Have you ever been on the receiving end of a difficult conversation -
specifically where someone was lovingly helping you see a blind spot or sin pattern in your life? Unfortunately, I have had more than I care to recall. In my last blog post, I shared my life's most significant, difficult conversation. While it was unpleasant at the time, I am so thankful to God for my brother's willingness to speak the truth in love to me about the life I was living.
Scripture reminds us that even though believers are new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), there is still a present battle with sin that will continue until we are with Christ in eternity (Romans 7:18-19). Scripture also reminds us that one of our roles as Christ-followers is speaking the truth in love and encouraging one another to put aside sin and pursue Christ together (James 5:19).
Having these difficult conversations is no small task; if you are like me, it is a task that we do not look forward to doing. But, we are not meant to be passive followers of Christ. We actively pursue godliness, which means we can and should be willing to speak into each other's lives for our good and God's glory.
So how should we approach difficult conversations with others in our small groups? Below are a few suggestions for the next time you prepare to have a difficult conversation.
Approach it Biblically
We want everything we do to be informed and shaped by the Bible. This includes having difficult conversations. The Bible is not a battering ram or a "gotcha" device. It is our source of truth and the authority over our lives as believers. Therefore, we should begin with the common ground that we want to live our lives in submission to God's Word.
In an article written by Pastor Garret Kell on this topic, he says, "When everyone sits before the open Book to hear what God says, it brings humility and helps us discern the difference between sin and personal opinion. Prayerfully commit to letting God's voice be heard most clearly and let the light of His Word lead the way."
That is great advice, and I recommend it to all of us.
Approach it Prayerfully
Difficult conversations require great wisdom; prayer is our lifeline to God asking for that wisdom. Paul gives us a great example of this in his prayer to the Colossians, "...since the day we heard this, we haven't stopped praying for you. We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him: bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, so that you may have great endurance and patience, joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the saints' inheritance in the light." Col 1:9-12.
Paul reminds us that the wisdom we seek is not for appealing words or discernment in and of itself. Instead, it is wisdom to please the Lord, bear good fruit, and grow in knowledge, strength, endurance, and patience. We need this kind of wisdom regularly, but even more so when we prepare to have difficult conversations.
Approach it with Humility
Talking about sin together is not at the top of anyone's list of topics -
especially if you are on the receiving end. There are a lot of ways this kind of conversation can be challenging. It can be met with defensiveness, denial, or even offense that you think you have the right to speak about sin in someone else's life.
That is why approaching hard conversations with humility is essential. One of the marks of humility is that we ourselves are also open to correction. Going back to the article by Kell, he says, "As pastors, we're not above correction. We should be models of receiving it. Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:1-5 that we must "first take the log out of [our] own eye" so we can see clearly to correct others. Pastors who are known for being humble, approachable, and willing to be corrected will be better received when we come to correct others."
Although he is speaking to pastors, this posture certainly applies to anyone following Christ.
To help examine our own hearts and see if humility is present, we can ask ourselves, "How did I respond the last time someone approached me with a difficult conversation?"
Approach it with Clarity
When having difficult conversations, you should be as clear as possible. It is really easy to have numerous "rabbit trails" that distract and take the focus off of the main point.
As you prepare for a conversation, it may be helpful to answer some questions like:
1. What is the specific sin?
2. Is it actually something I need to speak into?
3. What is the desired outcome?
As I have heard stated before, "Clarity is kindness." Kindness in a difficult conversation is one of the most loving things we can do.
Approach it with the End Goal in Mind
Finally, do not lose sight of the end goal. James helps us keep that goal in view, "My brothers and sisters, if any among you strays from the truth, and someone turns him back, let that person know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and cover a multitude of sins." James 5:19-20.
The ultimate goal in speaking about sin together is to bring about repentance and restoration for our good and God's glory. We know that Scripture teaches us that we cannot lose our salvation. James describes here that loving correction and calling out of sin may be the very thing God uses to bring someone from death to life in Christ. For those who are in Christ, holiness is our pursuit, and our willingness to have difficult conversations is one of the ways we pursue God together.