Right before I got married we met a few times with one of my pastors to go through the motions of premarital counseling. My pastor was in an unenviable position because I had all ready gone through both premarital and marital counseling courses and passed them with flying colors. More than that, I had recently taken them, which of course means I was an expert on the subject!
I also believe that I had interrupted a very busy time in his life or maybe he just trusted our all ready strong network of mentors. Either way we only met a few times and didn’t talk about much.
However, there is one thing that stands out 8 years later. During one session he explained to my wife and I that there is a marked difference between being assertive and being aggressive. He explained that being assertive is merely explaining your wants and needs clearly, firmly and politely. Being aggressive is more sinister. It is attacking the other for perceived failures or sleights.
I have now been in ministry much longer than I have been married and have found that this little lesson doesn’t just apply to marriage but to all human relationships, particularly those in the local church. Our off line culture right now seems to be inundated with a sort of passive aggressiveness that masks itself as “being polite.” In turn our online culture (see Facebook and Twitter) seems to be inundated with a sort of over aggressiveness that masks itself as “assertiveness.” Neither attitude is very Christlike.
So I have compiled some fun examples illustrating the difference between being assertive, being aggressive and being passive aggressive. Some of these are meant to be humorous. All of them are meant to be illustrative. None of them are taken from any of my ministry contexts.
Passive: Pastor, your sermon was fine. It was just. . .great.
Aggressive: That sermon sucked just like all your sermons! When are you going to say something valuable?!
Assertive: You know I really struggled Sunday to figure out what you were trying to say.
Passive: Oh, your a Mets fan. . .well, okay, that’s. . .interesting.
Aggressive: Why would anyone cheer for the Mets? Don’t you know that whole franchise belongs to the dark Lord?! Repent immediately or perish!
Assertive: I assert that anybody who cheers for the New York Mets should repent immediately or perish. (:P)
Passive: Well if you all think we should paint the fellowship hall green then, whatever, do what you want.
Aggressive: Green is a lousy color. Why would you ever do that!? We cannot do that. Nobody will come to our church if our fellowship hall is green!
Assertive: You know the carpet in that room is all ready red and we don’t have the money to replace it quite yet. The green might make the whole room look like 1970’s Christmas and I am not sure that is the aesthetic we are going for. Why don’t we consider a more neutral color or not paint until we saved up to do the carpet too?
Passive: Live your life however you want but I think all sinners are going to hell.
Aggressive: You are violating all the laws of God’s sacred scriptures and insulting God and are going to burn in hell if you don’t repent.
Assertive: You say you try to follow Jesus’ teachings and I believe that but how do you reconcile Jesus’ command to “love your enemies” with the things you are saying about and doing to Lisa?
Passive: Well if you want to turn our church into a coffee shop instead of a church go ahead! I don’t care.
Aggressive: Coffee is black. Black is the devil’s color. Coffee is the devil. You are the devil. You are turning our church into the devil’s house.
Assertive: This may seem like an easy decision but it is going to cost some money and change the atmosphere and climate of our church. I’m not sure we want our worship atmosphere to resemble the atmosphere of a coffee house.
I hope at least some of those helped. I know that being politely assertive is a hard mark to hit but I believe we, including myself, can all do better!
Have a great Thursday!