“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all!” There is a lot of wisdom in this old adage. In truth, as Christians we should only speak in love to everyone, including when the need for confrontation arises. The first step in appropriate confrontation is self-examination. We must ask ourselves, “What have I brought, or what will I bring to this issue?” We must have the courage to take our own inventory through careful introspection before we dare attempt to address another.
We cannot effectively confront others until we can successfully confront ourselves. That being said, we have no control over another’s willingness to self-assess. We can only examine our own internal issues. This is perhaps the single most vulnerable step in the ultimate success of appropriate confrontation. If both parties involved are not sufficiently self-aware, the chances for the best outcome are markedly reduced. However, this does not mean that we will not have any success. If we feel we must still try, our efforts must remain forthright and loving, not impatient, manipulative and guilt-producing. After all, if nothing else, there is a lot to be learned in providing an appropriate confrontation, even if the other party is unwilling to be a full participant.
Three Simple Questions
If we determine that confrontation is indeed appropriate, we must earnestly ask ourselves three simple questions:
1. Is it loving? Am I willing to be loving in my approach to this confrontation? Many times when we think we are loving, we fall short, especially in regard to our own sinful tendencies of being judgmental in conflict. To be judgmental is one of the fastest, and surest ways of failing in productive confrontation, and in a lasting relationship!
2. Is it honest and/or true? Is this issue based on fact? Am I expressing myself honestly in regard to my own feelings?
3. Is it necessary? Is it really in everyone’s best interest to confront this issue, or am I simply seeking to fulfill my own needs?
Only when we can answer yes to all three of these questions should we proceed to confront the issue/person. If we cannot answer yes to all three questions, then more prayer and thoughtful self-examination are in order.
Christ provides us with the ultimate model of appropriate confrontation in the book of Matthew 18: 15-18. We’re told to go to the source. Don’t gossip or complain to others. Go directly to the person who has offended/hurt/sinned against you. Approach him/her lovingly with respect. “…if he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” If he/she cannot own the behavior or will not accept/validate your concerns, utilize a third party and allow them to impartially hear the concerns. Sometimes however, the only thing left to do is to lovingly walk away, always keeping the door open to a repentant heart. As a community of believers we all have an obligation to be accountable to one another and respect one another’s concerns.
Rage and dysfunction dictate an enormous amount of irrational behavior. Here, it is appropriate in the presence of God to share your agape love for your brother/sister in Christ, to identify the impasse of the circumstances in no uncertain terms, to close the door to any dysfunctional behavior, and, by God’s grace, to illuminate a path to reconciliation and healing. Appropriate confrontation is one of the greatest challenges for any personal or working relationship. While it is one of the most difficult skills to master, it is also one of the most vital to preserving any relationship. Like many skills, it gets better with practice. As long as we can remember to hate the sin, and love the sinner, we leave the door open to future healing.
Let us move from the era of confrontation to the era of negotiation. ~Richard M. Nixon
The purpose of all wars is peace. ~Blessed Augustine