Talk With, Not About

The other day, somebody asked me my “analysis” as to how things had gone sideways in a local church.  Attendance, budget, and relationships had all been affected over the course of time and now some folks were looking to get things back on track.

There were plenty of things I could have said, but before I got a chance to answer, this person chimed in with their opinion.  They said, “At the heart of this, it seems like so much of this has to do with poor communication.” They were not wrong in that assessment, but that didn’t fully capture it.  So I added my thoughts. “Well, that’s because there has been a lot more talking about people than there has been talking to people.”

The more I thought about it, the more I realised that could be said about a number of places and situations where things aren’t working the way they are supposed to.  We talk about people and what they should or should not be doing, but we don’t talk to those people at least not in a grace filled, loving way in the hopes of bringing some resolve.

For some reason in my phone’s news feed I get advice column headlines, and occasionally I just have to read the whole story.  Recently there was one from a member of a church fellowship group, asking the advice columnist what they should do – I wondered why they didn’t go to the pastor but that’s probably another story.  They believed that two married individuals in this fellowship group, not married to each other by the way, were either currently engaged in or about to become engaged in an affair. The writer and his wife had talked to others in the group but not to the individuals involved.  How is that helpful? Talking about people but not to people.  

I know.  That’s a very difficult conversation, and it needs to be done well.  The goal needs to be restoration, not condemnation. Aren’t we called to that?  Aren’t we called to have grace filled, love motivated, whole truth telling, God honoring conversations with one another as the church?  Aren’t we called to help each other become as much like Christ as possible? Aren’t we required to restore one another when needed? Aren’t we asked to work out our differences and offer forgiveness as needed?

All of that requires that we talk to each other, not about each other.  It also requires that we aren’t just out to shake our fingers at people and tell them how bad or wrong they are.  It requires an interest in resolution, not venting. Restoration, not gossip. Especially in conflict it requires that we are prepared to listen well, not just unload our position.

Let me add a couple of thoughts to this challenge to be the kind of church where people talk to each other instead of about each other:

  • We need to make sure we are not unloading on everyone with everything we think they have done or said or thought wrong.  Our motivation has to be to help people become more like Jesus and bring resolve to conflict which means we need to be interested in conversation, not monologue.
  • We need to be ready to make the first move.  What escalates things are us folding our arms and waiting for them to come to us.  If we need to confront or correct in love, we need to go to them. If we need to ask forgiveness, we need to initiate that.  If we need to forgive, we may need to go to the person and ask if we can work out whatever is between us.
  • We need to make sure our hearts are in the right place. We need to start with prayer. We need to be constantly praying that God moulds us into the type of people who can do this well. Then when situations arise, we need to be specifically praying for wisdom, courage,  love, and grace to do this in a way that honours God.

You can accuse me of being naive here. Maybe I am naive, but I believe that this is the type of action we are called to as Christ followers. I believe these are the types of relationships we are called to form as the Church. Let’s start praying that way for ourselves.

Marc McAlister

Director of Leadership Development and Church Health

Free Methodist Church in Canada