By Sandi Brown
In the days my husband and I were in Bible college, I imagined what the life of a minister’s family would be like. I had grandiose expectations of how we would interact with our congregation. I was sure that the people would look up to us and would naturally take the advice we gave them. They would see us as being there to help them and always being on their sides. They would become our close friends, and we would be like family.
Part of this preset list of expectations came from how I viewed the life of my own youth minister. I remembered the days when our youth group would go to his house and spend time with his family. Everyone looked up to them and wanted to be around them. They were honored and revered because of the position that they held. And they were loved by everyone. At least that was my image of how things were. I mean, who would ever be mean to a minister and his family? That seemed like an impossibility!
Sheep May Bite
Years later, I quickly found out that being a minister is not all a bed of roses. I had previously only seen one side of the picture. The truth is, when you shepherd a congregation, the sheep may bite. Not everyone will agree with you, back you, treat you right, or even love you. It was a stunning revelation for me to experience firsthand. The first few backbiting moments I experienced were almost more than I could handle.
We were in several situations where we had to discipline or confront those in our congregation. Was that hard to do? Completely! Was it something we wanted to do? Absolutely not! But it was necessary. Sliding the issue under the rug and ignoring it would have made us bad examples as leaders. Being in a leadership role put us in a position where we had to discern when to confront and when not to confront.
This doesn’t just apply to ministers. Anyone who works or interacts with people can face a similar situation. Whether you are a teacher, office worker, parent, or friend, you may find yourself dealing with confrontation. Confrontation is not something to shy away from or to avoid at all costs. There’s a time when it is entirely appropriate and necessary.
A Time to Speak
Let me clarify—confrontation is not necessary in every situation. If we go around condemning everyone we know for every type of sin or wrongdoing in their lives, we will find ourselves isolated and without anyone who respects us. Confronting a person is something that needs to be prayerfully considered. It should not be done in haste.
Years ago my husband and I were presented with a complicated situation, and we had to seek God about whether or not to confront someone and how best to go about it. We had a leader in our church who was blatantly living in sin. And it wasn’t just something that a few people knew about. Instead, the whole church was aware. We knew it was not appropriate for a leader in the church—much less any Christian—to live like this! And the life of this leader directly reflected our church to the community.
After much prayerful consideration, my husband knew it was necessary to confront this person in love. The Bible tells us that we are to take issues we have against our brothers and sisters to them instead of talking behind their backs.
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over” (Matthew 18:15). Based on this Scripture, first my husband went to this individual and reminded the person of the leadership expectations of our church. He lovingly presented the facts, along with what the Bible said about the sin the person was living in. He hoped his gentle nudge would be received well; however, this individual instead became upset and left the church.
“But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses’” (Matthew 18:16). My husband followed up by meeting with the church board and this individual, but there was no convincing the person. The former leader was happy enough with the sin and was willing to give up leadership at our church.
Confrontation is never fun or easy. I can assure you that our church suffered as a result of this person’s refusal to cooperate with the leadership expectations. We lost a leader who worked in several different ministries. We lost a vital part of our church that day. It would have been very easy for us to overlook this sin in order to keep the peace. It would have been easy to sweep this under the rug. But doing so would have brought a whole different set of problems to our church.
A Time to Stay Silent
Although confrontation is necessary in some circumstances, there are other times when it is better to stay silent. Discerning when to speak and when to stay silent is only determined by seeking God’s will for the specific circumstance.
There was a time when I noticed that a friend in our church was not doing what I deemed was appropriate for her. I knew that she had a strong calling to be involved in a ministry in our church, and I also knew she was avoiding the calling at all costs. We had previously talked about her ideas and talents. We both acknowledged that she was meant to work in this ministry. But despite all that we talked about, she never did anything.
Weeks turned into months, as I wondered when she would finally decide to act. But over time I could see that the fear growing inside of her was actually pushing her away from fulfilling this call of God on her life. She had become comfortable where she was. There were times I would say something, but she would just brush it off as if it were no big deal. It was entirely frustrating to me.
As I took this before the Lord, I felt his still, small voice telling me to stay silent. Silent? But everything inside of me wanted to shake her and ask, “What are you waiting for?” Her lack of obedience made others, including me, work even harder to cover the ground that I felt was intended for her.
“Be silent.” I kept hearing God’s Spirit communicate this to me over and over again. In this case, no amount of my convincing would be the catalyst to change her heart. In fact, my pleading and urging was actually pushing her farther away. She needed God to work inside of her. She needed God to be the one to change her.
Sometimes we think we have all the answers and should be the ones to influence others. There’s a time and season for that. But sometimes God wants us to be silent and let him work.
Whether we confront others or we stay silent, we cannot control the reactions that the other people will have. The individual from our church that my husband had to confront didn’t react the way we wanted. In fact, this person smeared our names across the community and in front of many friends and acquaintances we had. It was tough. To say that I was frustrated and hurt is an understatement. I was completely shocked by our friend turning against us. Why would someone do that?
Through this, God taught me a very important lesson. If I’m truly showing the love of God to others, then I will love them no matter what, just as 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 teaches. I will love them even if they gossip about me. I will love them even if they aren’t nice to me. I will show them God’s love even if the things they do upset me. I’m not choosing to be best friends with them and share all my innermost thoughts. Instead I am choosing to display God’s love to them, no matter how I am treated in return.
Sandi Brown is a freelance writer in Tomah, Wisconsin.
A Guide for Confrontation
Use the acronym FAVES during times of confrontation so that God’s love can work, even in conflicts:
Focus on the situation at hand.
Ask open-ended questions.
Validate that you heard what was said—both the words and the emotions.
Empathize and show understanding of the person’s perspective—even if you don’t agree.
Summarize (and then be Silent) to show the depth of your listening.
(Adapted from by Jeff Thompson in Psychology Today.)