict my centerpieces on the sisters again.

  2. SilverRain-Nice corollary. We can sometimes grudgingly accept that God’s answer to us may be no, but we often get all het up when mere mortals must tell us the same.

  3. Great Post; I couldn’t agree more. My experience in both extending and receiving callings is that they are made 90% of the time by desperation, and 10% of the time by inspiration.

    My favorite calling story was my calling as ward membership clerk. In 1989 we saved up and purchased a top of the line (Then)personal computer for our family. The computer arrived on Wednesday, and the bishop arrived on Sunday morning with a calling as ward membership clerk, and membership tracking software to be loaded on our new computer.

    I held the calling for about 18 months until Salt Lake sent a computer for the ward office. I was released the next Sunday.

  4. Rachel, thank you for this. I’m the VT coordinator in my ward, and I’m very close to sending this to my flaky VT district supervisors. It would be easier for me if they’d just said no.

  5. I say it’s better to be said no to at first then they don’t show or they say no 20 minutes before something happens at least you have time to get someone else or do something else. You don’t want to be left holding the bag…

  6. I agree that we need to learn both to say no, and to accept no. So often, we do give excuses and then the other person feels like they can negotiate, even if our excuses were, in our minds, concrete. I love the idea of saying no, but this is what I can do. That is a lot harder to argue with.

    BUT, being someone who can’t think on the fly, I would have to say, “I’ll get back to you,” and when I say that, I really do mean that I need to figure out if I can do that or not. More often than not, especially when it comes to church stuff, I’ve come back and said yes. But I just can’t in good conscious say yes to something that I haven’t thought through that will involve much time or other commitment. This has included accepting the calling of RS Pres (I said yes in the end) and my husband’s call to Bishop (once again, I finally felt like I needed to let him say yes.) Because I’d thought through it all, prayed, and come to an actual decision that I COULD handle this, I have had a much better experience serving in these ways.

    On the other hand, I often say yes quickly to little things, like having a friend’s children at my house for a few hours, or bringing something to a group function. And half the time, I realize that I’ve double booked, or forgotten the other things I would be working on at that moment, and then been left stressed or missing out on things I really wanted to be able to do. For me, even the little stuff needs an “I’ll get back to you!”

  7. Thanks for the post, Rachel. It was a much needed topic.

    I might add that many times people accept callings not knowing what is expected of them. Sometimes very little is expected of you in your calling and any lack of initiative goes unnoticed. However, sometimes people end up expecting much more of you in a calling than what you expected and you find yourself in a position of wanting to serve in the calling but not to the degree that it is expected of you. For instance my wife was called to serve in the young women’s presidency a few years back and didn’t realize how much time and commitment people wanted out of her. Granted a fairly effective YW program probably could have been operated that wasn’t as time consuming. She loved interacting with the young women in the ward, but couldn’t stand the other YW leaders’ impulses to go the full nine yards with the program and their attempts to drag her through those nine hard, and superfluous, yards. She eventually asked to be released due to such an overbearing environment.

    Boundaries need to be set in callings and specifics need to be made as to what is hoped that you’ll do. If you leave the people who are called with too much leeway, there is a stronger tendency for them to either shirk or go too far.

  8. I agree, Steve. It is essential that a person is told what is to be expected of them in a calling. A little ‘truth in advertising’ is fair. For example, if the calling is to pick up 4 boys during rush-hour traffic and deposit them at the Church, wait a couple of hours, and then take them home late on a weeknight (and repeat again Sunday morning), many people might be inclined to say ‘no’. However, if you call them to be a counselor in the YM presidency, you might get a different response. These are, essentially, the same calling.

  9. As previously mentioned accepting a no is just as crucial as well. I have said no a few times only to be met with argument, disbelief, or just flat refusal to accept my decision. My only recourse left at that point was to simply not do what was asked and let the consequences happen.

  10. One of the best interviews I ever had with a church leader was during the last time I said No to a calling. It was the kind of calling that I was asked to bring my wife with me to the interview, and as we laid out the reasons I had to say No, he was better able to understand the health and other challenges my wife had that required I spend the time with her that I could not spend in the calling. I really feel that he was inspired to offer the calling, since it was the only way that he would be able to learn of our situation.

  11. I don’t think this is a uniquely LDS issue — being assertive towards others including family and friends is likely to be just as difficult, though I do understand the sense of duty when being called by “inspiration” (or desperation, as the case may be). I’ve never been one to decline callings (& I’ve never had good reason to, despite the time requirements), but I did accept a calling in my current ward that I later realized I just could not fulfill as required. I went to the quorum president and told him I needed to be released and the reasons why. I was released accordingly and without having to “debate” the issue. I think the old Pogo cartoon character had it right in many instances: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

  12. This reminds me of Elder Packer once talking about a man who said he’d never missed a meeting in his life. Elder Packer told him that if that was true, he was probably neglecting his family and other obligations. The church even officially says this now.

  13. I believe that there must be a wise balance reached in saying no and in saying yes. The rumor I’ve heard in our stake is that too many men are rejecting callings extended to their wives, saying that they need their wives at home.

    I find that disturbing, even if they have a legitimate reason for needing a spouse at home.

  14. As a leader I agree that I would rather have a person say no up front to a calling than to accept then not attempt to complete the assignment. However, I do understand that the actual assignment is not always clear to either the priesthood brethren making the calling or the person accepting. For example, my wife accepted a calling to serve as the counselor in the Primary President. A calling she has successfully served held in another ward so she thought she understood what was being asked. When the Primary President came to introduce herself it became clear that the requirements for the calling as outlined by this president were very demanding .I am sure that the priesthood holder extending the calling had no idea the complete nature of the assignment nor the personality involved. Having accepted the calling in good faith my wife was now in a position where she would be unable to actually complete the calling as outlined.l In the end the Primary counselor being released was asked to remain for awhile and my wife was released from the assignment without every servicing.

  15. There is a cultural aspect to this. If you go to a Spanish speaking ward, for instance. There are some other cultures where it is considered extremely rude to ever say no, even if you have absolutely no intention of doing the assignment. While the dominant American culture tells us that that is dishonest, many church members are actually simply doing what they consider good manners. And our own Mormon culture does say that you should say yes if you want to it, hope to do it, plan to do it or possibly can if the planets align, or if you will feel horribly guilty if you say no. Our culture also says that you accept the calling even if you aren’t perfect and might forget to get a sub when you are going out of town, or might show up unprepared because a warm body is all you really have to offer.
    Similarly, if an event is supposed to start at a certain time, different cultures have different ideas about what time to arrive at a party that is scheduled for 6pm. While I might assume it is polite to arrive between 6 and 6:15, some cultures train people that it is most correct to ring the doorbell exactly at 6:00 and some will assume that 7:00 or 8:00 is the more appropriate arrival time.
    Likewise, when it is time to leave the party, my friend might decide that her children need to get home and go to bed so she leaves a party but those of another culture might think she is rude because putting small children to bed early is not a priority in that culture and the event still has hours to go.

  16. I’ve never said “No” to an assignment or calling, even when it appeared incovenient or hard or difficult. It doesn’t mean I’ve always been able to fulfill the assignment or calling as well as I would have liked, or as others, even God, may have liked. But I’m a firm believer in President Hinckley’s admonition to “do your best.” Sometimes you get what you get. That said, I do know there are plenty of people who need/should say “no” because of extenuating circumstances. The latest handbook emphasizes a willingness to serve with respect to callings, something that wasn’t stressed as much in the past. It’s probably just me, but I do see a bit of a trend towards people turning down callings. They just want to attend sacrament, SS, and RS/PH then grab their kids and go home. I don’t know if they’re stressed out, strapped financially, or a bit lukewarm. However, if too many people say “no” then it makes it tough to run a ward.

  17. I think we allow our civic culture to affect our church culture (really, I suppose it’s impossible not to do so) — so we look on other ward and stake members as managers and employees, and we think in terms of taskings and assignments and performance appraisals and promotions. I don’t think it should be that way in the church. Rather, in idealistic terms, we invite and allow friends to make offerings, and we gratefully accept whatever gift they bring (or not).

    This is idealistic, I know, but hopefully ideals can alter reality.

  18. One problem with adding any conditions to a straight up yes or no, is that the person you are discussing that with, is often not the person that you deal with in the calling. The conditions or exemptions don’t get communicated to or agreed with by the other parties.

    My former bishop appreciated subtlety and I had several callings despite some conditions to my service. The newer bishop not so much and he interpreted conditions as a “no” and so I don’t have a calling anymore. Different strokes for different folks.

  19. A good point expressed at both #15 and #19 that the people you deal after accepting a calling are not the brethren discussing the position with you. Once a priesthood brother actually had me write list of duties and responsibilities for a newer calling to be presented to the person being called and included my phone number as a contact if there were any questions. I thought I was a good idea at the time. I also support the expression that we need to accept what other have to offer. That requires that calling be fluid and adaptable to both personalities, cultures, and life situations.

  20. Individual callings can place a huge stress on couples and families. In my area, I’ve been taught by General Authorities that the inspiration for the call is an indication we should proceed with offering the calling. It could be an indication of worthiness or potential ability. It could be a calling to repent or a chance to assess some individual of family needs. But we don’t fully understand the implications until we have the individual or couple in the office and we are discussing the issues with them. I’ve seen a leadership calling turn into a teaching calling and vice versa. The revelatory process is a joint effort of the leaders and the members to discern what the Lord wants and what circumstances will permit.

    I personally would have no problem turning down a calling after outlining the issues or backing my wife if she felt that she was unable to adequately perform a calling. We have both served our entire lives in the Church, pray about our decisions, feel inspiration while serving and don’t intend to wander off anytime in the future.

    We have only had one bad experience and it was when a member of the bishopric applied pressure to my wife to accept a calling, who was working full-time as an RN and had just had our first child. He will never try that again! I am very defensive of my wife and my wife is hardly a milk toast. The sparks flew, he retreated and she was offered a more reasonable calling for her needs a month later.

    So my advice is be candid and speak up to your leaders. The leaders can be mature enough to handle the problems or work out conflicts. We are partners in the process.

  21. Great post (and comments), which seems nicely related to a few recent ones by Nathaniel.

    What is the message being sent when the Church News publishes the prior callings held by newly called leaders?

  22. I believe the Lord wants us to use our minds, hearts, and spiritual sensitivity when thinking about issuing and receiving callings. “Studying it out in our mind” and “counting the cost” are both scriptural instructions regarding decision-making and tower-building that should apply to the process of accepting (or declining) callings. For example, I was recently asked to be Scoutmaster in our ward, which would include Friday-to-Saturday campouts and other weekend activities like Court of Honors (or is it Courts of Honor?). With a wife who works on the weekends and two small children at home, I knew I simply would not be available on the weekends to adequately fulfill the calling, unless I hired a babysitter. Does the Lord want me to outsource raising my children so I can be with the Scouts? or does He want me to accept the calling and then not be physically be there to complete my duties? I thought about these questions and determined the answer was no to both. Thankfully, our bishopric understood the concerns.

    My belief is that inspiration depends on information. And the more information we have about individuals and families in our areas, the better we all, especially leaders, can help one another. That’s how we build a community of saints.

    Furthermore, prophets regularly call for “wisdom” and “sensitivity” when issuing callings and church service. I found this talk from Jeffrey Holland from 1997 and love this:

    “Of course the irony is that this is often the sister [the mother with young children] we want to call—or need to call—to service in the ward and stake auxiliaries. That’s understandable. Who wouldn’t want the exemplary influence of these young Loises- and Eunices-in-the-making? Everyone, be wise. Remember that families are the highest priority of all, especially in those formative years. Even so, young mothers will still find magnificent ways to serve faithfully in the Church, even as others serve and strengthen them and their families in like manner.

    “Do the best you can through these years…Husbands—especially husbands—as well as Church leaders and friends in every direction, be helpful and sensitive and wise. Remember, ‘To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.'”

  23. Courts of Honor, to answer your question. I agree that information is critical. We have to be willing to talk to each other kindly and honestly. In that way, we’ll be able to serve and be served in turn.

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