One of the litmus tests that evangelicals make when we evaluate a potential church family is to observe whether they are comfortable talking about sin. I often measure the authenticity of my relationships with other people according to the degree to which we can share our struggles with sin genuinely. If someone insists on keeping things positive and pleasant with me, even if I know a lot of information about their lives, I don’t feel like they’re being real with me, whether that’s fair or not. A different question is whether we should offer others unsolicited feedback when they are doing things that appear to be sin. Do we have the responsibility to convict others of their sin?
The notion that we are responsible for calling out other peoples’ sin can be a very dangerous excuse for us. Satan’s name in Hebrew means “the accuser.” Almost all of us at one time or another have been little Satans who go around accusing others in order to justify ourselves, even if it’s within our own heads. Many Christians in social media, including myself, are notorious for the bullhorn form of “exhortation” against sin that almost never is motivated by or able to accomplish any legitimate edifying purpose.
But what about discipleship relationships? What about when people come to talk to me as their pastor about their life and they name something they’re doing that seems sinful to me? I often feel like I fail people because my instinctual tendency is to say, “Oh, well that seems perfectly reasonable to me” or “Man, I do that kind of thing all the time.” It seems like what I’m supposed to say is “Yeah, you screwed up and I’m disappointed in you.” Because that feels like the difficult, “manly” thing to say instead of the cowardly, people-pleasing banter that I’m so quickly drawn to.
I’ve only had a few times in my life when somebody other than my parents confronted me about sin that wasn’t in the context of an argument over household chores or division of labor in an office space. I remember in college, I behaved inappropriately at a party towards a woman in our co-ed service fraternity who was a pledge at the time. Our pledgemaster tore me to pieces over it. It was hard but it was actually very good for me. I accepted his rebuke as legitimate; it was like the prophet Nathan going before David. I fasted that next day as a penance, and I tried to honor the lesson that I learned at every party I went to after that.
I’m grateful for the times I’ve been rebuked by people who I knew cared about me because it meant that I could feel secure knowing where I stood with that person. But it does make a difference how it happens. I’ve been reamed out by a couple of supervisors or colleagues, which caused me to wither and close off to them.
In any case, this question came up because I was flipping through a book on spiritual direction called Seeking God Together by Alice Fryling. She said the following which really made me do a double-take:
A common misunderstanding of spiritual direction is that the director points out the sins of the directee. Some people even seem to want that to happen. Someone said to a friend of mine, “My spiritual director really nailed me on that one,” and she seemed pleased about being “nailed.” Since I happened to have been the spiritual director she was talking about, I wondered how she felt I had “nailed” her…
To set the record straight, spiritual direction is not about pointing out sin to people. That is the job of the Holy Spirit… When I meet with someone for spiritual direction, it’s not my job to point out sin. It’s my job to do all I can to create an environment where the directee can hear from God, whether it be about sin or about something else…
This takes a tremendous burden off of us as we listen to one another. We are not responsible for pointing out mistakes, inaccurate perspectives, or sinful behavior. We need only to listen in and for truth and grace. When, through our listening, the Spirit of God convicts, it is always in the context of te good news of the gospel of grace.
How does that sit with you? It’s definitely something I want to be true. I suspect that for the Mark Driscoll school of Christian leadership, this is a bunch of foofy liberal hogwash. Spiritual direction is such an ambiguous thing. Men like me generally want every task to have a clear purpose and goals and techniques.
Listening together and letting the Holy Spirit convict, encourage, or inspire? So amorphous. Such a lack of clarity (or control). What do you think? Does Alice Fryling’s perspective sound solid? She actually had some scripture to back herself up which I didn’t include because it got too long. Do you think she’s right?