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It's time for a Family Talk

The way we communicate with the people in our own family is very different from the way we communicate with people outside our family.

I grew up in a family with eight children. That’s a big family by any measure. I was number seven. Being number seven meant that I missed the coveted position of being the “baby” of the family by one. Just one. I thought about that a lot growing up. Full disclosure, my sister, Gael, is my favorite person on planet earth, but not so much while we were growing up. I was a tiny bit jealous of the attention she received and the deference she was afforded when she misbehaved. And, let me tell you, she was a little stinker! But somehow, because she was “the baby” she almost always got let off the hook. Who wouldn’t envy that?

But I digress…

Inside our families, communication is raw, unbridled and unfiltered. Brothers and sisters rarely repress the urge to tell you what they think of you. Inside our families, we are brutally honest with one another. Brothers and sisters don’t hesitate to ask hard or embarrassing questions and will tell you how they feel whether you want to know or not. And it’s safe to say shouting “shut up!” is nearly as reflexive as breathing when it comes to sibling communication.  Well, that was true in my family at least.

Likewise, parents aren’t usually shy about confronting their offspring. In our family, my mom and dad made no bones about calling us out and correcting us in front of the whole tribe. They rather capitalized on the opportunity to make an example of us to the others. I imagine they hoped we’d be smart enough to learn from the mistakes of our brothers and sisters so they’d be spared having to teach the same lesson eight times over.

There was little chance of getting away with anything in my family. Not with as many as seven siblings there to make sure they weren’t blamed and punished for something they didn’t do. Fingers pointing in every direction; “Wasn’t me, Kevin did it!” “Uh uh, Sharon did it!!” “NO! It was Gael’s fault!” (That one never worked. Being the “baby”, it was never her fault.) We didn’t care who got thrown under the bus so long as it wasn’t us. Kangaroo Court was held in our living room practically every day of the week!  Raw, unfiltered, honest and uncomfortably confrontational. That’s how most families communicate.

How we communicate outside our families is different though. Most of us would never talk to our friends the same way we talk to our brothers and sisters. We may be honest with them, but we usually apply some sort of filter to avoid hurting their feelings. We usually feel a sense of duty to be honest …but not too honest, with our friends. We avoid saying things that would alienate them or hurt their feelings. Unless it’s something terribly egregious, we keep our admonitions light hearted and show respect for our friends’ right to do as they see fit. After all, we reason, who are we to judge?

Barefaced honesty has its place. Used properly, it builds character and defines the boundaries of what is acceptable. When it comes from a stranger, however, it rarely causes anything other than anger and hard feelings. Unless you were hired for the job, chances are, your negative assessment of a stranger’s behavior or character won’t be welcome or well received. Even if what you have to say is true.

You simply cannot speak into the life of a stranger in the same way as those who are close friends or part of your family. It is simply not your place.

I think we could calm much of the contempt and vitriol that presently shrouds the Christian community in America by applying these same rules of communication to our church families. If you are close to a brother or sister in Christ or they are part of your church family, you should have permission to speak into their lives. Not as raw, unbridled and unfiltered perhaps, but honest none the less. We should feel a responsibility to lovingly go to one another when we believe our brother or sister is courting sin or living contrary to what we say we believe. We should speak up when we hear gossip, coarse talk, dishonesty, or see poor character displayed in some other way. We have a right to expect our brothers and sisters to ever increasingly take on the character of Christ and represent Him (and us) well when they go out into the world. We have an obligation to our church family to lead by example so as to help those who are new to learn where the boundaries of our society are. Gently, sincerely and with integrity. But if we don’t know them or they are not part of our family at all, we need to back off and keep our opinions to ourselves.

We simply cannot speak into the life of a stranger in the same way as those who are close friends or part of our family. It is simply not our place.

Brothers and sisters, we spend far too much energy berating people we don’t know. We take even greater liberties trying to confront people who aren’t even part of the Family of God. It doesn’t matter if what you are saying is right or true or good. Only those who have the indwelling of His Holy Spirit have the ability understand what you are trying to say. Only those who belong to the Family of God are going to care about our standards and values.

“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 2:14

Not only do we waste our time confronting non-believers about issues that only matter to believers, we’re adding to the noise, anger and rebellion against our Christian values in the United States. Not to mention the fact that we really need to turn our attention and efforts toward cleaning up our own act. We’re called hypocrites because there are so many hypocrites among us.

Imagine what could be different if we left the world alone for a minute and turned our attention back toward ourselves. Imagine what could be different if we stopped railing against the values and behaviors of people who aren’t submitted to the Lordship of Christ and found the courage to lovingly object to the behaviors of the people in our own congregations who say they are. Admit it, there is at least one person that comes to mind when you think about a church member who could use a little intervention.

While we live on this planet it isn’t enough to belong to the Family of God. It’s our job to contribute to the health of our family and protect the values. Don’t demand the world live up to standards we are unwilling to live up to ourselves.

 I’m just being honest.

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Sharon Bollum
Sharon Bollum, producer of the 40 Churches in 40 Weeks book and documentary project is committed to finding ways to elevate the health and reputation of The Christian Community in the United States.

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