Last month I spent many pixels criticizing a particularly bad and ineffective way of explaining to someone the error of their ways and calling them to repentance. It seems only fair that I should spend some time talking about the right way to do it.
You know, I’m not sure I know just what the right way is, as a general thing. It’s a hard thing to do. (Q: How do porcupines make love? A: Very carefully.) But there are couple of things I think I know.
First, I think it depends on who you are, and the gifts the Holy Spirit has given you. Take my younger daughter’s godfather Tony, for example. He’s a guy who can meet someone on a plane, or in line at the grocery store, talk to them about God, discern where they are having trouble, offer to pray with them, call them to repentance…and be thanked for it. This is not the Usual Way in my experience, and it’s certainly not something I can do. (Heck, I can leave home, fly cross country, and check into a hotel without saying a word to anyone not on the other side of a counter.) Some people are just gifted when it comes to talking to strangers.
But second, I think you have to have the right kind of relationship with the person in question. I don’t have much trouble chastising my children when I need to, for example. It’s the most natural thing in the world, and on top of that it’s my job. It’s supposed to work that way. But then, I love my children, and I think that’s crucial. Before you can call another person to repentance, you have to know them, and you have to love them. And you have to listen to them, because you love them…and practically speaking, if you don’t listen to them, how are you going to get your facts straight? And that’s the thing about Tony. When he talks to someone at the grocery store, he really does listen, and he really does love. It’s a neat trick, if you can do it.
Please note, I’m talking about speaking to another person one-on-one. There’s a big difference between saying publically “X is wrong, and no one should do it,” and saying to another person, “You’re doing X and you need to stop.” The former is just standing up for what you believe (though of course there are right and wrong ways to do it). The latter is more difficult.
But in short, I think that calling someone to repentance has to arise naturally out of your relationship with the person. If it doesn’t, it’s probably best to keep your mouth shut.
Well, except to pray for the person. Ain’t nobody on God’s green earth that can’t use some prayer, and there’s no Christian on God’s green earth that couldn’t stand to do a little more praying.