The Lost Art of Confrontation
But is that real confrontation? Is that what it's supposed to be? A quick etymology study of the word reveals its origin to mean "coming face-to-face with your problems." Yikes. No, thank you. None of that. I would much rather ignore my problems, thank you very much. Sweeping them under the rug, and hoping they'll go away, sounds so much better. Especially with relationships! I mean, come on...no one wants to be that guy. Am I right?
Yet, despite all this, most of us would agree that accountability, as a concept, is both right and good. This is true of a home, business, church, or any anything else that involves people. Accountability is how we preserve the harmony of any culture. The problem is that accountability can only be brokered through frequent, early, and right confrontations. Confrontation is a lost art form that gets a bad rap. Thank God for the Bible, however, which pictures confrontation as not only necessary but good. As the only way to ensure the health, growth, and integrity of any culture are guarded.
So, with that being said, allow me to take a few moments to give you three encouragements about confrontation to both edify and encourage even the most confrontation adverse of people. If that's you, chin up. This won't be very painful...I think. It definetely won't be easy, though, which is why I'll also provide two warnings, as well. Let's get started.
ENCOURAGEMENT #1: Confront Frequently To Protect Culture
Matthew 21:12–13 — Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!”
Here's a funny thought, the Son of God would probably be fired for this confrontation if He was your church's Senior Pastor. And why? Was Jesus wrong? Did He sin? What's happening here? Well, you might be able to summarize the events of the Gospels this way:
Jesus moving from one confrontation to another.
While He did spend a lot of time teaching, healing, training, and loving, much of that could also be described as a form of confrontation. For example:
- Hebrews 12:2b — Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, (confronting) its shame.
- He didn't just confront people's pride but their shame, hopelessness, and isolation, as well.
- James 4:1 — What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you?
- He didn't just confront people's sin, but the underlying heart problem and thinking that caused it.
In addition, Jesus' confrontations always matched the moment. In other words, the intensity of the confrontation was directly proportional to the hardness of the heart. Just read your Bible and see for yourself. The harder the heart, the more intense the confrontation. The softer the heart, the more gently He engaged. Both responses were a form of grace (that's another article in and of itself).
And in the temple narrative, hard-hearts threatened the temple culture that God intended: a house of worship, not a den of thieves. You see, their stubbornness was starting to lead others (who were more vulnerable) down a very dangerous path. One that would conflate the blessing of God's presence with other, lesser "blessings." Like monetary gain. This could not stand, so Jesus confronted the situation with the outward intensity necessary that the moment called for. His goal was to pierce the hearts of those who had become too deaf, blind, and stubborn to get the message otherwise.
So here's my controversial, big idea: Be like Jesus. Confront often and whenever people, culture or mission are threatened. You'll be glad you did. Accept that not all intense confrontation is bad. In fact, sometimes, being necessary. So long as the confrontation matches the moment. Intensity should be birthed from love, justice, advocacy, and protection. Never self-serving, self-motivated, or self-promoting. Good leaders protect the culture (and, therefore, others) when necessary, particularly from those who seek to undermine it; from those who have been stubborn, hard-hearted, unable or unwilling to respond to other forms of grace; from those whose posture has been onset by immaturity, brokenness, or pride. If they show any signs of a softening heart, we meet the moment again, changing course.
This pattern ought to be true for a family, a business, and, yes, even a church.
ENCOURAGEMENT #2: Confront Early To Prevent Escalation
Galatians 2:11 — But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong.
Did I read that right? "To his face." Paul got in Peter's face! Again, would you hire Paul? Likely, not. Why did he do this? Well, Paul's goal was simple: to prevent things from escalating. Specifically in two ways:
- Escalation of the problem. Erroneous thinking and malignant behavior are contagious. One confrontation with Peter is how the church would avoid innumerable other potential confrontations due to Peter's actions.
- Escalation of the reaction. Early confrontation requires a different reaction than delayed intervention. Had Paul waited any longer, the problem could've entrenched itself, causing a much bigger ordeal. Instead, due to Paul's willingness to confront, Peter quickly recognized where he was headed and could course-correct very early. A gentle reproval today or a stern rebuke tomorrow? A stern rebuke today or an outright war tomorrow? You choose.
Finally, when you delay what needs to be confronted, both sides invariably escalate their reactions for a host of reasons. All this to say, early intervention is always better.
ENCOURAGEMENT #3: Confront Rightly To Preserve Relationships
2 Timothy 4:2 — Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people...
Any intense confrontation should have been preceded by a generous amount of patience. How much? The Bible doesn't give us that answer. But I'm guessing it's much more than we are comfortable with. Why? Because God is patient with all of humanity before ultimately confronting them at judgment. To the tune of thousands of years. Ack...that's a lot of patience! That's exactly what Jesus reflected and modeled. We, too, must reflect the character and nature of God by lavishing others with grace they don't deserve and time to correct that they didn't earn. Further, intensity should never substitute for gentleness when gentleness will do. And gentleness will almost always do:
Proverbs 15:1— A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.
Remember, our confrontations have to match the moment. Our confrontations only ratchet up in intensity when stubbornness and pride do so, as well. We act in service and protection of our people, our culture, or our mission, not our own reputation, agenda, or ideology. Finally, no matter how intense some confrontations get, they should never cross over into sinfulness:
Ephesians 4:26 — And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.”
What does sinful confrontation look like? Here are just a few that the Bible explicitly condemns:
- Mockery (Proverbs 17:5)
- Manipulation/Lying (Ephesians 4:25)
- Sarcasm (Proverbs 26:18-19)
- Demeaning (1 Thess. 5:11)
- Screaming (Proverbs 29:11)
This list is not exhaustive, but it is indicative. It's indicative of a God who knows how to act mercifully and confront justly. And if we're going take His lead, you should be warned. So, as promised, here are two warnings you would do well to heed...
WARNING #1: Confrontation will be difficult
Hebrews 12:11 — No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.
The degree to which you naturally confront is in large part shaped by your experiences:
- Did you grow up in a passive home? An aggressive home?
- Did you have a traumatic confrontation with a boss, spouse, parent, friend, or some other person?
- Were you exposed to erroneous, passive or aggressive teachings on this subject?
- What are the inclinations of your natural personality? Confrontational? Avoidance?
These are just a few things that can create an imbalance in one direction or the other. However, I think we can all agree that Jesus should be our model, never our experiences. The God-man knew when confrontation needed to be gentle, when it needed a higher degree of intensity, and when to avoid it altogether. And because we have the Holy Spirit and the Bible, we can learn to confront supernaturally! We can grow to be more like Jesus in this area of our lives. It will require a lifetime learning how to do this better, wiser, and more loving.
WARNING #2: Confrontation will be demonized
Therefore, confrontation is both necessary and unavoidable.
I wish I hadn't failed at this so many times. Sometimes I over-confront. Sometimes I under-confront. It feels impossible to get right, even on my best days. How about you? Do you ever feel this way? No wonder it's so tempting just to avoid it altogether. That would be so much easier, wouldn't it? Maybe it's more loving to let "you do you?"
But we all know better. We have all been part of a family or organization that failed to confront, resulting in harm to others or the culture. Good people pay the price due to the inactions of those they were counting on to safeguard the whole. Therefore, I am all the more convinced we are to embrace this daunting task for the sake of our witness, our calling, and those we love.
Humbly. Teachably. Consistently.
Wow! Wow! Wow! - am I really about to leave a comment?? I am! God truly spoke directly to me, through this message. The Bay Hills notification rang to notify me of this message as I was wiping tears from my face and feeling so lost and confused in the middle of my thoughts to confront a situation or not, and how to go about it. God is working in and around me and I never heard/seen him so clearly in my life. Thank you Pastor Allen for this life changing message.
My tendency and preference is always to either confront gently or avoid it altogether. I am learning that even setting boundaries can be a confrontation to people who aren't use to respecting them. So... I have to learn to become comfortable with sometimes making people uncomfortable....Jesus did.
I think a lot of this ties into confession too. Personally I value confession within a church, but is often avoided in most of them, because it usually requires: Confrontation. To me confrontation with a brother or sister in Christ is a LOT different than confrontation with someone outside of the body, and I know the bible speaks on that. But as I continue to always grow in my faith...I see this church body growing in ours as a whole, and I think you are right, that this is part of revival.
I'm excited about this article, and excited to witness all the things to come.
Thanks Allen for your time on it and sharing your gifts and knowledge with us!
Confrontation is a learned behavior that, for me, requires self discipline. I used to have a tendency to say words that cut like a knife, believing that I had a right to confront in this manner. But it didn't work out in the end for me or the other person. I have learned that there's a balance to maintain, you must respect the other person and choose your words carefully in order to encourage open dialogue that will help. This can be hard to do when every fiber in your body wants to scream #! @*&%. The more seasoned I get in this life, the less confrontation I am encountering. But, I'm still a work in progress and I thank God for His grace!