“You have every tool needed for ministry. You have the God-inspired Scriptures. You have the power of the Gospel. You have specific gifts to enable the fulfillment of God’s unique and individual call for your ministry.
You have the promise and power of the Holy Spirit working powerfully through your proclamation. God’s promise is to be with you in every circumstance until the end of the world.
Most importantly, you have the only message which can give real hope: the message of Jesus Christ come to save sinners by grace through His death and resurrection for sinners.”
Perhaps this is what was told by your seminary professors and by those who encouraged you in ministry. But something is missing. Strangely enough, the most important tool is not theological nor is it doctrinal per se. It is purely practical. It’s a tool we have used before, during and after our preparation for ministry. It’s a tool that we have used since our earliest moments of our lives.
This tool is the most important tool not just for healthy living and healthy Christian leadership. It’s so important that our very survival as a human being depends on it. What is that tool? “Yes” and “No”
Origins Of “Yes” and “No”
At times it seems ironic that the most unused—or misused—ministry tool is being able to say “yes” or “no.” Children have virtually no hesitancy of using this tool. Infants scream in their uninhibited, un-embarrassed way for food, diaper changes, affirmation and other basic needs. Toddlers in the “Terrible Twos” quickly learn the power of their “yes” and “no”—and, in so doing, learn the power of other’s “yes” and “no.”
The roots of all human interactions come from our earliest experiences in using our “yes” and “no.” Whether individuals have been affirmed and valued for their “yes” and “no” or neglected and devalued, the patterns learned early in life tend to persist. Too often our childhood “yes” and “no” have the same significance—or insignificance—as our adult “yes” and “no.” It is the use of our “yes” and “no” which will be one of the most significant indicators of personal, spiritual and ministerial health.
Jesus And “Yes”
Jesus recognized the power of “yes” and “no.” He gave it such a high priority that He included it in the very early part of His first major address, the Sermon on the Mount:
“Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Matthew 5:37 (NIV).
Jesus recognized that “yes” and “no” is so basic to ministry and to faith itself. “Do you believe I am able to do this?” Jesus asked the blind man. The blind man’s “yes” became a most powerfully genuine affirmation of faith in his Lord (Matthew 9:28).
“Yes” and “no” not only indicate faith. They indicate the intensity, duration and confidence of faith. The New Testament word for “nai” is often best translated “assuredly.” It is this rock-solid assuredness which marks the healthy “yes” and healthy “no.” “Yes,” whether a translation for the Greek “nai” or “amen,” always conveys a similar concept. If it’s “yes” it’s something that can be trusted completely. If one’s “yes” cannot be trusted it comes, as Jesus said, “from the Evil One” (Matthew 5:37).
Dimensions Of “Yes”
“Yes” can be powerfully pleasant. In Christ’s ministry, as ours, it is pleasant when people affirm the “yes” of faith, of belief, and trust in God and our ministries.
“Yes” can also be poignantly painful. The most painful, perhaps, are those which must be directed to those who oppose us. Matthew recorded Judas’ words and Jesus’ response in the Upper Room:
“Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” Jesus answered, “Yes, it is you.” Matthew 26:25 (NIV)
Perhaps Jesus could have offered other responses. He could have side-stepped, whitewashed, ignored or outright lied to Judas and the others. But He didn’t. Why? Because as God and man, He knew the power of “yes.”
He knew that the wrong “yes” at the right time was just as intolerable as the right “yes” at the wrong time. He also knew that when “yes” was required but “no” was used instead, His very integrity would come into question. One wrong “yes” would indicate a breach of trust…and possibly an irrevocable loss of trust in those who depended on His “yes.”
Jesus also used “yes” to rebuke and correct. When the Jewish leaders vehemently protested the crowds crying “Hosanna, Son of David” as Jesus rode into Jerusalem, Jesus countered their attack with a rebuking, corrective…but loving “yes”:
“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him. “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?” Matthew 21:16 (NIV)
He also used “yes” to warn His disciples of Satan’s testing. He used His “yes” to forewarn the overconfident disciple, Peter, of his denial:
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today– yes, tonight– before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” Mark 14:30 (NIV)
It was His “yes” which was often His most effective tool for ministering to the sinful hearts of humanity. No matter what the price Jesus still let His “yes” be “yes” and His “no” be “no.” When on trial for His life before Pilate and asked if He was King of the Jews, Jesus was unwavering. His “yes” was “yes”…no matter what the price.
How God Used “Yes”
God, when properly understood, is a God of “yes” and “no.” Whether using “yes” or “no,” God used this tool as one of His most effective ways to communicate His covenant. His “yes” and “no” was His most powerful tool for a personal interventive ministry of grace among His people.
In Genesis 18, God had to confront Sarah’s denial that she laughed at God’s promise of a son in her old age. Though not using the exact word “yes,” God’s words were nonetheless a poignant “Yes you did laugh.”
Whether in rebuke, calling to repentance or recalling His grace to His people, God’s affirmation of grace to His people was always constant. It was intended not only to bring salvation. It was also intended to urge faithfulness, trust and absolute confidence in what God has, is and will do through His affirming servants. King David responded with such confidence when he wrote,
“I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.” Psalm 77:11 (NIV).
The Problem With “Yes”
Perhaps the greatest problem with “yes” is that we’re afraid to use it in the confidence of God’s power and promise. Whether it’s presenting a vision of change and sacrifice or whether it’s confronting the wayward counselee, we must use our “yes” the way God calls us to use it.
Sometimes our “yes” can affirm ourselves, our followers and our ministry. Other times it must affirm through loving confrontation, through persistence in staying the course and pointing out those erroneous, sinful and hurtful things which destroy the positive, Scriptural affirmation characteristic of a healthy church.
Unfortunately, no ministry can affirm “yes” to everything and still retain integrity, sound character and trust. The affirmation “yes” only has relevance when “no” also has relevance, meaning and a conviction equally strong as the “yes.”
The Non-Anxious “Yes”
Such strong affirmation, however, comes at a price. The greatest price is the pain of fear. Powerfully affirming what one is—and isn’t—is essential for establishing singleness of vision, purpose and attaining unified goals. One cannot be all things to all people at all times.
The greatest fear is that those who cannot accept this will attack, subvert or otherwise antagonize and possibly destroy the necessary and essential affirmation of “yes.” Pastors subject to fears of budget, of rejection, of competency, or fearing the future will certainly be tempted to dilute the “yes.” Though winning in the short-term, the long-term effects will nearly always undermine congregational health and one’s own ministry.
If “yes” is one of the greatest ministry tools, then it follows that the “Non-Anxious Yes” may be the most powerful manner in which this tool must be used for the glory of God. As the “yes” of ministry is stated, it will be accepted—or rejected. The proclaimer will also be accepted—or rejected.
That is the price of “yes”. But it is also the calling to a Christian ministry of integrity which powerfully and winsomely calls people to a singleness of purpose in the affirmation of God’s “yes” for them.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Yes”
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech is possibly his most famous, and most quoted speech. The speech was made at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 as the keynote address of the March for civil rights at Washington, D.C.
King’s televised words touched millions. It did so for several reasons:
* First, it was a radical “yes” to “shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.”
* Second, it was a resounding, uncompromising “yes” of his vision, his purpose and his God-given calling to racial equality.
* Third, his powerful statement aroused the nation’s interest either for–or against–this cause. This interest was aroused because they knew his “yes” meant something. It was his conviction. He would not be swayed. His supporters knew that…and so did his detractors. His convictions would either win him a following or result in death.
* Fourth, and most importantly, his “I have a dream speech” became the call to unity to invite others to join—or resist—him in this larger-than-life dream for national—and international—equality.
It was his “yes” which gave powerful appeal to his message. It was his “yes” which fueled the charisma of his person. Most importantly, it was his “yes” which demonstrated to the world that he truly felt a profound passion for the calling which God gave him to bring justice and equality to all people.
Martin Luther King, Jr. And The Church
King was not merely a social reformer lamenting the state of an unjust nation. He was also a pastor who lamented what he perceived to be a weak, spineless church and clergy:
“In deep disappointment, I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church; I love her sacred walls. How could I do otherwise?
I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great-grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and fear of being nonconformists…
Things are different now. The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are…
I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood.”
Letter from the Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963
Consequences of King’s “Yes”
For Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the consequences of his “yes” were many. Though his words drew millions of supporters, they also precipitated numerous confrontations with military, imprisonment, encounters with mace, stabbings, court injunctions against his right to free speech, etc.
King commented on the difficulties of what he realized were the inevitable consequences of “yes”:
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place.
But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we as a people will get to the promised land.
And I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
Saying “Yes” To A Ministry Of Power
Martin Luther King once said, “He who fears death cannot change the world.” A ministry of fear cannot change the world either.
Perhaps the greatest barrier to “yes” in ministry is fear. It is for this reason that Jesus addressed His disciples regarding fear. He knew, first-hand, how fear-full the ministry could be. He also knew that if they failed to maintain the integrity of their “yes” and the confident certainty of their “no,” their wishy-washy vacillation would come from—and serve—Satan…not God. It would promote self-service, not self-sacrifice. It would promote fear, not faith.
“But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” Luke 12:5 (NIV)
“Yes”—An Issue Of Fear
Perhaps that is the greatest challenge to Christian leaders: letting the “yes” mean “yes” and the “no” mean “no.” As soon as fear enters into the leader’s convictions, the power of “yes” and the power of “no” are lost. It is from this vantage point of fear that we become Satan’s agents and God’s enemies.
Is that not the greatest—and most tragic—perversion of our identities? That those who claim to be “yes” agents of God become via fear “yes” agents of Satan. When this happens, our greatest fear is realized: we are no longer useful to God’s ministry. We have succumbed to what God has called us to affirm most: His victory over fear—even the fear of death—through Jesus Christ.
“Yes”—A Measure Of Soul
In his April 10, 1957 “A Realistic Look At The Question Of Progress In Race Relations” speech, King spoke of the power of “yes” leadership:
“We need a leadership that is calm and yet positive… Were I so tall as to reach the pole or to grasp the ocean at a span, I must be measured by my soul…”
The power of our “yes” is a measure of our soul. It is the measure of our conviction of ministry. It is the measure of our conviction of our calling. It is the measure of our identity. Most importantly, perhaps, it is the measure of our confidence in God’s power to assist, lead, guide and work in a way that overcomes all fear…including our own.
What prevents you from using the power of “yes” that God has given you? What things do you fear if you do? Who are those who might prevent it from being used? Are they able to overcome their fear? Are they willing to support God’s cause? Or are they really using their resistance and fear as a way to oppose what God really wants in your ministry for Him?
There is power in your “yes.” God will bless your “yes” even in weakness because there is greater power in God’s “yes”-strength. Will you faithfully receive and exert that power with your own passionate “yes”?
The right answer, as you can imagine, is simply “Yes!”
Thomas F. Fischer
Martin Luther King quotations taken from A Testament Of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., ed. James M. Washington.