If you’re preaching, you are the messenger. And if your passage is saying “hard things” you – as the preacher – can feel like you’ve got to be the messenger of these hard words.
But that’s not the best way to go about it. Partly because people will simply dismiss YOU. Once they decide you’re a jerk or that you’re too young to know or anything like that, they have “shot the messenger” and have no reason to listen to the message. But the primary reason you shouldn’t make yourself the sole messenger is because you’re getting in the way of God speaking from his Word.
The “harder” the message, the more you need to show people that it’s not your message, its the bible. Keep pointing them to it. Say things like, “Look at verse 3 again… verse 3…”, “Read these words with me in your head…”, “This is not me saying this, this is the bible speaking”.
And once you start seeing how important this is with “hard things” in the bible, the more you realise you should do the same for “all things” in the bible.
Paul sets a pattern of pastoral ministry for Timothy that includes “teach, correct, rebuke and encourage” from the word of God. So there will be times when we are to lovingly and encouragingly rebuke people’s actions and decisions.
Sometimes, we know those people and we can be quite confident they will take it well – some people I know love a good rebuke!
But if you’re not sure how someone’s going to take it, it’s probably better starting with that conversation before you raise the sin with them… the conversation that goes like, “Hey, how do you reckon you’d respond if I challenged you from the bible about an area of your life?”
Now, sure… that’s going to ruffle some feathers. But it’s still an hypothetical discussion. You can still talk about it and talk about how God shapes us and challenges us through other people spurring us towards Christlikeness.
If that conversation goes well, there’s a much better chance the following conversation will go well too. If that conversation goes bad… well… you’ve raised an even deeper issue to work through. :)
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.
When you need to have a difficult conversation, one of the keys is to de-personalise it. You want to avoid them feeling attacked by you. You want to avoid it turning into a “relational issue” (simply because this is an easy way to get you off their back).
So grab a pen and paper, or a white board and a marker and write down the thing you want to talk about. This will take some planning on your behalf. For example it might be, “I want to have a discussion with you about how you can love your wife better.” Or, “I really want to talk to you about how you’re going to put your porn addiction behind you.” Or, “Lets talk about how you responded to Bob last week.”
And you write down “How can Tom love Tara better?”, “How can Tom put porn behind him?”, “How you responded to Bob last week.”
I know it seems a bit odd, but now it’s not YOU asking them this question, its the paper. The piece of paper becomes the “antagonist” and you and the person can work together to answer the antagonist piece of paper. It’s the 3rd party in your conversation.
And so when they go off on tangents or try to change the topic, you can redirect them back to the paper, “Tom, we still have this question in front of us… I’m on your team… What are we going to do?”
One of the common ways which those of us in christian leadership fail is in our communication. We communicate ideas and big pictures of things that are clear in our head, however… our hearers only get a fuzzy idea of what we’re saying.
One of the ways to improve anything you’re communicating is by spelling out some of the potential consequences. For example:
“I’d like you to join our kids team… you’re going to miss-out on Sunday sleep-ins ’till 10am for the rest of the year.”
“I’m glad you’ve repented of this sin… you’re going to need to tell James and say sorry to him too.”
“This is going to be a big responsibility… I need to make clear that if you fall into gross sin or ignore your responsibilities, it will damage a lot of people’s trust and there might be cause for public rebuke.”
Put yourself in their shoes, and imagine the the things they’re going to experience… make it clear because it’s your vision about their life.
It would be nice if people developed their personal beliefs from the Bible, and only from the Bible. But that’s just not the world we live in.
The reality is that people have experiences, they make choices, they have behaviours that they like doing. And its these pre-existing behaviours that end up influencing, shaping and even defining what they believe about certain things. The classic example is the adulterer who says something like, “I believe God is all about love. God doesn’t want me to be in a loveless relationship. I believe God’s put this other person in my life to experience the joy he designed me to have”. These people don’t think they are pretending. They honestly believe these things to be true. They will even defend them from the Bible.
You do this. I do this. We all let our cherished behaviours dictate and shape our beliefs about God.
How do you respond to someone who does this? Well, neither their behaviours or their interpretation of the Bible are “moveable”. Maybe the best bet is to help them be open to the idea that they have let their behaviours define their theology. Open them up to the heart of the error, and pray for God to graciously soften hearts.
You don’t have to hear people the way they want you too. You actually get to choose what type of “thing” you’re going to hear.
If someone gives you a complement, you can decide to hear it as a comment rather than flattery.
if someone criticises you, you can choose to hear it as advice to take into account.
if someone gives you an instruction or even a direct command, you can choose to hear it as a price of advice to consider.
This ability to choose what type of communication your hearing is very powerful. And like most powerful things, can be used poorly and well. Be wary of the fool who doesn’t hear a rebuke and take it to heart. Long to be Christians who hear the gospel word not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God.