My attitude was horrible. I was complaining and criticizing, seeing the faults, not the growth, in other people. Nothing seemed to measure up to my standards. A friend and colleague noticed this and quietly but firmly asked, “You once said the lordship of Jesus Christ was paramount in your life. Has that changed?”
Ouch! As a discipler, someone who is primarily focused on coming alongside others to help them translate what they read in Scripture into a lived experience with Jesus Christ, that question was painful to hear. But she was right. Philippians 2:5 says I must have the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, and my attitude was anything but!
It’s not easy to hear such correcting and convicting words. My friend loves me and noticed an incongruence between my expressed values and my present behavior. So she asked the question. Her challenge continues to bless and “re-mind” me.
It’s not easy to confront someone like that. There’s a risk. Even a carefully worded challenge with pure motives and appropriate posture can be offensive to the hearer and the relationship can suffer.
Christians commonly point to Galatians 5 for traits of a fruitful disciple. After that beautiful list comes this challenging passage: “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:25, 26, English Standard Version).
Motives are tricky. I often don’t know my own motive for what I say and do. I may think I do, but there’s always the possibility that my motives are corrupted even a little bit.
- Pride is a tricky, evasive thing that may present itself as something else entirely.
- Righteous indignation can trip us up when it gathers enough momentum.
- Group think or the approval of others can cause us to overlook the individual in front of us, probably a wounded soul who may respond well to loving redirection.
If the Holy Spirit is prompting you—in the context of a healthy and loving discipling relationship—to have a crucial conversation with someone who is straying off the godly path, if you have influence with the person and pure motives, then you must take the risk.
Such a conversation will require much prayer and discernment.
Pray earnestly for their receptivity. Pray that the Holy Spirit will have made them aware of the issue and already be at work to make them uncomfortable. Pray for them to be aware of the generosity of God to them, and that they’ll respond to his grace with gratitude. A grateful heart is often soft.
Prudent choice of timing is vital. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise rebuke to a listening ear” (Proverbs 25:11, 12 New Revised Standard Version).
If, when you meet up with the person, they’re already overloaded and not able to receive correction, wait for another opportunity.
A challenging conversation will more likely have a positive outcome when trust is already established and is strong. A Turkish proverb says, “When the truth is heavy, you must first build a strong bridge.”
Do they know you’re on their side? Does the person you are discipling know you love them, you only wish them well, and that you pray for them?
“I thank my God every time I remember you,” Paul wrote to his disciples, “constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you,” (Philippians 1:3, 4 NRSV).
Part of building that strong bridge will be the conversations you’ve had up to this point. Reflect on Hebrews 12, both on your own and with the disciple, if they have a sense of a good, loving father. More than just knowing their way around the Bible, have you discussed the transformational aspects of following Christ, that our hearts and motives are radically changed in the process of walking with Jesus? Have you heard from the disciple that they desire to be like Jesus, to mirror his heart and to gratefully and generously please him? My friend had heard me declare that I desired to honor Jesus. Thus she could call me on it.
Agree on a guiding verse that might encapsulate the intent or new ideal of the person you’re discipling. Colossians 3:1-3, 17 is such a passage. “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
When you’ve agreed on a guiding verse, it becomes a plumb line or measurement against which to realign attitudes and actions.
Paul describes a discipler’s challenging task in his letter to the Colossians: “So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me” (Colossians 1:28, 29, New Living Translation).
I really like to tell others about Christ! I’ll revel in the joy of presenting people to God, mature and complete in their relationship to Christ. Alas, I cannot overlook Paul’s reference to work and struggle. Discipling wounded people involves work and struggle. The struggle is with Satan who would like to derail the whole process. The struggle is with myself in maintaining courageous, loving generosity and pure motives. The struggle is sometimes with the person I’m discipling as learned patterns of thinking and behavior reemerge and require responses.
Asking yourself good questions may lead to clarity when approaching a confrontation.
- Is discipling someone more about authority or influence? Authoritative accountability can be abusive or punitive. Influence that graciously models and lovingly champions others seems more in keeping with Jesus’ approach.
- Who is this all about anyway? Am I desiring to be right, or to genuinely help the struggling disciple?
- Is the matter at hand an obstacle to growth, something that affects relationships in the community of faith, or a glaringly obvious sin problem which needs attention?
I was offended by my friend’s question, but I was more offended by my own behavior. We are still friends. In fact, I trust her more since her challenge. She took a risk to help me see I was off course.
There’s a risk in confronting a brother or sister in Christ, but there’s a greater risk, for them and for the church, if we do not confront.
Some approaches might include:
I remember you saying (expressed spiritual intention). Is that still true?
How does (present attitude/actions) gel with your previous intention to_________?
You seem to be maturing in your faith and practice. Are you ready to embrace some challenging passages in Scripture? Let’s reflect on Hebrews 12 for the next few weeks.
Jill Shaw is a discipler who works cross-culturally and lives in post-Christian New Zealand.