Monday Memo: Hard Conversations

Terry Walton


Hard Conversations

I was thinking...

Hard conversations are hard!  Holding someone accountable for their actions or being held accountable for our own actions can be less ‘warm fuzzy’ and more ‘anxiety producing’.  The people I have met who ‘enjoy’ hard conversations are usually not the ones you want having those conversations.  Hard conversations should be hard, difficult, and challenging.  If they are not, then one must wonder if there’s not a bully somewhere to be found.

Hard conversations are necessary.  They are critical to our maturing as human beings and as followers of Jesus the Christ.  I am not a person that enjoys conflict, but I continue to learn, that conflict can be the friction that is necessary to smooth the rough edges in life.  Conflict is a part of life, so the question is not whether there will be conflict but rather how do we handle it when it knocks on our life’s door?

I am grateful for the people who have loved me enough across the years to sit with me in a hard conversation.  I have learned so much from these awkward and uncomfortable experiences.  They have been willing to risk the relationship in order to grow the relationship.  In the moment, I was not always appreciative.  But usually, given some time, I could see that God’s voice to me was somewhere in their voice to me.  When I’ve said things that I should not have said or not said things when I should have spoken out, it has been good to have had people who were ‘for me’ to show me their love through a ‘hard conversation’.

During my doctoral studies, I learned a great deal from Dr. Hugh Halverstadt on Church Conflict.  It was exactly what I needed to learn in that season of my ministry.  Dr. Halverstadt taught that there are certain conflicts in which we cannot, nor should we, fight alone.  For the health of the body, bystanders who observe a concern need to be empowered to stand up and speak out.  I have found that when healthy people speak out against unhealthy behavior, it is a gift to everyone involved…including the misbehaving.  Halverstadt calls this ‘mobilizing the bystanders’.

The New York Times bestselling book Crucial Conversations speaks into the corporate world a word that I believe is very true in church life as well.  “In most organizations, employees fell silent when crucial moments hit.  Fortunately, in those organizations where people were able to candidly and effectively speak up about these concerns, the projects were less likely to fail…  Nevertheless, the underlying cause (of presenting problems) was the unwillingness or inability to speak up at crucial moments…The key to real change lies not in implementing a new process, but in getting people to hold one another accountable to the process.  And that requires crucial conversation skills.” (P.12 & 13)

Jesus is recorded in John’s Gospel to have said to the Jews who had believed in him as they were trying to understand God’s message through Jesus, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (8:31-32, NRSV).  The question was and is ‘What is Jesus’ word?’  Very simply put Jesus’ word was ‘love others as I have loved you’.  Sometimes that love looks like hugs and encouraging words.  In other times that love looks like speaking up and speaking out.  It means being a bystander that is mobilized to hold someone or some system accountable…shine a light on a darkness that is becoming destructive and cruel. 

October is Clergy Appreciation Month.  Trust me when I tell you that one of the greatest gifts you can give your Pastor(s) is for you to be someone (a bystander) who will speak up and speak out on their behalf.  And when necessary, quietly pull them aside, speak up and speak out into their life as well…hold them accountable.   If your heart is as God’s heart, God will use both as a gift of love to those who are called to serve with you in this season of life.  It is hard to do, but it has the potential to have a lasting effect on them, the church and you.  Thank you for loving well.

Always thinking...

The Rev. Dr. Terry E. Walton
Executive Assistant to the Bishop

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