It’s nice when people ask questions; whether they are atheists or mature Christians. We all like the feeling of being asked, or the opportunity to “give an answer for the hope we have”.
But, before you answer, just ponder whether they are asking to understand or just asking to make a point.
It could be as simple as saying, “Yeah, that’s something I’ve put some thought into. If I tell you what I think, is there really much chance it will change your mind?”
This is particularly true when chatting to non-Christians. They may have many presenting questions… But they aren’t real questions; they’re just gap fillers, questions to ask to appear didactic. If you said to them, “if I answer that question adequately, will it really make a difference to you?” And if they say “no” (as many I’ve spoken to have), then all of a sudden the conversation had shifted from abstract hypothetical barriers to the gospel, to real personal barriers to the gospel. You can ask, “ok, then what is your real question? What would it take for you to really consider Jesus’ claims?”
Satan loves it when we keep the conversation abstract and impersonal, so don’t go there unless its really the issue they’re dealing with.
1. Think of a better (realistic not idealistic) alternative.
2. Assume the person you’re about to criticise has already thought of that alternative.
3. Assume that the person has some really good reason (or info that you don’t have) to have chosen against that option.
4. Ask them what that reason(s) is.
Then, please, please DO criticise!!
Most critics don’t even do the first. Some do come up with alternatives, but they assume you couldn’t have thought if it. Very few are gracious enough to ask why you’ve made the decisions you have.
I love those people ;)
Only rebuke when there’s not a conflict of interest; don’t do it because they’ve hurt your friend’s feelings, or to make someone else happy, don’t do it because it will give you an advantage.
Only rebuke when you’ve distanced yourself emotionally; don’t do it if you’re wrestling with forgiving them still, don’t do it if your feelings are going to be controlled by their response.
Only rebuke when you’re humble enough to admit you don’t know their motives; don’t do it if you’ve already decided that they intended evil or were malicious. You’d be rebuking something only God can know – and you’re not God.
Only rebuke when you’ve got the facts; don’t rebuke when you’ve just heard what they did, or when they’ve only told you snippets. Get the whole story from them first, prayerfully hoping that they haven’t sinned at all.
Only rebuke when your real desire is to please God.
They arrive, join in, seem to settle in well. They smile when you talk to them, they nod when you say Christian stuff. They talk about their last church in favourable terms.
There’s two opposing things you need to assume:
- Assume they’re Christian if they’re giving that impression.
Most people who are “seeking” or checking out Jesus will give some indication of that. If they don’t they either don’t want you to know or they are Christian and just haven’t said, “Oh… and just so you know… I’m a Christian”.
- Assume they’re not a Christian until they’ve made it clear
Just because they can go-with-the-flow and talk the talk doesn’t mean they’ve given themselves to Jesus. They might have been in churches for years! They might have hung around Christians and picked up the lingo. You just can’t tell.
The danger is assuming one over the other. Rather, there’s a tension there to manage. Again and again I’ve been suprised by new people at church… everyone else thinks they’re Christian… they come to so much stuff! But then you just ask them how they decided to first become a Christian… we’ve had people come straight out and say, “Oh, I’m not a Christian!”
So, don’t assume they’re all non-Christians, and don’t assume they’re all Christians either.
Leading, delegating, starting, serving… they all require a little bit of dreaming. Sometimes, they require a lot of dreaming.
What would you LOVE to see happen… don’t worry about “how” it will happen just yet… just imagine.
What would you love to see them do when you give them this responsibility? What are they dreaming it will look like? Is their dream big enough? Or is it bigger than your dream?
If you’re encouraging people to join with you in serving Jesus, do they have a big enough dream about what could be?
I can’t remember where we got this idea but it’s brilliant… our staff team has this phrase “umbrella of mercy”. It’s what we say before we say something that could be taken the wrong way, or something that might be offensive or touchy for other people in the conversation.
When one of us says, “umbrella of mercy”, we’re asking the other people to prepare their hearts and minds to hear something graciously… mercifully… ready to assume the best… ready to ask clarifying questions rather than make accusations.
It’s a little bit like saying “with all due respect”, instead it’s not a declaration like that. Rather it’s a request… “Please hear this as best as you can, because I’m not trying to hurt your feelings or attack your baby.”
I seem to use it a lot.
If there are two types of reasons “why” you might do something (see previous post) can you focus on one of those types of “why” too much?
If you focus too heavily on the “functional why” (because we want this result, because we hope this will happen, because this will help that, because they will be able to…), what might happen then? Some might tell you that you’re just a short step from simple pragmatism – doing whatever works – the end justifies the means. That’s a pretty catastrophic conclusion to make. Remember, this isn’t abandoning “whys of purpose”, we’re just talking about having a focus on one over the other.
What is more likely to happen is that you’ll drift into traditionalism. You’ll do what worked once before, and you’ll just keep doing that, because it worked. You’ll be reluctant to alter the methods – methods that really were built on solid theological reasoning and good intentions. But methods that don’t work any more because you’re not willing to re-think the principles.
What about the other way?
If you focus too heavily on the “causal why” (because God is like this and that, because the gospel gives us this heart, because this is our identity in Christ…), what might happen then? Some might say you’ll be out of touch with reality… that you’ll just preach the truth and not care about tailoring it to the people who’re listening. Again, that’s pretty catastrophic. More likely, (if it’s simply an over-focus) you’ll take risks and try things out, without being so hung up about whether they work perfectly or not. You’ll try things out and watch them fail a few times before you land on something that does work.
There’s good reason to lean in that direction, heh?
It’s really important that we separate disagreeing from devaluing. Being disagreed with does not mean that we’re being devalued.
Just because my boss doesn’t agree with me, that doesn’t mean he devalues me. Just because a husband decides against his wife’s advice that doesn’t mean he devalues her. In fact, the Father doesn’t even devalue the divine Son when, after the Son says “take this cup from me”, the father implicitly says “no”.
The issue is that disagreement is something we can see, but devaluing is something we can’t see because it happens inside people’s hearts. We can’t see whether other people are devaluing us or not. Therefore, we should never accuse someone of devaluing us, because there’s no way of proving it. You can ask them, but that’s all you can do.
If they say, “No way!! I totally value you. I just don’t agree with you on this point” then you have to take their word for it. That also means we should attempt to stop feeling devalued because that feeling isn’t based on anything real, we’ve just been disagreed with.
People often get these two categories mixed up. Resources and Needs.
That is, they’ll see a church that doesn’t have many resources; it doesn’t have a youth worker, it doesn’t have many staff, it doesn’t have growth group leaders; scripture teachers, etc… and they’ll think that means that church has a huge NEED. In other words, what they mean is, that church NEEDS a youth worker, staff, group leaders, scripture teachers, etc.
Now, that church could probably use those things, but they are not NEEDS. They are simply STRUCTURES.
How do you determine a churches NEEDS? Look at the number of people in it. They are the NEEDS.
The larger the church, the greater the needs.
Gossip isn’t simply when “other people” talk about you. That’s fine. Rather, gossip is when other people talk about you in damaging ways… when they talk to other people about your intentions, your motives. Or putting it the other way around, gossip is when you talk to someone about how another person is mean/awful/untrustworthy.
You could say those things to their face, and that would be bad enough since you’re attributing motives… you’re assuming to know their heart (which only God can).
What makes gossip worse is that the person you’re talking about isn’t even there. They can’t defend themselves; they have no voice, they are helpless and weak in the face of such an attack.
So defend the weak and those without a voice.
Stop other people gossiping. Ask people to stop when they start saying unkind things about someone not present.
If you’re meeting up with someone, or you’ve been approached by someone, there’s a question you need to ask pretty regularly…
“Is there something else you’d like to raise?”
“Was there anything else you wanted to chat about?”
“Is there anything else on your mind?”
Or even… “I get the feeling there’s something else you’d like to chat about; what’s up?”
They want to talk to you, but they feel like there’s never a good moment, or opportunity. Go give them one.
Is something your running working well? Is your church growing? Are people coming along? Are people growing?
Don’t be too quick to assume its your amazing programs. Don’t be too quick to claim that God is blessing you specially.
Sometimes, things just work for a certain group of people. Churches grow at 5% per year because their suburb is growing at 10% per year. Maybe people just like your style. Maybe the time your running works better for people.
Don’t be too quick to over-spiritualise growth. Certainly God’s hand is at work, but it could just simply be through the the basic principles of the world he’s created.
Most of the embarrassing situations you’ve been in have only been embarrassing because of what “you think” other people are “feeling”.
In other words, it’s only “assumed empathy” that makes things embarrassing. The fact you tripped up the stage is only a cause of embarrassment if you think other people will be imputing embarrassing feelings onto you. If you were totally convinced that no-one saw you, or that everyone thought you didn’t trip, would you be embarrassed?
The trick to dissolving an embarrassing situation is convincing other people that you’re not feeling embarrassed… to stop them feeling empathetically embarrassed on your behalf.
One way is to simply laugh it off. Another way is to tell them that your not embarrassed.
I do this with my stutter when preaching. I tell people that I’m not embarrassed about it, I make them feel at ease – not about my stutter – but about how I feel about having a stutter. Once they know that I’m really not embarrassed about it, neither are they.
Not every time, but sometimes, its really helpful to ask people to translate their feelings into numbers… just a simple scale of 1-10.
It’s great because it avoids too-positive and too-negative assumptions. When someone says, “Yeah, I’m ok” what do they really mean? Can you trust your gut to read their facial expressions and non-verbal cues? The fact is, I’ve been married for 14 years, and I still have trouble working out how “ok” Julie is when she says she’s “ok”. So how do you expect to know your staff, your members.
So ask them to put it on a scale… “1-10 How are you dealing with this? 1 being a complete mental breakdown, 10 being like you don’t even think about it?”
If their “ok” turns out to be a 3, you’re going to deal with them and help them very differently to if they’re a 7.
And the good thing is, there are loads of categories; how tired are you feeling? What’s your energy levels? etc..
If you want to see people change, its pretty rare that simply telling them to change will do anything. Telling people what they should think rarely gets them thinking something different to what they already do.
But reflecting back to them what they think… that’s powerful.
It requires asking loads of questions, trying to get inside their mind, see the world from their point of view… even though you know its skewed. And reflect that to them… “So what you’re saying is, you see the world this way…”
When you genuinely reflect back to someone what they’re saying, they usually start their own self-reflection. “Is that what I’m saying? Am I happy with that? It sounds like what I said but maybe I don’t want to think that.”
An added bonus to this is that, hopefully by God’s grace as they read God’s word, they will see the correction themselves. They will create their own solution, they will decide their own course of action.
And yes, that might have been the very thing you were going to “tell” them in the first case, but oh, don’t people get behind their own ideas more than others?!?
How do you get people to wrestle with the Bible, not just nod their head without thinking?
One way is to show them they assume the opposite. Lead them down the path of thinking A only to show them God says B.
For example, if they were a shepherd and they lost one sheep, would they really “leave the 99 in the open field” (vulnerable to lions and bears) to find one sheep… One sheep that’s probably already dead, or will turn up soon on its own anyway!?! People don’t go looking for lost coins!! They don’t celebrate when their fortune-wasting son returns!!!
Once people realise they don’t actually agree with the assumptions in the bible, that’s when REAL thinking and character development take place.
Before you teach your next thing, ask yourself whether you need to show people they don’t actually believe it.
Have you heard the feedback trick, “Sandwich negative feedback between two positive pieces of feedback”? But what usually happens?
They hear the first comment with suspicion, thinking “What’s coming that’s so bad you need to butter me up first?”. And they probably won’t even hear the other positive comment, because they’re still reeling from the negative feedback.
But it’s still a good model! Positive comments should be given more liberally than negative ones. Just don’t try to trick them.
Tell them that you’d like to give some feedback, both positive and negative. Ask them if that’s ok. Tell them, “Ok, let me tell you some things i think you did really well.” Make sure they understand. Get them to explain it back to you. Then do the same with the negative.
Then tell them your concerns, “I’m concerned that you might go away from this conversation only remembering the negative… Is that a likely possibility? do you remember the positive things we talked about?”
It’s just about putting everything on the table. both your feedback, and your method of delivery, and your concerns about how they’ll hear it.
Because the thing that makes feedback tricks destructive is allowing people to think (assume) that you’re not being honest.
It’s impossible to assume nothing.
Either they have done what you’ve asked, or they haven’t
Either they know about the issue already, or they don’t
Either they are lying to you, or someone else is
Either they are planning on coming, or they are planning on skipping it
Either they understand what you’re talking about our they don’t
The fact is, you have to operate with some assumptions when you plan, when you preach, when you talk to people, when you lead a project.
But it matters which assumptions you act on…
You can either think the worst of people. This is called “accusing” them. or you can think the best of them. This is called “trusting” them.
I reckon the best thing to do is tell them you’re trusting them, and ask them if your trust is well placed.