Doing More in Foster Care by Doing Less (and How to Say “No” to a Marriage Proposal)

A couple of years ago, my son (7 at the time) attended the birthday party of a classmate. Afterwards in the car with me and our daughter, the conversation went like this (the name of the girl in the story has been changed and my son gave permission to tell the story):

Son: ‘Gabby’ told me at the party that she wanted to marry me

Me: Well . . . you could just always tell her “no thanks, I’m not quite old enough for that yet.”

Son: Um, I hit myself in the face.

Older Sister: Why did you do that?

Son: It’s just one way you can tell somebody you don’t want to marry them.

Knowing how to say “no” to things can be hard. And when you represent a church, agency, or organization, and it comes to helping kids in foster care, it can be especially difficult to say no to new ideas or programs. After all, each new idea is a way of potentially helping more kids.

Or, it could be a distraction from the most impactful things you could be doing to help kids.

Several years ago, I was visiting a church orphan ministry team who was in the process of getting started. These four passionate lay-leaders began talking about all of the amazing things they were rolling out as they launched their ministry. After a few minutes, I realized we needed to start taking inventory on a white board of all of these initiatives. When they got done and the board was literally full of ideas, I asked them “How big is the team that will do these things?”

“It’s the four of us.”

It’s really hard to say no to good ideas and its even harder to say no to good ideas that can help kids. I’m not saying anything you haven’t heard before: We sometimes have to say no to good things so that we can stay focused on great things. And to take the point a step further, saying yes to good things often means we are, by default, saying no to great things without even realizing it.

However, if you are like me, no matter how many times you’ve heard it, being reminded is helpful.

So here are a few questions to consider:

1. What are the new ideas you are considering right now?
2. On a scale of 1-100 how would you rate each one in importance to your overall vision and mission?
3. What are the things you are currently doing that you should consider stopping to make room for things of greater impact?
4. What are the realities making it hard to say no…
Expectations of others?
You’ve already put a lot of time and resources into it?
You’re sincerely unsure of whether it is a good idea or a great idea?
5. What are the 2-3 next steps you need to take to gain clarity regarding “No” decisions you might need to

Questions like these can help you take a step back and recognize areas where a simply “no” could have the greatest impact on the Kingdom. Then it’s just a matter of having the courage to do it. And remember, if you’re trying to say no and all else fails, you can just hit yourself in the face.


A version of this post originally appeared in our Foster Roster e-newsletter which is delivered each Friday. We keep it short and sweet and fill it with practical articles, videos, blog posts and other tools for leaders like you working to help kids and families in foster care.  To sign up, go to