Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Monday, June 23, 2008

How to Disagree without being Disagreeable

By Hayden Norris

I’m a pastor and quite frankly, I like to talk (sometimes to excess). This is a great blessing in the pulpit, because who wants to come to hear someone preach who stumbles and stammers over his words? This can also be detrimental to ministry when interacting outside of the pulpit (Prv. 10:19). I enjoy having discussions with people over the theological and practical issues of the Christian life whether it be on the phone, in person, or even on the internet via blogs and message posts. I think it is very beneficial when it is done respectfully. As Proverbs 27:17 says Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.
Recently, I have realized that in the blogosphere I have been privy to, some of the discussions have become less than edifying. I have at times angrily typed away responses to ‘set people straight’. But God is faithful and good to me. Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, I have been reminded of some verses that Tom Chaffin, the principal of the school where I once taught, used to quote often: 2 Timothy 2:24-26:

The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.

This was not the first time, nor the last, that God was going to use these words to cut me.

See, early in my ministry at Mt. Morris Community Church, I attended a horrible "workshop" by a major publishing company with one of the elders and the teacher of our Junior Church program. Let me set the scene for you. I sat at a table with a gentleman who decided to take his church through an 8 week series called "Making it to Victory Lane" and decked the church out in NASCAR "gear" with checkered flags and life size cut-outs of the more famous drivers. The whole seminar was basically filled with these types of ideas. The attendees were eating this up, and I was really sick of sitting there listening to this. I looked over at the elder I came with and also our Jr. Church teacher to see that they too were enjoying this teaching which really didn't help my attitude. Flash forward to a couple of hours later and an hour car ride home. I decided that I was going to "teach these guys some discernment". It turned into a lecture by me, and I can tell you that I was not thinking of 2 Timothy 2:24-25.

Thankfully, the men forgave me and I did not ‘burn my bridges’ with them. Actually, the Lord has grown all of us in the whole area of discernment. How do I know this? Well, we recently went to a ‘Youth Function’ at a neighboring church where the speaker told a great story but didn’t give the Gospel. Inside, I was a bit mad because the point of this ‘function’ was to bring unsaved friends to hear the Gospel. One of these men, the one who advocated that we go to the previous conference, came up to me afterward and said something to the effect of ‘Nice Story, wish he would have preached the Gospel’. God was graciously showing me that he was working in him and teaching him discernment.

You would have thought that thinking back and seeing God work through this situation would have ‘cured’ me of my forked tongue and barbed jabs. Nope! So, in remembrance of this I have come up with seven questions that I want to reflect upon before I enter into theological discussions. These questions are not in any way ‘all inclusive’ but I hope that they will help me to avoid the brash ‘steamroller approach’ that I have previously taken in discussions.

1. Am I willing to listen? I mean this one should be obvious. I am not having a discussion if I am not listening to the other person. I am having a monologue, not a dialogue. Proverbs 18:13 reminds me that He who gives an answer before he hears, It is folly and shame to him. (See also Proverbs 10:8; 12:16)

Now I know that dialogue has become the ‘buzz word’ in our day. Many people today want endless dialogue with no resolution and no one being right or wrong. That is not what I am talking about. What I mean is asking myself, am I really concerned about what the other person is saying or am I just thinking about what I am going to say next? On the internet this means carefully reading what someone has written or listening to the whole context of a spoken sermon not just a sound bite. In a personal conversation this means making eye-contact and not interrupting the other person. This means that I should not wait for the other person to pause just so I can pounce!

2. What is my motivation for speaking/writing? Am I just trying to ‘be right’ or ‘win an argument’ or ‘put someone else down’? I think that if I asked myself this question more often I would avoid some of the pitfalls I have needlessly run headlong into. This should change the way I say the things that I say. Ephesians 4:15 reminds me to speak the truth in love. (This can actually be translated ‘speaching truth in love’) Is my motivation to speak the truth (and yes there is such a thing as absolute truth) so that the person I am talking to or corresponding with will grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ?

3. What can I contribute to this discussion? Am I just talking to talk or writing to pass the time? Do I want people to know that I ‘know what I know’ even when there is not a reason for me to be a part of this discussion? Proverbs 15:28 states The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, But the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things. Sometimes I can get involved in discussions that I think that I know what I am talking about, but I have not really ‘done my homework’. It is easy to get second-hand stories from others and quotes from people that I admire, but is that the best way to further a discussion?

4. Am I addressing areas I am not able to discern (i.e. someone else’s motives)? I hear this a lot on the cable news networks when politics is being discussed. Things like “He doesn’t really mean that…” or “They are just saying that…” are thrown around when people do not even know the person that they are talking about. Sometimes people have a track record of acting a certain way and it may be easy to believe I can discern their motivations, and I may even be right, but can I honestly think I can discern the motives of another man’s heart when I cannot even understand my own? (Prov. 20:5; 28:26; Jer. 17:9)

5. Is Christ exalted in my conversation? This really should be number 1, but I put it here as more of a re-check. I should start out wanting my words to be Christ exalting and continue to check to see if my conversation is going down a path that Christ would be pleased with. Unfortunately, in the blogosphere, and even in the Christian section of the blogosphere, discussions can degenerate into speculation and insinuation. Paul warns us of this repeatedly in his letters to Timothy:

1 Timothy 1:4 nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith.
1 Timothy 1:6 For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion,
2 Timothy 2:14 Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers.
2 Timothy 2:23 But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels.

6. What is my speech seasoned with? Paul tells us to Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person in Colossians 4:6. I am going to strike from my vocabulary these words: ‘kool-aid drinker’; ‘idiot’; ‘moron’; ‘babbler’ and many others like them because they do not represent gracious speech. I am not advocating a pacifistic, syrupy, and fluffy language but what I am advocating is that Christians should have a much different way of addressing disagreement than non-Christians. (By the way, this would mean that all cussing, no matter how ‘cool’, is out as well.)

7. How is this contributing to my ‘mission’ before God? This one is very important because I find myself spending far too much time thinking about how to respond to a blogger than on how I am going to minister to the person in front of me. Paul exhorts me to press on in the calling that Christ has called me to, and when discussion/blogging takes me away from that I am not growing. Paul says in Philippians 3:13-14 :

Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Christ has called me to preach His Word, evangelize, and counsel and if there is anything that is impeding my growth and ability to do these things I must get rid of them!

I really enjoy a good debate. I want to grow in my understanding of Scripture which is why I blog and also sit down and discuss Scripture with others. BUT I must never be the stumbling block to someone else growing in Christ. My personality and sinful speech must not be the reason for offense. The cross of Christ should always be the offense (1 Cor. 1 & 2), but not the ambassador who has been charged to carry the message (2 Cor. 5;20). If they do not like my King or His message they can take it up with Him. If they do not like my attitude or my lack of grace then I must search my heart to see if what they say is true and change if it is. The bottom line is that I must be a person who is able to disagree without becoming disagreeable! May this be an endeavor that we all pursue, for God’s glory and our good.

Hayden Norris is associate pastor at Mt. Morris Community Church in Mt. Morris, Michigan.

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Blogger Travis James said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:17 AM, June 25, 2008  
Blogger Travis James said...

Thank you so much for this post and suggesting these questions. A friend and I have recently come through a few experiences very similar to yours. The Lord has taught us these same lessons individually as well as together, working on our blog. Hearing that He has done the same for you only confirms the things we have learned. May God finish the work He has begun in us.

5:18 AM, June 25, 2008  
Blogger Hayden said...


Thanks for the encouragement. May we all be able to disagree without being caustic.

6:12 AM, June 25, 2008  

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