One of the challenges I’ve always struggled with is healthy confrontation. Like too many pastors, my own desire to be liked has blunted my willingness to be honest, direct or prophetic. I have grown over time, but I know I have a long way to go. I frequently grow frustrated with myself, but I grow frustrated with all of us as “church” as well. One of our greatest challenges is speaking the truth, especially to one another.
I’ve heard people ask, “How do we speak the truth in love?” I think the more important question is simply “Will we speak the truth in love?” We live in an era when we are able to celebrate growing tolerance–an enormous step forward. Yet we too often confuse tolerance with “anything goes.” It really is true that “good fences make good neighbors”–not because they keep people out but because they help maintain clear boundaries. Clear boundaries are helpful, appropriate and necessary to healthy human relationships.
In a community like the church, built on relationships through the shared relationship with Jesus Christ, those boundaries are no less important. Confessing the faith means assenting together to shared expressions of belief, shared norms of behavior, shared mores and practices and stories. Each of the things we share brings with it the task of holding one another accountable, and of speaking honestly when we believe boundaries have been crossed.
We won’t all agree on where those boundaries lie all the time. But unless we’re willing to talk about them, we’re not being faithful to our call or responsible to our relationships. As Lutheran Christians, living in the tension between two different points is as natural as breathing. We shouldn’t be uncomfortable living in relationship with someone with who we have a disagreement–or honestly naming and living into the shared tension of that disagreement.
Yet too often, we find accountability offensive. We find ways to excuse our own behaviors or boundary violations, and/or to criticize those who would dare to name them. We ignore limits and expectations we’ve agreed to, declaring our situations exceptional or dismissing those shared expectations as immaterial.
In the parish, I heard comments like, “we can’t expect people to come to the church more than once a week,” or “setting expectations for confirmation turns people off,” or “we have to make it as convenient as we can to get people involved.” We need to take such concerns into consideration, but those can’t be our sole considerations. The Gospel asks us to die to ourselves and to the secondary demands of the world around us for the sake of growing deeper in faith and stronger in discipleship. How can we pretend there’s any integrity, power or worth to that proclamation if we’re too timid to ask people to choose involvement in the Body of Christ over another activity?
In my current position, I hear things like “we’ve got to stop talking theology and doing mission.” And I wonder–speaking the truth in love–whether we don’t instead need to stop talking mission and start doing theology. An artificial division between one and the other violates the definitions of both–mere talk isn’t truly theology, and mission not rooted in theology is just activity.
These are two small examples; there must be thousands. How do you feel we need to hold one another accountable? What is it that you would like to be able to say in your ministry setting in order to “speak the truth in love”?