The Power of ‘No’: Christian Assertiveness

power standIn the past three weeks of the Batterer’s groups that I run, we have been talking about assertiveness with the guys. Talking about assertiveness and even assertive refusals has led me to think more about the importance of saying ‘no’, especially in the Christian life.

When I started working for the Church in Youth Ministry, I was the newbie of the parish staff. There was a lot of excitement about myself as the new Youth Minister (most of that excitement coming from myself) and there was so much going on. As I began the job and got a few months under my belt, I increasingly had other ministries and parishioners asking me to help out with events, projects, or personal problems. I had tons of requests to find teen volunteers for ministry and parish events. I had people asking me to find help for them to move heavy things at home, to find volunteers to be a trash crew at festivals, and so on forth. While trying to not only commit teens to volunteer with various things, I found myself committed to every thing as well. With so much going on, I quickly learned how to burn myself out. It was unhealthy for myself and the teens in ministry. While trying to say ‘yes’ to everything everyone else needed help with, I lost vision of my purpose in Youth Ministry.

I don’t think my response here is atypical. As Christians we want to say ‘yes’. Sometimes we think we have to always say ‘yes’ and serve to be Christ-like. It’s far from my favorite movie, but the Jim Carrie movie Yes Man gives some insight into how crazy it would be if we said ‘yes’ to everything. While Jim Carrie has some fun, he loses boundaries, breaks some hearts, and does many things he shouldn’t be doing.

So what does saying ‘no’ look like in the Christian life? Christ tells us in Matthew 5:37: “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No’.”. We find ourselves in trouble when we say ‘yes’ but we really don’t mean it. ‘Yes’ becomes a problem when it crosses boundaries and when saying ‘yes’ violates our ability to do something in good conscience.  Simply put, sometimes we shouldn’t say ‘yes’. To say ‘yes’ to something grudgingly out of guilt builds resentment and passive-aggressiveness. This doesn’t mean we can only say ‘yes’ to things we absolutely are thrilled to do, but we do need to put into check what we are saying ‘yes’ to. If a friend is asking for help amidst a huge project, it would be unhealthy for you, your friend, and your relationship to grudgingly commit to something that might overwhelm and inhibit your ability to complete work later on. As Christ says, let our ‘yes’ truly mean yes. Christ said ‘no’ to many things in order to say ‘yes’ to the greatest thing, his goal of salvation on earth. We are called to die to ourselves as Christ did to help others, but at the same time we have to accept that we cannot help everyone and are not called to be the Savior of others. As Christians we are not called to enable, but to build up.

In recognizing our ability to say ‘no’ to things , it is important that we understand our goals and our priorities. Most of the time we forget our purpose and our goals which makes it easier to say ‘yes’ to things we don’t want to focus on and ‘no’ to things we should be doing.

The Gospels show us that Christ was assertive with others. He didn’t try to please everyone (to the point of death) and he clearly and confidently said ‘no’ when necessary. When talking about the need for his passion and death to the apostles, Jesus told Peter “Get behind me Satan” when He saw that that Peter’s concerns were not of God’s purpose. In the Bread of Life discourse in John 6, we see Jesus letting many of his followers leave after telling them that they must eat His flesh. To be Christ-like, we need to be assertive. Christ is not asking us to be dragged around. We are being called to stand firm in His call.

So what is assertiveness? Simply put, it means expressing your needs with respect. The key word here is ‘expressing’ which most people are afraid to do in voicing their opinions or needs. It means saying ‘no’ to things that you cannot take on at this time respectfully. It means being honest with friends, family, and  parishioners who need your help. It means first knowing yourself and knowing your goals and purpose. Assertiveness goes hand in hand with self-knowledge and having a real relationship with yourself. A lack of purpose and self-knowledge can easily lead to passiveness or aggressiveness.

Being like Christ does not mean becoming the “yes-Christian”. We need to know our boundaries and limits and be able to say ‘no’. For anyone who struggles with saying ‘no’, there can be such power and relief in being able to tell someone “no”,or “I’m sorry but I cannot help you with that”. It doesn’t mean you are lazy, selfish, or a bad Christian. Sometimes you are even able to help them more by pointing them in the direction of useful resources and charisms of others. Being Christ-like means knowing yourself, your purpose, and how to be assertive and to sometimes simply say ‘no’.

For questions on assertiveness and information on assertiveness training or individual therapy sessions please contact Adam Cross at (805) 428-3755 or

God bless!

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