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 you’re in Christian leadership, its your job, your responsibility, to keep asking and encouraging people to give their time and effort to ministry. So much so, that it can feel like every interaction and phone call is a request.
On one hand, you have to be ok with that. If you don’t call people to step up to do the good works God has prepared them to do, there’s a good chance they won’t. Thank God for your role of getting people on the ministry field.
On the other hand, it gives you a great opportunity to surprise people with the opposite. Just call to say hi. Chat. When they ask what you’ve called them about (as they probably will) just say, “No reason. I realised that almost every time we’ve chatted has been about something that needs doing, so I just thought I’d call and say hi. That ok?”
It’s really not a great question, is it? It’s intention is wonderful… but it’s execution is poor. How about…
“Hey, that talk we just heard, help me think through it for a second… I think he was saying…”
“I reckon I need to think a bit more about some of that talk, do you feel like that too?”
“Don’t take this the wrong way. But I couldn’t help wondering if you found some of that talk a bit challenging… Was it?”
We all love getting a bit of attention, some people love a lot of attention. But sometimes, people give poisonous attention.
Poisonous attention is when someone pays attention to you, but always seems to end up asking/digging into your discontentment. They say things like,
“How’s that issue going? Haven’t they sorted it out yet? You must be feeling so frustrated with them, yeah?”
“I just get so upset when I think about what you must be going through. You’ve had to deal with so much. You can tell me how you really feel.”
“Whatever’s wrong (with your circumstance), you can tell me… I’ll understand”
They are people who seek out discontentment, but not in order to help people take it to God and trust him with joy. Instead, it leads people to ever more discontentment.
And here’s why it’s so dangerous… It’s addictive.
Once you’ve been given that type of attention time and time again, you get used to it. You feel like that’s what “good conversations” are meant to feel like. You dislike them idea of being told you’re wrong, or called to repent.
Just say, “You know, I think talking about it might make it worse. Let’s talk about something else.”
There’s a fine line, it seems, between talking about your feelings and emotional manipulation.
See, if I tell you that something you’re about to do is making me feel sad, unworthy, hurt… is it just a simple observation of the facts, or am I being emotionally manipulative?
There are two types of questions to ask… internal (or heart) questions and external (or action) questions.
The internal questions are, “Am I trying to leverage my feelings to change thing person’s actions?” If “yes”, then you’re emotionally manipulating. “Am I making this person overly significant to my self-perception?” (i.e. If you’re allowing someone to tell you how much you’re ‘worth’, then you’re giving them the place of God over you. It’s a form of idolatry.) If “yes”, there’s a good chance you’re going to use emotional manipulation.
The external questions are, “Have I made it clear that, whatever they choose, I will not take it personally?”, “Have I given them permission to make the decision despite my potential feelings?”
In the end, you have to ask yourself “Why” you would bring your emotions into the discussion. And if you are going to, what else do you need to say so its clear you’re not manipulating them?
A passive helper will wait for you to ask them to help, and then they’ll do their best.
An aggressive helper will suggest themselves for certain roles (or just do them and tell you later on)
A passive-aggressive helper will either a) tell you they can help, but only if it’s on their thing and in their way, or b) wait for you to ask them to help and then say, “I knew you were going to ask me to do that.”
Love your passive helpers by being bold enough to ask them. Love your aggressive helpers by telling them the vision and principles clearly and letting them make mistakes. Love your passive-aggressive helpers by… Asking them what they think they should do for the kingdom, and why they haven’t done it.
Just because they say one or many of these doesn’t mean they are falling away, but these are the type of things “falling-away” people say…
- I’m just gonna’ take a break from church
- I don’t want to be too wrapped in religion
- I want to travel, see the world
- I’m not sinning, you’re just being legalistic
- I want to explore my own way of expressing my faith
- There’s this great opportunity (that takes me away from all my Christian support, fills up my life with work, and gives me loads of chances to sin) that I really feel is the right step for me
- I’ve met this guy/girl… They’re not Christian… But they say they’re really interested.
- I just need to focus on me for bit
- Life isn’t all about church and bible stuff – God gave us lives to live!!
- I don’t think the bible can really speak to my situation at the moment
- I don’t want to hear about god punishing people… It gets me down too much
- I’ve done my fair share of ministry… Other people should serve now.
- I don’t feel like I’m being loved “enough”
- I just don’t see why X is so-called “sinful”. I think it can be helpful for people.
- I like to think that Christianity has changed with the times.
- It’s just not the way I like it (church, groups, singing, relationships, events, plans, sermons)
- Why would God want me to miss out on this thing I really want?
- I don’t really pray “to God”… It’s more like positive self-talk.