The couple had only been dating for a short time and it was Christmas time. She went to spend the day with him and his family. There had been a member of the family who was struggling in her marriage and separated from her husband. The girlfriend was truly concerned and asked an honest question about the status of the relationship.
‘So has the divorce been finalized?’ she asked the grandmother.
She then felt a strong kick to the shins from her boyfriend under the table. She was new to the family and didn’t understand the family dynamic that he had known for years. You don’t bring up tough questions you just sweep, sweep, sweep them under the carpet. You pretend.
The grandmother stuttered and stammered with an answer and said something like, ‘I-I-I don’t know…I don’t ask questions.’
I was on the phone with a friend last night and he had seen some of the good, the bad, and the ugly in ministry…mostly the bad and the ugly. He asked me about my assessment of the current state of the Canadian church and where things had fallen off the rails. I usually talk a lot about what I think the foundation biblical issues are. I talked a lot about getting the gospel right, about genuine conversion, God’s sovereignty, false teachers, teaching verse by verse through the Bible, biblical leadership, and also how we put our hopes in people and programs instead of in the gospel. But the place that I keep returning to where I think that church has made a wrong turn is that we forget or don’t understand private ministry or discipleship. It seems to be a foreign concept to many even thought it was included in The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).
A couple of years ago a friend slipped a book by Paul David Tripp into my hands called “Dangerous Calling’ and since most of my books are in storage, I downloaded it for a song a couple of weeks back. (It’s back up to regular price, I just checked Amazon…but go to challies.com and I’m sure Tim will keep us up to speed on all the Black Friday and Cyber Monday ebook sales :)) Anyway, in one of the chapters he talked about public ministry and private ministry from Ephesians 4. I’ve talked about this before but it’s foundational.
Public ministry would be seen in preaching and teaching and in Bible study. Private ministry would be more in a small group setting or in a one-on-one scenario trying to apply the Word to your specific situation. As we spend time with one another we start to see each another’s blind spots and those blind spots need to be addressed. I’ve got them and so do you. And the temptation is always to avoid the hard topics and the tough question like in the opening family scenario about the marriage relationship. We just sweep our concerns about a person under the carpet and pretend because it’s less painful than talking to them about it because if we speak the truth in genuine love (Ephesians 4:15) they may be hurt and not talk to us and we risk the relationship going south. But if we ever want the body to mature and grow, we need to not hammer people with the truth but speak the truth in love.
The gang from Corinth had a guy who was up to his eyeballs in sin, a sin that even had the unbelievers in the community raise their eyebrows and cluck their tongues. But nobody said anything to him. They pretended that all was well and good. This squelches the glory of God. I’m grateful that we have some examples in Scripture where people loved others enough to give them the truth. Paul corrected the church at Corinth in how they should have responded to their brother who was in a serious sin spiral (1 Corinthians 5). Paul got in Peter’s face publicly when he was offside (Galatians 2). When Peter told Jesus He didn’t have to go to the cross Jesus didn’t let it go unrebuked. And my favourite is Nathan confronting David and telling him ‘Dude, you’re the man!’ (The man who is the villain of the little story that he had just told him.) They didn’t pretend because they loved…and love can get messy.
This is something that I am passionate about. The church is genuinely lacking in discipleship. Discipleship takes time and prayer and energy and patience and guts. When you’re in a close relationship with someone there needs to be no toes and egos…meaning as we get close to some people in our church family we may have to say some things that can step on their toes and bruise their egos…but we’re to do it in love. John Kimbell writes ‘Satan wants to destroy our faith in God. God wants to destroy our faith in ourselves.’ I like that. That can happen in a one-on-one mentoring relationship.
Sin hates the light and flourishes in the dark behind close doors. God wants us to bring sin out into the light so it can be exposed and dealt with. Some of us want to withdraw and be individualistic but we were designed for community…even introverts like myself.
I remember having a hard, brief conversation with a brother one time about a blind spot. I don’t know how well he received it and I don’t know what he thought of me for saying it. We never talked about it after that but I do know that I had his good in mind…and also God’s glory.
When you speak the truth in love you may be seen as a hater. You may be seen as being highly critical. You may be seen as a lot of nasty things. In order to have individual growth and corporate growth in a church body, it’s key.
We live in a world of ego stroking and ‘atta boys’ that never says anything negative…but the church is to be different and distinct. We need to assess each other accurately because that’s how we mature…clumsy step by clumsy step…together…by God’s grace.