Lesson 12 Speaking the Truth in Love
Two years ago I wrote and presented a series of messages entitled Speaking the Truth in Love. These messages are available at the church website in both written and audio form. I wrote these talks from the conviction that much harm and division occurs in the church,not over matters of substance, but out of speakg in a manner that causes offense.
It is critical for elders to understand this problem and to learn the subtle art of speaking the truth in love so that truth is communicated and is used to build up the body of Christ. As elders, we are called to be communicators of truth. We are to see that the truth of the gospel is taught and promoted. We are to protect our flock from false teaching.We are to be on the lookout for sin, ready to speak the truth to those under our oversight.We are to mediate between those in conflict. And we are to build up our people, encourage them when they are down, and comfort them when they are grieving and anxious.
What we say – and just as important – how we say it has great impact, more so than for others in the church; for we are shepherds of the church to whom our flock looks for guidance and affirmation.
Consider this impact that accompanies our position as elder. Attend a Bible school class or visit the work of a ministry, such as Fellowship Bible Study or Tenth College Fellowship. Say to the teacher or leader, “As an elder, I want to see the work you are doing.”
That phrase – as an elder – will immediately leave an impression on the leader. An elder came to see what he was doing. An elder took an interest in his ministry!
As an elder your words and actions carry a weight it did not before – positively and negatively. All the more reason then to study how you communicate. Do you know, for ex, that oftentimes people mistake you for being angry or displease with them? How so? Because they see you with a frown on your face. That frown in reality means nothing; you are not even aware of it. Nevertheless, that frown communicates a message that you did not intend.
By the way, you wear that frown often times when you serve communion, so that at the very moment you are presenting spiritual food to your people you are communicating that you are not approachable or pleased to serve your people.
There are other ways we elders unintentionally make it difficult for our people to want to come to us. One is to interrupt them when they have come to us with a pressing matter.
Take the common case of someone confessing marital troubles, often the wife. In her distress she mentions she has considered leaving her husband. We immediately tell her that we would not countenance such an action. She becomes reserved. We begin to lecture about the sacred covenant of marriage. She turns silent. What happened? Should we not correct sinful thinking? That is precisely what we have not done. We have not corrected her; just put her on guard about feelings she is not to share.
We spoke before we listened fully; and we communicated that listening well is not what she can expect. If we want her to listen to us, we must first demonstrate that we know how to listen to her.
Going hand to hand with listening well is the ability to ask good questions. Like the doctor who must ask good questions to obtain a diagnosis of his patient,- so the elder must be a discerning questioner. You must ask specific questions. “How are you doing,” will take you only so far.
– “Are you finding it difficult to keep up with work now that you have a new baby?”
– “How is this illness impacting the rest of the family? Are your kids worried?”
This is where your experience comes in. You anticipate what may be problems your parishioner is facing. You communicate that you want to go further than receiving an “I’m doing fine” answer.- You communicate that you may have insight that he would benefit from.
You might add your own experience to the question. “How are you holding up with a new baby? I remember a lot of nights walking the floor with mine.” Maybe the new father is tired. He now knows that he has a sympathetic ear.
Good questions are needed when your parishioner comes to you for help.
– “Elder, I need prayer. I have a terrible job.”
– You probe. What is the job? Is the problem the work itself or the work environment?
– You probe his spiritual condition.
– What is he learning from the Lord? About himself?
– About life in general? About the Lord?
– Good questions get to the heart of the matter.
– Good questions also enable the person to discover for himself the answers he need.
1. Be alert to the signals that we give out to people.
2. Listen well.
3. Ask discerning questions.
4. Draw from personal experience.
As good as experience is, what we as elders are to particularly have is the truth of God’s Word.
5. Thus, we are to bring forth the commandments, the promises, the gospel, the theology of the scriptures.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By D. Marion Clark. © 2024 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org