Growing up in an evangelical Christian community, I can’t count how many times I was chastised, corrected, rebuked, and reproached by my parents and the Christians around me. Of course, most of it I brought on myself, since I’ve always been a pretty miserable and regular sinner. Fortunately, I also have a thick head, which meant that my faith in God never faltered, no matter how often I was rebuked and corrected by those around me.
Unfortunately, many young adults who were raised within conservative evangelicalism like myself, have largely abandoned their faith post-high school and post-college. A plethora of books, articles, and talks have been produced throughout the past few decades of this crisis regarding the new covenant children who have left the faith of their fathers.
Many of them suggest that it is the over-burdensome rules that were heaped upon them, coupled with a type of hypocrisy by their parents and leaders, which contributed to their crisis in faith. For many young people, being corrected, rebuked, and chastised on a daily basis, hinders their faith, more than it helps.
Discipleship practiced by Jesus, allows the disciples room to roam, that is, it allows a sense of responsibility for the disciple to make choices that Jesus didn’t always agree with or approve. However, this is not to say, that discipleship never involves correction; far from it.
Paul said, when we see a brother in sin, we should “restore them in a spirit of gentleness” [Galatians 6:1 ESV]. The Greek word for “restore” in this context is, καταρτίζετε, which implies a type of restoration that brings the person back to a good condition. Restoration in this sense, doesn’t tear down the individual, but rather it brings them back up.
There is a tendency when we think of correction and rebuke, as being a type of punishment; if you forget to stop at a stop sign, a policeman writes you a citation as a punishment; if you commit a felony, you are arrested and put in prison as a punishment.
Biblical restoration is not the same as punishing people for their sins. We aren’t called to punish our disciples when they fall into sin, we are called to help restore them back to a good condition before Christ in a spirit of gentleness.
For a brief time, I met with an ex-preacher’s kid who had abandoned the faith. One of the most graphic memories of his childhood involved a time when his Baptist pastor father, held a parishioner up against the wall in their family home by his throat, and screamed at him to stop cheating on his wife. The minister’s son, witnessing this event in his living room, and seeing the sheer terror on the man’s face, questioned the type of God who would encourage pastors to strangle people by their throat.
While I am not saying a Christian man should never raise his voice or that a Christian man should mask his masculinity, I am saying, that when it comes to the sins of those in our care, we should address those people in a spirit of gentleness, with the self awareness that our goal is to restore them back up to a good condition, and not tear them down.
During my tenure working at the drug rehab clinic, I saw a lot of different tactics or styles used by the rehab counselors in working with the clients. Some of the counselors would literally yell at the men at the top of their lungs, shouting out things such as, “How could you do this to your family” and “You need to man up, and stop using!”. Two of the counselors yelled so loudly, I could hear them through closed doors, five offices away.
Regardless of the various counseling strategy implemented, the relapse rate of alcoholics and drug addicts who enlisted in our program, or any other program in America for that matter, is always the same; it is nearly 100%. Yelling, listening, cajoling, or any superlative implemented ultimately fails when it comes to assisting men and women who suffer from the pangs of intense addiction. This is not to say that people don’t overcome their burden of addiction, many do! I am merely pointing out that overcoming addiction has far less to do with the treatment program and strategy than it does with other factors.
Discipleship of our children and young adults whom are entrusted in our care by God, involves an intimate and personal relationship that is sensitive to the temperament and personality of the disciple, so that when they fall into sin, we know how to help lift them back up, rather then to tear them down all the more.
The Baptist pastor did not seem to be aware of how his actions toward the parishioner would have a horrid effect on his son. His son did not interpret the actions as a positive occurrence, but was horrified to see his father, practically strangling a man in the family home.
This is not to say that we should never offer up stern words or elevate the pitch of our voice. When Jesus rebukes Peter saying, “Get behind me Satan!”, it is doubtful he said those words in a meek and mild manner. Yet Jesus, in his infinite wisdom, knew Peter so well, that he was able to speak in exactly the type of sternness that Peter needed in that moment.
This is a difficult element of discipleship. Learning to see things, the way our disciples see them, is central to understanding their perception of their environment. Pastor Siffring taught me that one of the great insights into his own pastoral ministry, was when he learned later in life, that even though he might mean a particular action in a loving way, his disciple might interpret the action as an unloving behavior. This occurs often with children. If a small child is about to touch a burning stove, and our only way to prevent them is to yell loudly from across the room, the child does not understand that our behavior was entirely based in love. They interpret our yelling as the opposite of love.
Whenever our disciples (or children for that matter) fall into sinful behavior, it is essential that we understand how they will interpret our words, actions and behaviors toward them. If we are to help lift them back up and restore them, in a spirit of gentleness, we must learn to be sensitive to how they perceive us. If they perceive our actions, as unloving, and only as a method of tearing them down all the more, then we will find it difficult to help restore our disciples.
True discipleship is a lifelong commitment to those entrusted in our care. It is not a part time endeavor, where we can merely sit behind a desk, and offer up words of wisdom as though we are some kind of psychological guru. True discipleship is committed to knowing our disciples so well, that when they do need to be confronted in their sin, that we are able to do so in a loving, effective manner.
*stock image Soroush Golpoor unsplash.com