Getting pushback? Embrace the opportunity

Pushback

The pastor seemed sad but determined as we talked. His young adult daughters had recently left the denomination and he was disappointed.

They grew up in Alabama Baptist churches where he had always been their pastor — and now they wanted out. Not out of the faith, not out of church activity but out of Baptist life. It was oppressive and narrow-minded, they claimed.

Their decision hurts their dad more than they know and he challenges them when appropriate, but family discussions on the subject tend to end up heated. So he pulls back. He makes his case, reminds them of the benefits and then loves them unconditionally. They consistently advocate for their position and provide justification — at least justification that makes sense to them.

Opportunity to spar

The dad said he counters carefully and wants to make sure they always feel safe to share with him — and even spar with him. He wants to be their sounding board, no matter how much it hurts.

As he talked, I thought of how my dad has allowed me the same freedom to debate with him as I’ve worked to figure out life through the years. We have agreed on some items and disagreed on others but in every case I knew my daddy’s love for me had not changed.

I’ve experienced a similar environment in the ministry where I serve and work. The leader under which I serve has given me the freedom to pushback through the years as I’ve journeyed through various life and learning stages.

Each opportunity to articulate the concept being debated has helped me clarify my own thinking while also gain a better understanding of the opposite side, which reminded me to value the other person as a person even if we disagree.

What a privilege it is for those of us who have mentors who don’t try to control our every thought and opinion. They allow us the opportunity to figure out life and faith and where we fit while in the safety of a loving, godly space — even if it disappoints, hurts or scares them in the process.

Maintaining bond

Finding the perfect balance of helping guide and sharing wisdom while not imposing a top-down, forced directive isn’t an easy skill to achieve. And sometimes conversations do end up heated with lines drawn but if both parties remember the core of their bond, then what better place for those coming up through the ranks to find their way?

I would much rather process and navigate my way through life issues in an environment where I know I’m loved, trusted and respected. And when I make mistakes the recovery rate is so much quicker because of that support system helping me learn and grow from those mistakes rather than leaving me alone and defeated.

And what about all those questions we bounce around in our heads? So many times we need more information to truly understand. Sometimes we need to ask difficult, uncomfortable questions to get there.

Who can you trust?

But finding someone you can trust with the most vulnerable parts of your heart, mind and soul is difficult. Who can you trust to love you anyway, not give up on you, not be harsh and scolding because you asked such questions? Who in your life — outside of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ — can handle watching you wrestle with the specifics of our value system and worldview?

Are we developing ministry leaders, mentors and believers who are secure enough and studied enough in their faith to encourage questions from those searching to find their way? And are we kind enough to embrace the questions as an opportunity rather than shutting someone down for even asking?

—Jennifer Davis Rash 

Can we agree to disagree?

I look back now and see that it was actually kind of rude of me to dump all of my frustrations on my friend and colleague. He didn’t have any control over the decisions that were being made nor the seemingly disrespectful way they were being carried out. Sure he was employed by the organization but he was not among the leaders making the difficult moves.Donuts image

Why I let the situation upset me so much I don’t recall, but I do remember the graciousness with which my friend handled me. He stopped what he was doing and let me vent, which actually left him with a late night working to finish up a deadline because I held him hostage debating the issue that was forefront in my mind.

I never once thought of his schedule, his responsibilities, his energy level nor even what heavy burdens he might already be carrying. I used him as a sounding board whether he wanted to be or not.

And he kindly sat there and listened, nodding sympathetically as I talked. I asked him why but my question was not sincere. My mind was made up and I wasn’t really interested in why nor any of the details that led to the decision. And I certainly wasn’t interested in hearing viewpoints from the other side. I really thought that if I could convince my friend to agree with me then we might have a chance to change the leaders’ minds.

Gracious response

When I finally took a breath, he said he understood how frustrating it must be to hear the news without having been part of the internal discussions. He also agreed there was no guarantee the decision was the right one, but he reminded me that I was not privy to all the information and that sometimes tough decisions have to be made for the greater good. Sometimes individuals or even groups have to sacrifice their preference in a situation if it means unifying the whole.

Granted there are essentials of the faith on which we as believers in and followers of Jesus Christ must never compromise. But when the issue falls in the nonessentials category, there must be a willingness to — at the very least — have calm, controlled and open dialog.

When it gets personal

What gets hard is when people on the various sides speak disrespectfully to each other or when one side tries to shut down the other side without a fair hearing. When this happens, it takes a lot of discipline to control emotions and not take the comments personally.

The difficulty level rises if conversations about controversial topics develop into a time of tossing blame or indicating the way it is being done by an opposing force is “wrong” merely because the person doing the talking disagrees. Conversations where all parties are respectful to the various viewpoints being shared are certainly more productive.

I know it disappoints me when my opinion is not valued, even if my opinion is still being shaped as I’m attempting to understand a situation.

Understanding all sides

Another friend shared with me recently that he enjoys reading articles and comments from people on all sides of an issue. He said it helps him better understand the issue. Many times it serves to solidify his own thinking while helping him know how to converse with those who disagree. And then other times, he might even adjust his own way of thinking.

As I attempt to learn from the wisdom of my two friends, I also am reminded to seek direction and wisdom from the Word of God in how to relate to others (Gal. 5:22–23), truly stay in tune with God (2 Chron. 7:14) and live life in general (Luke 10:27).

—Jennifer Davis Rash