I don’t really like confrontation, and that’s not a bad thing. In fact, Paul told Timothy not to appoint a “striker” as an elder (1 Tim 3.3), and a striker is someone who is always ready for a fight.
However if we are to lead, we must confront. Someone is going to teach someone in your church something bad, someone is going to want to be a leader but not living a lifestyle appropriate to that leading, someone is going to want to take over a service who has no right to do that (and in charismatic churches they will pretend God made them do it). There are many reasons why sadly in different situations we must confront people. It’s not an easy job, but it is part of leading.
I have five principles I always adhere to when confronting.
- Build a Bridge
- Everyone is an island, and if you want to drive a truck-load of correction to someone then you need to build an appropriate sized bridge or the truck will sink half-way there. The first question I always ask is “Am I the right person to do this” – if it is something happening in Tree of Life Family, often the answer is yes, sometimes my wife can handle it better, sometimes the individual pastor. If it not happening in the Tree of Life Family, sometimes it simply is not my place. If I have no bridge to the person, it’s not my job to correct or confront them. I am not going to write a letter to some stranger preaching on TV to correct them, there is no bridge there. It is literally none of my business. It’s not my job to correct my parents either – physical or spiritual. That is not the way confrontation works. You need to know your place, and many don’t.
- If. for example. a couple come to Tree of Life for the first time and they are living together, we do not jump down their throat the first week. We love them, we bless them, we thank them for coming, we show them how to register their children in children’s ministry. We just keep loving them and building the bridge to them. Maybe a few month later, he tells me he can really play the guitar and wants to join the worship team. Well, then we have the discussion about marriage, but because we have spent a long time building the bridge, the truck gets across. This is vital to all confrontation. Often you do not even need to confront a situation because it is not your situation to confront. Selah.
- Distinguish Hurt and Harm
- I once had root canal surgery without anaesthetic. I was doing a funeral immediately afterwards and I did not want to speak at a funeral with a numb mouth. It really hurt me, but it did not harm me, it made me better. Drinking lots of sugary drinks did not hurt at all, but it harmed me.
- If you have a strong enough bridge to someone and you genuinely believe you need to confront, do not ask will it hurt, but ask will it harm them more or less if I do or don’t speak to them. Some people are going to be seriously harmed by their own behaviour. Some people are going to harm others if I promote them to a leadership position. I might hurt them if I tell them I will not give them the position, but that is not harm. You must learn the difference. Some people are afraid to hurt anyone and it harms a lot of people.
- Do Not Take it Personally
- Someone may not take your words well. It’s not personal. I often write down the problem I am going to speak to someone about on a piece of paper, and put it on a table and look at it until I realize it is separate from me. It’s a small exercise, but it works for me.
- Be Prepared for Someone to Get off the Bus
- Every time I confront someone in Tree of Life, I am prepared (though not expecting) for them to leave the church. If not, then I might not say what needs to be said. I once confronted a minister in one of our churches about his inappropriate use of funds in his own ministry and the dreadful state of his marriage, within a week, he “felt the Lord” lead him to go to another church. Several times I have put someone into some form of Biblical church discipline for their behaviour and they have suddenly felt the calling to go to Bible College. That absolutely is not the way to start ministry, but I am not going to fight them, they are burning their bridge to avoid my truck and that’s their right (apologies for the mixed metaphors)
- We are bus drivers. God has called us as leaders to go from point A to point B. Some people will come with – or we are not leaders – but you have no assurance from the Lord the same people will stay on from the beginning to the end, sometimes old people get off, sometimes new people get on. Don’t fall apart – keep going to your destination.
- Aim for a Win-Win
- People need to know how to win. It’s amazing but true. Don’t just chide someone for their pornography addiction, get them covenant eyes software, check up on them, give them teaching materials that are going to help them. Do not just confront someone and tell them they are not suitable to be an elder, tell them why and show them how they can change and develop. Give them hope. Our job is to provide hope to people and help them walk in their dreams. Correction is part of that, but not condemnation. Correction says do this to get back on the path. Condemnation says you will never get anywhere. Learn the difference and go for a win-win – you win in that the person develops towards their dream, and they win because they develop towards their dream. It’s an awesome result, and it will happen often.
- Whenever I confront someone I am thinking of how to help them, how to give them a path forward.