“Hey pastor! So-and-so is upset over _____ and thinks that the direction you are taking is wrong. I prayed with them and, after learning that they had not yet talked with you about it, set up for the two of us to meet with you. Can we do that Tuesday?”
Man! If only every conflict and misunderstanding conversation went like that! Unfortunately, they often go a little differently.
“Pastor. So-and-so left the church because they were upset about ____ and no one ever fixed it. They shared it in Sunday School and the class batted it around, but nothing changed.”
Or, even more often… “Pastor, “a man” (who wants to remain anonymous) is really upset over ____. He shared with me “in confidence” and I prayed with him, but it doesn’t seem to be getting better. He is just more angry. I think he is probably going to leave the church. I know he hasn’t talked with you and I think he should but don’t feel right telling him since he is comfortable sharing his concerns and I don’t want to damage that. I can’t tell you his name…but just know that this man is upset and pray for him.”
Now…none of these conversations are real (at least today), but they have been through the years. They point to a need that I think exists for the believer who wants to do the right thing but doesn’t know how.
What do you do when someone wants to “share” with you a concern involving another person? Should you be receptive or redemptive?
If you listen to that “inner voice,” for a thousand reasons, you’ll want to be receptive; however, Jesus specifically gave us a redemptive ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:17-21, Gal 6:1-2, Matt 5:21-26, Matt 18:15-18, et.al.). If Jesus is Lord, and our playbook is the Word of God, then our response must be determined by God! After all, He may have invited us into this situation to minister FOR HIM by helping one of His precious ones be redeemed. But, this takes CONFIDENCE in the Lord and COURAGE in our hearts.
In a world of one-directional communication where opinions rule the day…this seems to be increasingly difficult…but if you love Jesus, you can do it!
Here are 5 Steps to being Redemptive rather than being merely Receptive.
- PRAY. Not merely for courage, but for wisdom. You are about to speak for God.
- LISTEN. Try to get the story…but start with the parts that matter most. Is the person personally involved or are they “carrying water” for someone else? Have they spoken with the offender directly? If not, was that by design or just a mistake?
- LEAD. Listening alone, in these examples, is not a biblical approach. If you are going to get involved, you have to speak for the Lord. Lead the person to act biblically and go get answers. Sometimes that means walking with them through the process, even though that is not always the best first step.
- LOVE. Choose to think charitably about motives. Even if the motives are wrong, the person has worth and there is usually a nugget of value in every criticism (or critical question). If you discover this is not the case in this matter, love them enough to gently redirect them…but redirect them at all costs.
- LEAVE. Sometimes, a person is entrenched in their mindset and unwilling to move or be moved. In this case, it is often best to extract yourself from the discussion. Every time they recount their story they solidify it deeper in their minds. They start to really believe it as fact. You actually hurt their redemptive process by allowing them to rehearse their disagreement repeatedly and unchallenged. Graciously and lovingly point out what it takes to go to the next step of the redemption process and if they will not go there with you, move on. Your silence may inspire them to come back to that step one day, and if so, pick up where you left off.
Why is this process so critical? Beyond the obvious practical considerations…because Jesus said so. If He is all-knowing and wise, loving and gracious…we should, could, and must trust Him on matters He speaks to by walking in humility and obedience in a manner consistent with His Word.