Years ago, a friend asked me to breakfast. I had no idea what his agenda was.
Since we served together at church, I assumed we’d be discussing the ministry.
But he wanted to discuss something else: the way I’d been acting recently.
My friend told me that my attitude was alienating other church leaders. Up to that point, I was unaware there was a problem.
He let me know lovingly but firmly that my attitude needed to change … and he gave me a letter reiterating his points, just in case I didn’t hear him accurately. (I still have the letter.)
I have always been grateful for my friend’s actions because he confronted me in the precise way that Scripture commands.
Let’s assume that someone in your circle of influence has been displaying harmful attitudes or practicing destructive activity – and it’s negatively affecting your relationship with him or her.
My favorite verse to use during such times is Galatians 6:1-2: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
How can you confront your friend wisely? Let me quickly suggest five ways:
First, prepare your heart spiritually. Galatians 6:1 says that only “you who are spiritual” should be involved in confronting others of sin. Those who are reluctant to be involved are the most qualified, while those who are eager to confront others should leave the job to someone else.
Before you take any further steps, pray for the person, their situation, and your role in any confrontation. Ask the Holy Spirit to let you know if you’re the right person to speak with your friend – and it will require divine courage.
Second, ask to meet with them in person. Do your best not to confront someone via email or texting or the telephone if it’s a personal matter. (Work-related issues may occasionally require using those means, though they’re not optimal.)
Instead, set up an appointment … but avoid telling them why you want to meet with them. If you do, your friend may insist you reveal your agenda immediately – or they may choose not to meet with you at all.
Some people prefer a public place, like a restaurant, because it minimizes the chance that one party will make a scene. On the other hand, if you need strict confidentiality, you may want to choose a more private location.
Third, express your love for the person … lovingly. Let them know that you value them as a friend, that you’ve had some great times together, and that you hope your friendship will continue for years. Help your friend feel safe and secure in your presence. Author and professor David Augsburger calls this care-fronting.
Most of us only make lasting changes in life in the context of unconditional love.
When you meet your friend, they’ll see the concern on your face, which can’t be done through email or phone conversations.
Fourth, share your concerns gently and humbly. Referring back to Galatians 6:1 above, sharing gently means you don’t scream, or use sarcasm, or convey a preachy tone. Instead, you speak softly and slowly, even in measured tones. In tennis terms, lob the ball over the net so they can easily hit it back.
And when you share humbly, realize that (a) you may have been guilty of the same sin in the past, (b) you are currently guilty of sins that your friend has never mentioned to you, and (c) you may be guilty of the identical sin you’re discussing with your friend in the future.
It’s possible that someday, you and your friend will reverse roles … so ban all self-righteousness from your life!
Finally, specify the behavior that concerns you, finishing with a question. Examples:
“I love you, brother, but I’ve seen you inappropriately touching some women recently. Am I seeing things accurately?”
“I’ve heard you criticize our pastor behind his back recently. Are you aware of this?”
“You’ve missed four church services in a row. Is life going okay for you?”
“I read something on your Facebook page recently that alarmed me. May I tell you what it is?”
When you ask a question, you’re inviting a dialogue. You’re not a prosecuting attorney, but a friend. If your friend doesn’t agree with what you’re saying, you may have to share some examples of their misbehavior.
However, since you may be wrong either in your observations or your conclusion, stay humble!
In my second youth pastorate, my pastor confronted me about a financial issue. He warned me, “Never borrow money from a church.” I asked him what he was referring to, and he told me that he heard that the governing board had given me $107 to fix my car. (I had been driving the youth kids all over creation – without a mileage allowance – so the board chose to pay my expenses without informing the pastor.)
I assured the pastor that the $107 was a gift, not a loan. If I had to do it again, I’d thank him for his concern but encourage him to check out the story with a board member.
The aim of a confrontation is never shame, or guilt, but always restoration. Jesus talks about “winning” your brother in Matthew 18:15-16. You’ve noticed that your friend has become stuck in life, and in the words of Galatians 6:2, you want to help carry his or her burdens.
Will a confrontation like this work? I once read where Charles Swindoll said it works about half the time. Confronting someone is admittedly risky because you can end a relationship forever.
But on the other hand, confronting someone can also strengthen your bond with them.
How did things turn out when my friend confronted me many years ago?
We became even better friends … lifelong friends … and we enjoyed a three-hour lunch yesterday!
What additional ideas do you have for confronting people?
Happy 2012 to all of my readers! I’m nine views short of 11,000, so thank you for reading. I never dreamed I’d have that many. Some blogs receive thousands of views every day, and that would be nice … but I’m content with anyone who is helped by my articles.
If you want to suggest a topic, you can email me at email@example.com
Meet you here next year!