Four Questions to Ask Before You Confront Someone
People say stupid stuff. People are rude. Many of the followers of Jesus I know are a far cry from selfless.
You know it, your friends know it, and yet when we see it, it still surprises us. But in the same way that you probably wouldn’t put a fire out with more fire, why on earth would you want to get a bunch of Jesus-followers in close proximity “doing life” together?
It honestly sounds horrible. Lately this is the underlying sentiment buried deep within the Freudian ID of comments like:
“I hate missional communities.”
“Why are we even doing a program like this?”
“All it has caused is tension with my friends, so I’m over it.”
And the problem isn’t that these people are unhappy with the ever-increasing pop christianity wave of “missional” and “community” in their lives, per se.
The problem is that they are only now learning to be the church.
At least 80% of the New Testament is about the church confronting things in the culture, in theology, and in one another. From race, to food, to justification, to the Mosaic Law. At the core of what it means to be the church is confrontation.
If the church is a slab of marble, there is much chipping, bumping, and shaving that has to happen to bring something beautiful out of it. And at this point you agree. You could take a leisurely scroll through your friend’s latest feeds and name a fairly exhaustive list of all that they should consider changing…
But before you reach for the edgy, passive-aggressive Facebook post (just hoping they’ll see it), or your trusty SMS attack, remember that how you do confrontation is even more important than what you are confronting. Because if you don’t learn to confront well, the people around you will go one of two unsatisfactory ways: They will either stay the same or leave.
So here are four questions to ask yourselves before you have that next conversation:
1. Do you have the right?
It’s pretty often that people confront those that they have no business confronting. Ever had that happen to you? Yeah… not fun, let alone affecting. I’d rather exfoliate with sandpaper, but maybe that’s just me. Even so, this cheesy line is true:
People need to know you care before they will care about what you know.
And it’s true. It’s hard to listen to someone you can’t trust.
So here is a filter for you:
- Have they invited your critique?
- Have they asked you to speak into their life?
- Do they speak into yours?
- Can they trust your motives?
2. Are you winning them over in love?
All of confrontation is winning someone over in love. So, what is your motive? When you confront someone you need to ask, “why?” Why am I confronting them? Is this out of Jesus’ agenda, or my own? Am I trying to make their life better, or to make them more like me?
Also, ask yourself if this is something you need to let go or bring up. Is this something that God is already winning them over in love with, and you just need to affirm that process? Or is this something that you, specifically, need to bring to their attention?
3. Are you being clear?
More often than not when we have the “difficult conversation” with a friend, we either sugarcoat it, or we exaggerate it.
You’ve been there. You have the whole conversation planned, what you need to say is burning in your mind, but all of a sudden when you finally have the conversation, all that comes out is a bunch of “oh sure, I know,” and “you’re totally right, sorry.”
Or we come in like a bomber on D-Day, drop some truth bombs and get out as quick as possible.
Either of those responses shows a lack of love, and an increase of fear: “I’m afraid they will get mad at me! I can’t tell them what I honestly think.” The focus becomes you, and making sure other people love you at the expense of their growth.
Or: “They just need to shape up because they are wrong, and I have no clue why they cant see that!”
The focus becomes the pleasantness of your life, not helping your friends understand both the truth and grace of Christ. With both inferences you are making yourself the purpose of the confrontation. And no one likes that.
We need to be clear: “This is wrong. I still love you.” Be honest. Don’t beat around the bush. Say what you really think, give your reasons for it. Then wait, listen, and engage. Here is how you know if your confronter loves you: They stay.
So stay in that moment with them. Don’t leave. You are sending the message that, “you are wrong, but you are loved even more.”
“Taking the things people do wrong seriously is part of taking them seriously… It’s part of letting them be real enough to be worth loving, rather than just attractive or glamorous or pretty or cool.“
– Francis Spufford
4. Are you on their level?
We all communicate in different ways, and certain words can trigger different responses. This is why the “how” you confront is just as important as the “why” you are confronting.
When Nathan confronts the king of Israel, David, about his sexual sin with a woman named Bathsheba, he does it in a creative way. He gets on David’s level.
Nathan tells this story about a man who took what was not his. David, aghast that something like this could have happened in his kingdom, declares that this man should be put to death. And in that moment, Nathan says, “You are that man.”
And David repents.
He told a creative story to get around any wall that David had built up.
Say it in a way that creatively helps the other person understand what you are seeing. Nathan contextualized the truth and took David on a journey to see things like He did. Are your words reaching who you are confronting, or are they just hitting a wall?
So before you reach for the iPhone, the tweet, or the Facebook post. Consider doing it in person, and ask some of these questions before you go. Because as followers of Jesus we collectively choose not to heap our fire on someone else’s fire, but to go through the refining fire of Jesus together.
To all be changed.
Because the goal isn’t to be right, but to see yourself and your friends become more like Jesus.