Speaking The Truth In Love As a Mask for Abrasiveness

June 28, 2013 — Leave a comment

discipline_children_finalThere’s a video making the rounds on the internet right now, of a pastor throwing a hissy fit from the pulpit. When I shared the video on social media, we got into a bit of a discussion on Facebook mostly from people reacting negatively to this pastor’s behaviour. To see the video, check it out below.

But I warn you now, if you are a true pastor who has very little ego and a whole lot of love for your own flock, this will disturb you.

Or at least it should.

One of the phrases I’ve caught onto very fast is “invitation vs. challenge.” Like I said the first time I wrote on these phrases,

How you encourage and invite people and let them know they “can do it” in whatever area of their lives they need that encouragement in. Challenge, however defined as inclusive of things like correcting someone, rebuking them, telling them how off they are and so forth.

To best understand how to walk a fine line between “speaking the truth in love” and “being frustrated and abrasive”, I encourage you to observe this matrix. I’ve explained it in another post on calibrating a good balance between invitation and challenge, that we need both encouragement in the lives of those who we have a right to speak into, as well as correction and challenge. We do people no favours when we walk in one but not the other.

invitation vs challenge

Photo credit: The Wayfarer Blog

Now, if all you do is offer challenge, or in this case, public shaming, according to the lower right hand corner of this grid you’d find yourself in a stressed culture. Saying “do you know I love you”, but showing it through public shaming might not be effective. In fact, I’m willing to guarantee that even if the people sitting in the pews respond to the love language of “words of encouragement”, this would do more damage than good. I know because I’ve done it scads of times. In fact, I admit to being much better at challenging people than encouraging them and that’s why I’m constantly blogging on stuff like this — to process and preach to myself.

Some people have no problem with this type of spiritual abusive depicted in the video because in some cases, it may be all they have ever experienced and don’t know any better. I noticed that a few of the people who chimed in on the discussion would “amen” what the pastor said and did, and those individuals just happen to be some of the most oblivious and abrasive Christians I know. Others who may find themselves more aligned in the “grace camp” reacted negatively to this, and rightly so!

It’s been pointed out and I would also acknowledge that this is just a five minute video out of context, and we don’t know the pastor or what happened the rest of the sermon. Or the rest of the month.

Differing Love Languages and Cultural Understanding

As a newly married Canadian man, one thing I’ve learned hard and fast is that just because I receive something when communicated a certain way, doesn’t mean those I turn around and communicate it to will receive it the same way. For example, as mentioned I’m a “words” guy, but my Peruvian wife’s primary love language is touch. I can’t turn around and communicate something to her in love that would work for me, but I need to do it in a way that would work for her — probably with a lot of physical affection.

I’ve been guilty of saying and doing things not just to my wife Lili, but to students of mine in English classes or seminary, or in our current Oikos ministry school. I’ve learned that I can have the best of intentions and God knows my heart about something, but I can communicate it terribly. Considering that Spanish is not my native tongue, and I teach primarily in Spanish, I can make this error more often than some others might.

Recently one of our students was in my kitchen talking to Lili and proceeded to tell her about something embarrassing I did without realizing it. The end result was that I basically came across like I was teaching a great point, and when I asked “if they all understood” or if I was clear, what everybody heard me say was “you all don’t understand”, as though I was talking down to them in some patronizing way.

I apologized when I realized this. Fortunately I’ve got understanding and forgiving students, three of whom are also living in another culture as they moved to Chorrillos from the jungle. We’re all learning together!

Shaun Wissmann — the man who runs the school and came up with the outline/curriculum for the year — and myself have dealt with people falling asleep during our class. I’ve snapped my fingers in some peoples faces and asked them if they’d like to leave if they’re not going to pay attention. But I’ve never reached the point of thinking “I’m somebody” like the pastor in this video, that I’d ever humiliate people for falling asleep on me. Sometimes we don’t know all that’s going on. But there are more gentle ways of communicating our disappointments.

We both realized after a few months we were frustrated and out of ideas for dealing with the culprits who tend to fall asleep most often in our classes. We decided to draw the “life circle” on the white board, and go through each step of the observation, reflection, and plan of action until everybody agreed to the consequences for failing to comply with it.

Circle

Photo credit: Our Life Is Open blog http://goo.gl/d5i5H

For more on the life shape circle, check out this blog post that explains it further than I want to in this post.

As a preacher and teacher myself, I can relate to where the pastor was coming from, but view his behaviour as a result of years of pent up anger and frustration that has never been dealt with. Pastor David Hayward also made a comment on his blog about this that is worth mentioning:

I appreciate this short clip so much because this pastor says what many pastors and the church think and feel. There is a lot of anger and frustration with the people. People are a disappointment. They frustrate the program. They get in the way of the vision. They undermine the churches agenda. Their sin pollutes the purity of the church and prevents the Spirit from fully moving.

Sadly, the comments like “I’m somebody important”, “You’re the sorriest church member I have“, “You ain’t worth fifteen cents” don’t come from a place of righteous indignation, but fleshly pent up disappointment. Other things he said in his diatribe are hardly anything like I’ve found Jesus or Paul say in the New Testament. Maybe I’m reading it wrong.

When I read Mark’s version of Jesus cleansing the temple, Jesus came and looked around the temple first, and then the next day he came back. Another Gospel account documents that he made a whip — this is deliberate, not spontaneous — and flipped some temple tables. 

Jesus acted out of love, in a deliberate and prayed-through actions. This was not a spontaneous hissy fit because someone was falling asleep during his sermon on the mount and He was somebody important. Even though He is somebody important.

As my friend Greg Smith commented:

I don’t see Jesus going around rebuking people and say ‘I’m important , I’m somebody! He could have, but he humbled himself instead of exalting himself! Instead of being born in a palace and laid in a royal kings bed, he was born in a stable and laid in manger! Instead of riding through Jerusalem on a white horse, he came riding on a donkey and instead of calling on 12 legions of angels save him, he said “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing”!

It’s also important to note here WHO he was doing these actions to: those who had corrupted the temple — the pharisees and religious leaders. Not baby sheep.

If Jesus did throw a fit every time someone fell asleep, none of the Gospel writers felt the need to include it.

Questions To Ponder:

How do you feel when people only challenge you but don’t encourage you?

Is there a good balance of invitation and challenge in your life towards others?

When you think of offering correction and negative attribution to someone, can you say you are also offering an equal amount of encouragement and positive reinforcement into their life?

And, the question I asked when I posted this video on Facebook/Google+: if a five minute video of your life or a sermon of yours made it to the internet, would you be ashamed of your behaviour in it? Would it turn people off from going to your church, not because of a point of doctrinal disagreement, but because you behave like a jerk?

Steve Bremner

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Steve Bremner is a Canadian missionary to Peru, who is called to raise up disciples who flow in the power of the Holy Spirit within a missional community named Oikos. He is passionate about blogging and podcasting, and is general editor of Fire Press, and also produces & co-hosts its podcast called Fire On Your Head. If you like Steve's blog, you'll also like his Kindle books.