A couple years ago, I experienced a growing concern for a friend of mine. Something in his ministry approach seemed discordant with its purpose. I waited a few months before talking with him. (Who knows? Maybe my observations were wrong.) When a perfect example finally arose, I shared my unease.
But to say I “shared it” exaggerates my graciousness.
Instead, I bluntly confronted him. When he resisted, I pressed harder. Something inside me shouted “Stop!” while something else inside me desperately wanted to express my convictions, no matter the consequences.
I bulldozed aside objections, I plowed under every denial, and I railroaded home my points. And of course, the message was lost in its offensive delivery.
Two years later, I’m still working on repairing that relationship.
A few months later, I needed to talk with another friend, in another ministry, about another concern. But I was loath to approach him. My inner-resistance arose partly because I was still reeling from that recent relational fiasco, but I was hesitant mostly because this second message was thornier and more personal, and I empathized with my friend.
I reluctantly phoned him, but as I shared, my voice choked. While I didn’t weep, my eyes moistened, because I sensed his difficulty in hearing. But when he asked me questions, I listened instead of attacking, and I expressed my observations gently. No bludgeoning.
And that friendship deepened.
The difference between the two discussions seems obvious: I was an ogre in one and an angel in the other. (We’re talking relatively here. No one on earth has ever called me an angel.)
But the ogre/angel answer doesn’t address why I challenged them differently. It wasn’t due to problems in their natures: both are good friends, both serve good ministries, and both are open to feedback. Instead, something happened in me.
True friendship requires frankness, yes, but it also requires connection. Candor is telling a truth that needs to be expressed or they will suffer, but connectedness requires such close, personal association that the painful truth I speak means I will suffer with my friend.
Connection over Principle
Let’s be honest. I am not the only one who has stubbornly stuck to a path I knew—I knew!—was stupid. Some of us talk when we shouldn’t, and when resistance arises, we steamroll it flat. Others of us see friends driving themselves off a cliff, and we cowardly sympathize with insipid platitudes when we know we should sound the alarm instead.
We all want the “three keys” for successfully challenging a friend. God simply wants us to listen to his Spirit living in us. Worldly wisdom always looks for behavioral rules; but human lives are complicated, and we need spiritual wisdom to detangle the threads of brokenness.
We want principles for action; God wants connection to him. I related differently with my two friends because I acted out of a different spirit: with one I talked out of “Sam’s wisdom” (thus proving its absence) and with the other I sensed the Spirit of God bonding me with my friend.
If God really gave me any scrap of spiritual insight, I think he gave that morsel mostly to reveal an insight into myself: I am never called to demonstrate how wonderful my own wisdom is, but to reveal God’s Son in me.
It’s time to bulldoze my supposed-sagacity.